The Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland Historic Landscape Characterisation Project
Britain's landscape is the product of millions of years of geological evolution combined with thousands of years of human settlement and activity. The ways in which people in the past and the present have and continue to shape our physical environment is not just a matter of academic interest it affects us all both in the way we identify with our surroundings and with our quality of life. The Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland Historic Landscape Characterisation (HLC) Project, completed in January 2010, maps and describes the present day landscape of Leicestershire and Rutland and records significant changes that can be observed through the study of historic mapping and aerial photography. This project has equipped Leicestershire County Council's archaeological planning service with a detailed framework to aid our understanding of the landscape as a whole and provide us with an important tool that will contribute to the decision making process especially where issues affecting the landscape,both rural and urban are to be considered. It is also envisaged that this information will become increasingly important in informing local planning policy.
The Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland HLC Project was carried out by the Historic and Natural Environment Team at Leicestershire County Council in partnership with English Heritage who provide funding and take the lead for the programme in England. In Leicestershire the project area comprises seven districts and boroughs (Blaby, Charnwood, Harborough, Hinckley & Bosworth, Melton, North-West Leicestershire and Oadby & Wigston) which together with Rutland and the City of Leicester covers an area of c. 2,606 sq. km. and is home to almost 1,000,000 people. Typically much of rural Leicestershire consists of gently rolling countryside which, together with relatively small rivers, tilled farmland and market towns, make for what on first impression would seem to be a county of fairly undramatic appearance. However this impression masks the fact that Leicestershire and Rutland combine to produce a study area that contains a wide diversity of landscapes which have been shaped by topography, geology and land use history. HLC helps to highlight both the diversity and and subtle nuances visible in the modern landscape and provides us with a means for setting it into a wider general context.
The project itself was a desk based digital mapping exercise which used a Geographical information System (GIS) combined with the County Council's Historic Environment Record (HER) database. This allowed the HLC Project Officer to view, overlay and combine a range of modern and historic maps with aerial photography and other sets of geographic data on the computer screen to produce an HLC digital map layer providing continuous and uninterrupted coverage of both Leicestershire and Rutland. Essentially HLC is an attempt to systematically characterise, or describe, the historic dimension of the existing landscape. HLC is concerned with mapping the landscape as a whole and has no chronological cut off date so that anything; no matter how recent is considered to be a component of the historic landscape character. HLC is also an attempt to describe everything from the seemingly every day, modern urban developments or retail parks for example, to those landscapes more traditionally considered to be of special worth, such as formally laid out parks and gardens or field patterns that evolved through the piecemeal amalgamation of medieval strip fields. Whilst the main objective of the project is to describe the landscape as is appears to us today where there is evidence for a different previous character this has also been recorded. The HLC process involved initially identifying and and drawing a boundary, or polygon, around an area on the map; this area was then placed within one of twelve categories, Woodland or Settlement for example. These categories are what are known as broad Character Types.
Leicestershire and Rutland HLC by Broad Character Type
Once the Broad Character of the polygon had been attributed a more detailed HLC Type definition was assigned. So, for example, within the Settlement Broad type a polygon may be further identified as being Historic Settlement Core or Modern Residential. Similarly if a polygon was given a Fields and Enclosed Land Broad Character Type it could then be assigned an HLC Type of Planned or Piecemeal Enclosure. Within the Leicestershire and Rutland HLC there are around 120 different HLC Types.
Historic and modern maps along with aerial photographs were examined to help produce the HLC map
The full project report may downloaded here as a set of .pdf files.
HLC Report Introduction (PDF 1,374Kb) 1_leicestershire_hlc_report_introduction.pdf
HLC Type Profiles (PDF 2,193Kb) 2_leicestershire_hlc_type_profiles.pdf
HLC Broad Character Analysis (PDF 3,939Kb) 3_leicestershire_hlc_broad_character_type_analysis.pdf
HLC Fields and Enclosed Land Analysis (PDF 6,174Kb) 4_leicestershire_hlc_fields_and_enclosed_land_analysis.pdf
HLC Settlement Analysis (PDF 23,287Kb) 5_leicestershire_hlc_settlement_analysis.pdf
HLC Woodland Analysis (PDF 5,426Kb) 6_leicestershire_hlc_woodland_analysis.pdf
HLC Applications (PDF 262Kb) 7_leicestershire_hlc_applications.pdf
HLC Supporting Legislation and Guidance (PDF 227Kb) 8_leicestershire_hlc_supporting_legislation_and_guidance.pdf
HLC Recommendations (PDF 153Kb) 9_leicestershire_hlc_recommendations.pdf
HLC Bibliography (PDF 179Kb) 10_leicestershire_hlc_bibliography.pdf
HLC Appendices (PDF 5,830Kb) 11_leicestershire_hlc_appendices.pdf
Two PDF images of the whole project area may also be downloaded here; the first defines the current character with an emphasis on HLC Types relating predominantly to rural areas (PDF 5,810Kb) leicestershire_hlc_current_character.pdf, the second defines more clearly the character of the urban areas (PDF Kb 3,838) leicestershire_hlc_current_character_urban.pdf.
Elements of the mapped data may also be viewed online through Leicestershire's Environment Online (LEO) portal. For those with access to a GIS Shape files containing information relating to the Current Historic Landscape Character may be downloaded here hlc_shape_files.zip (16,116Kb). MapInfo® Tab files may be downloaded here hlc_tab_files.zip (8,406Kb). Whilst the Historic Environment Team at Leicestershire County Council wishes to encourage the use, interpretation and analysis of this information we would request that an acknowledgement is given if it is used within any publication.
Although principally created as a planning tool it is recognised that HLC is a resource with the potential for a far wider range of applications. As HLC information becomes more readily available and better understood it is hoped that it will increasingly be used by individuals or groups wishing, for instance, to carry out more focused historical research within the county or to inform parish plans. Similarly the data from HLC could at some point be adopted as an educational or outreach tool and could provide children with a context for how their local area sits within the wider historic landscape.
Anyone wishing to find out more about landscape characterisation in general and other studies similar to this can do so by visiting the English Heritage website www.english-heritage.org.uk/ and following the links through the Professional and Research sections to the Characterisation Pages.
Page Last Updated: 4 November 2011