Input wanted from communities on protection for Aberdeenshire's Special Landscapes

Communities across the north east are being asked for their views about special local landscapes which are important to them and which should be protected.

Aberdeenshire Council has launched a consultation on a new landscape designation for the Local Development Plan called “Special Landscape Areas”.

People can now have their say on areas that have been assessed as being amongst the most valuable in the area, and should be protected and enhanced by proposed development.

These include the landscape of Bennachie, the majority of Aberdeenshire’s coastline and the Deveron, Don and Dee valleys.

Landscape is about more than just a view – it is about the relationship between people, place and nature that provides an ever-changing backdrop to our daily lives. 

It is shaped by the interaction of the natural and cultural components of our environment, with a focus on how these are perceived and experienced by people.

People value landscape for different reasons, but it is possible to identify landscapes in Aberdeenshire which are greatly valued and need particular protection.

This can be due to a range of factors including scenic qualities, cultural associations and opportunities for enjoyment.

Aberdeenshire Council thinks these areas should have protection to conserve and enhance their special qualities and so maintain our most special landscapes.

Using a set of 12 criteria, and following on from three separate discussions with Community Councils and other interested parties, expert landscape consultants identified 10 specific areas in Aberdeenshire which could be identified as Special Landscape Areas.

These range from the hill landscapes of the Mounth and Bennachie, to the valley landscapes of the Deveron, upper Don and Dee, and coastal landscapes of cliffs and beaches.

Each candidate area represents an example of the “best” of Aberdeenshire’s landscape at a local scale.

The Cairngorms National Park is excluded from this designation due to the national recognition of its importance. 

Members of the council’s Infrastructure Services Committee recently noted the value of this work, and the importance of these landscapes in helping define the overall character and sense of place associated with Aberdeenshire.

Full details of the way in which these landscapes were identified is available on the council’s Local Development Plan web pages.

There are also detailed maps of the proposed Special Landscape Areas and a full description of the “special characteristics” which make them particularly important.

Aberdeenshire Council has taken the advice of landscape consultants and developed Supplementary Guidance to the Local Development Plan for each of these areas.

This draft guidance details those things which development in these areas has to consider so as not to erode the special nature of the area.

This includes the need to protect the setting and context of specific landmarks and vistas, and commentary on the design characteristics that should be employed by developers to enhance the special nature of these areas.

Consultation on the areas to be included as Special Landscape Areas, the characteristics of these areas, and the prescriptions to be applied to new development is open for public comment until May 13.

Aberdeenshire Council will consider all feedback given and will decide on the final form of the Supplementary Guidance this autumn, to coincide with the expected date of adoption of the Local Development Plan 2016.

Further details are available from the council’s planning policy team on (01224) 664421 or by email: ldp@aberdeenshire.gov.uk

Here are some details on the Special Landscape Areas which have been identified and are being consulted on:

1. North Aberdeenshire Coast
The North Aberdeenshire Coast Special Landscape Area extends along the north coast of Aberdeenshire, from Moray to Fraserburgh. It is a landscape of rugged coast-line, high cliffs, headlands and sandy bays with traditional fishing villages nestling at the base of cliffs and a high recreational value despite its feeling of wildness. The panoramic views, historic landmark buildings, characteristic built forms, and recreational values all need to be recognised by development proposals.

2. North East Aberdeenshire Coast
The North East Aberdeenshire Coast Special Landscape Area covers a large expanse of the coast including the beaches of Fraserburgh Bay, Strathbeg, Cruden Bay, Forvie and Balmedie, and the outcrops of rugged cliffs and headlands that separate them.  Recreational uses are particularly important with the coastal villages found in sheltered locations but with significant monuments such as Slains Castle prominently sited. The supplementary guidance suggests that development will have to maintain the secluded and wild natural feel of the coast in this area.

3. South East Aberdeenshire Coast
The South East Aberdeenshire Coast Special Landscape Area is characterised by its rugged scenery of weathered coastal cliffs which are farmed up to the coastal edge. There is a strong connection with the sea through its numerous coastal paths and major routes, including the A92 and the east coast railway north of Stonehaven. Dunnottar Castle is an iconic feature, as is the setting of Stonehaven itself, framed as it is between the cliffs on either side. Development must respect the expansive views afforded of the sea, and seek to maintain the setting and character of the traditional towns and villages.

4. Deveron Valley
The Deveron Valley is characterised by its high scenic quality resulting from the meandering river. The area is bounded by rolling wooded hills which forms an important setting to settlements along the valley floor and sides and which forms an important backdrop to castles and estates. It is a pleasing composition of river, farmland, wooded estate and heather clad and forested hills stretching from the hills to the sea. It has a strong woodland structure and a distinctive local architecture.  All of these characteristics require to be protected from inappropriate development.

5. Bennachie
Bennachie is perhaps the most recognisable hill in lowland Aberdeenshire and has correctly been described as an iconic feature. Designation as a Strategic Landscape Area recognises the importance of Bennachie to Aberdeenshire’s landscape identity, its popularity with visitors and its intervisibility with the surrounding landscape. The way that the upper moorland spurs contrast with the green lowlands, and the transition of woodland on its slopes are of particular importance. It is important that development does not detract from the iconic profile of the hills or disturb the mosaic of wooded estates and open farmland found on its slopes.

6. Upper Don Valley
The proposed designation of the upper Don Valley and enclosing ridges as a Strategic Landscape Area recognises the high scenic qualities of its rolling wooded hills enclosing steep sided gorges and wider straths. It is farmed and settled with accessible hills, and does not display true wildness characteristics although the network of meandering rivers, burns and woodland contribute to naturalness within the landscape. Quality of the built environment is important as the Don is a key river that contributes to the identity of Aberdeenshire and forms a link between the mountains of the Cairngorms and the sea.

7. Howe of Cromar
The Howe of Cromar Special Landscape Area is centred on Tarland and designation recognises the intact nature of the area and its strong relationship with the Cairngorms National Park. The wide sweeping basin of farmland is framed by ridges of dark moorland and forestry. There is significant evidence of the long heritage of settlement in the area with more recent development adopting a distinctive village architecture.

8. Dee Valley
The Dee Valley Special Landscape Area includes the river and associated landscapes taking in the adjoining hills and covering the settings of riverside towns such as Aboyne and Banchory. It has a very strong identity and is very important for tourism with numerous visitor attractions and facilities. It has a strong sense of naturalness created by the combination of broad leafed woodland and river. Landscape quality must be conserved and enhanced to maintain its identity and its role as a tourist destination.

9. Clachnaben and Forest of Birse
This is one of the wildest and most tranquil parts of Aberdeenshire outwith the Cairngorms National Park and designation as a Strategic Landscape Area recognises the scenic qualities created by the strong rolling relief and distinctive hill profiles. Clachnaben is a distinctive craggy peak and is a popular summit. The Mounth also provides opportunities for hill walking. It is a widely visible landscape forming the backdrop to Deeside to the north. It is important that the sense of wildness associated with this open landscape is maintained.

10. Braes of the Mearns
The Braes of the Mearns Strategic Landscape Area includes the south facing slopes of the Mounth and the northern part of the Mearns, where these two distinctive landscapes come together. Designation, with the Cairn O’Mount scenic viewpoint a popular stopping place, recognises the sharp contrast between the distinctive flat farmed valley of the Howe of the Mearns, with its wooded estates of beech woodlands and avenues, and the rugged upland ridge which forms its backdrop. It is a highly visible landscape and it is important to maintain the clear distinction between lowland and upland, and the intact character of the farmed landscape through the conservation of the pattern of tree cover.