This England: Domesday 1996

Geoffrey Lean on our land's new green look
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The Independent Online
England will look different from this week. In the biggest exercise of its kind since the Domesday Book, the Government's official advisers have redrawn the map.

Gone are the familiar county boundaries, the squiggly lines which for centuries have bisected river valleys and ranges of hills as arbitrarily as colonial boundaries did African tribal lands. In their place is a vivid jigsaw: the natural areas of England as they really fall together, moorland, marshes, downland and forest - each an environmental whole.

The new map, which will be released by the Environment Secretary, John Gummer, on Wednesday, is the first step in a comprehensive audit of the natural state of Britain, which will be used to help drive planning and conservation policies. It will enable the Countryside Commission and English Nature - the Government's official landscape and wildlife advisers - to give detailed advice on proposed developments in the country.

These are England's new natural counties. Farewell Warwickshire: here is Arden, the remnants of Shakespeare's medieval forest. Goodbye Derbyshire: here is the Dark Peak, the brooding millstone grit moorlands. No more Norfolk: here is Breckland, the mysterious landscape of heather and pine.

The map, the result of a mammoth exercise involving more than 40 teams of people over four years, was drawn up because dividing England into local government areas makes environmental nonsense, with the countryside on either side of county boundaries often identical. And yet conservation policies and programmes have often been formulated on a county-by-county basis.

"The countryside and wild species do not recognise administrative boundaries," says English Nature. "The new divisions are based on the natural distribution of wildlife and habitat rather than on geopolitical areas." The map will be used to help make decisions on:

Placing new housing in the parts of the country thought best able to take it, and making it fit local conditions.

Deciding on the right places for new woodlands. Open flower-rich country like the South Downs (area 125) should be avoided; marginal farmland in, say, the Fens, (area 46) would be more suitable.

Protecting species. Efforts to save the rare stone curlew, for example, should extend over the whole of the Breckland (area 85), its natural home, rather than be confined to individual counties.

The Countryside Commission says the exercise has been the most thorough since the compilation of the Domesday Book in the 1080s, and hopes it will mark the new millennium as William the Conqueror's audit did the last one.

The exercise brought together a bewildering amount of information on wildlife, landscape, uses of the land, buildings, parkland, altitude and even historic monuments. The British Geological Survey specially produced its first ever map of surface geology - what lies immediately below the soil of the whole country.

This material was put together like "layers of a cake", says the Commission, then used to divide the country into the 158 new divisions shown on the map. (Use of the same colours does not mean that different areas have the same characteristics, although shading of the same colour - as in the far north or on Merseyside - indicates different parts of the same natural region.)

Where's where

1 North Northumberland coastal plain

2 Northumberland sandstone hills

3 Cheviot fringe

4 Cheviots

5 Border moors and forests

6 Solway basin

7 West Cumbria coastal plain

8 Cumbria high fells

9 Eden Valley

10 North Pennines

11 Tyne gap and Hadrian's Wall

12 Mid Northumberland

13 South-east Northumberland coastal plain

14 Tyne and Wear lowlands

15 Durham Magnesian limestone plateau

16 Durham coalfield Pennine fringe

17 Orton fells

18 Howgill fells

19 South Cumbria low fells

20 Morecambe Bay limestones

21 Yorkshire Dales

22 Pennine dales fringe

23 Tees lowlands

24 Vale of Mowbray

25 North Yorkshire moors and Cleveland hills

26 Vale of Pickering

27 Yorkshire Wolds

28 Vale of York

29 Howardian Hills

30 Southern Magnesian limestone

31 Morecambe coast and Lune estuary

32 Lancashire and Amounderness plain

33 Bowland fringe and Pendle hill

34 Bowlands fells

35 Lancashire valleys

36 Southern Pennines

37 Yorkshire southern Pennine fringe

38 Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Yorkshire coalfield

39 Humberhead levels

40 Holderness

41 Humber estuary

42 Lincolnshire coast and marshes

43 Lincolnshire wolds

44 Central Lincolnshire vale

45 Northern Lincolnshire edge with Coversands

46 The Fens

47 Southern Lincolnshire edge

48 Trent and Belvoir vales

49 Sherwood

50 Derbyshire Peak fringe and lower Derwent

51 Dark Peak

52 White Peak

53 South-west Peak

54 Manchester Pennine fringe

55 Manchester conurbation

56 Lancashire coal measures

57 Sefton coast 58 Merseyside conurbation

59 Wirral

60 Mersey Valley

61 Shropshire, Cheshire and Staffordshire plain

62 Cheshire sandstone ridge

63 Oswestry uplands

64 Potteries and Churnet Valley

65 Shropshire hills

66 Mid Severn sandstone plateau

67 Cannock Chase and Cank Wood

68 Needwood and south Derbyshire claylands

69 Trent Valley washlands

70 Melbourne parklands

71 Leicestershire and south Derbyshire coalfield

72 Mease/Sence lowlands

73 Charnwood

74 Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire wolds

75 Kesteven uplands

76 North-west Norfolk

77 North Norfolk coast

78 Central North Norfolk

79 North-east Norfolk and Flegg

80 The Broads

81 Greater Thames estuary

82 Suffolk coast and heaths

83 South Norfolk and high Suffolk claylands

84 Mid Norfolk

85 Breckland

86 South Suffolk and North Essex clayland

87 East Anglian chalk

88 Bedfordshire and Cambs claylands

89 Northamptonshire vales

90 Bedfordshire greensand ridge

91 Yardley-Whittledwood ridge

92 Rockingham forest

93 High Leicestershire

94 Leicestershire vales

95 Northamptonshire uplands

96 Dunsmore and Feldon

97 Arden

98 Clun and north-west Herefordshire hills

99 Black Mountains and Golden Valley

100 Herefordshire lowlands

101 Herefordshire plateau

102 Teme Valley

103 Malvern Hills

104 South Herefordshre and Over Severn

105 Forest of Dean and Lower Wye

106 Severn and Avon vales

107 Cotswolds

108 Upper Thames clay vales

109 Midvale ridge

110 Chilterns

111 Northern Thames basin

112 Inner London

113 North Kent plain

114 Thames basin lowlands

115 Thames Valley

116 Berkshire and Marlborough downs

117 Avon vales

118 Bristol, Avon valleys and ridges

119 North Downs

120 Wealden greensand

121 Low Weald

122 High Weald

123 Romney Marshes

124 Pevensey Levels

125 South Downs

126 South Coast plain

127 Isle of Wight

128 South Hampshire lowlands

129 Thames basin heaths

130 Hampshire downs

131 New Forest

132 Salisbury plain and west Wilts downs

133 Blackmoor vales and Vale of Wardour

134 Dorset Downs and Cranborne Chase

135 Dorset heaths

136 South Purbeck

137 Isle of Portland

138 Weymouth lowlands

139 Marshwood and Powerstock vales

140 Yeovil scarplands

141 Mendip Hills

142 Somerset levels and moors

143 Mid Somerset hills

144 Quantock Hills

145 Exmoor

146 Vale of Taunton and Quantock fringes

147 Blackdowns

148 Devon Redlands

149 The Culm

150 Dartmoor

151 South Devon

152 Cornish Killas

153 Bodmin moor

154 Hensbarrow

155 Cammenellis

156 West Penwith

157 The Lizard