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Historic Landscape Character

The Historic Environment Service pioneered the methodology for Historic Landscape Characterisation (HLC), undertaking the first countywide characterisation in 1994. The Cornwall Method is set out in 'Historic Landscape Assessment, Presenting a Method' (1998).

Characterisation continues to be fundamental to our interpretation and presentation of the historic environment. It allows the historic dimension of the whole landscape to be fully considered and provides a readily understood context for the surviving archaeological remains.

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The HLC, of the whole of Cornwall, was undertaken as part of a general Landscape Assessment of the county (published as Cornwall County Council 1996). The HLC was supported and funded by the Countryside Commission (now the Countryside Agency), English Heritage and Cornwall Council.

Please follow this link to view a full scale version of the Historic Landscape Character Zones map.

The Cornwall HLC was a pilot study encouraged by English Heritage who were then investigating ways of assessing the historic environment, to enable it to be placed alongside the natural environment in discussions of sustainable development. The method was based on a comprehensive and systematic collection of disparate data that was then mapped, assessed and interpreted by the Service. It represented a new way of characterising the landscape and understanding its evolution. The Cornwall method has since been adopted and adapted by local authorities and heritage agencies throughout the British Isles and Europe.

A basic premise of HLC is that the whole of Britain is one continuous but multifarious historic landscape. All natural habitats in Britain are 'semi-natural', being the products of natural conditions (geology, soils, exposure, native communities e.t.c) as altered by various land use systems. These systems may have been either deliberate, like woodland management, grazing of heathlands (including cliffs and coastal valleys), and creation of pastures, or incidental to other processes, like the silting of estuaries as a result of tinning, or the creation of marginal habitats alongside roads. As a result, all semi-natural habitats part of the historic environment and so there are no parts of Britain that do not have a definable historic character.

It is possible to establish, through study, the predominant historic landscape character of each parcel of land in Cornwall. The landscape is comprised of a mosaic of blocks of land whose predominant historical landscape character is both various and repeating. This quality allows parcels to be assigned, using a number of systematic sources (mainly maps), to one of around twenty clearly distinguishable HLC Types. Most Types can be found scattered across the whole of Cornwall and most can be further subdivided according to the sensitivity of characterisation required. To create a smaller-scale and simplified characterisation of the whole county, the Types mapping can be simplified, generalised and, to some extent, reinterpreted, to produce a map of Historic Landscape Character Zones.

The HLC mapping and associated texts are available to browse and download (PDF) via the Council's interactive mapping site.