Why is the landscape significant?
The landscape is an extensive piece of inland scenery that creates a specific identity to a place and that can offer an enhancement to the quality of life of resident and visitor communities. As aggregate operations often take place in areas of valued landscape, and rely on extraction and processing activities that can introduce intrusive or obstructive features, they can threaten the existing landscape. The significance of this threat is difficult to determine as it depends on many factors, including personal judgement, visibility, positioning and duration.
As a result, in nearly all cases, a professional assessment of potential landscape effects will be a critical part of planning for an aggregates operation, and will be a statutory requirement for most operations. This assessment will form the basis for determining the best way of managing landscape effects in advance. A variety of measures can be adopted: such as developing a progressive restoration design; restricting the height and location of built structures, waste tips and machinery; or appropriately screening and scheduling portions of the operation.
What are the effects of aggregates production on the landscape?
The effects of aggregates production on landscape can be positive if, for example, it results in the restoration of a previously degraded landscape. However, because aggregate operations often take place in rural areas of highly valued landscape, the potential effects tend to be negative, and of significant concern to local communities. In general, changes to the landscape from aggregates production can result from the following sources:
- Introduction of 'alien' features out of keeping with the landscape such as quarry faces and areas of exposed rock, soil and overburden stockpiles, product stockpiles, waste tips and artificial lighting.
- Removal of, or changes to, key landscape features that create local character, such as vegetation (e.g. trees and shrubs), field patterns (e.g. hedgerow/wall removal) or topography (e.g. hills and valleys) through excavation, burial under stockpiles or waste tips and the development of haul roads.
- Mobile and semi-mobile plant, like drilling and processing equipment, on-site vehicles, and vehicles leaving and entering the site from the public highway.
- Built structures, like processing plant, storage hoppers, exhaust stacks and ancillary plant such as concrete and bituminous operations.
Assessing these effects is difficult because it is so subjective, and a landscape feature considered by one person to be intrusive can be considered by another person to be inconsequential or even attractive. In addition, the landscape effects of aggregates production may be temporary and change during the operation, particularly as ongoing or final restoration begins and parts of the operation, like mobile or fixed equipment, are removed.
Other features, such as the excavation void, can be more permanent if they are not filled with other mineral or non-mineral waste material for restoration purposes during or after the operation, and while restoration plays a key role in minimising long-term landscape effects, it can also, of itself, result in the introduction of new features and the creation of a landscape with different character to that which existed prior to aggregates production.
- Blocking of existing views across the local area, such as through the construction and development of material stockpiles, built structures (for example processing plant facilities) or waste tips.
- Miscellaneous sources - airborne dust and dust deposits on surrounding land, mud on roads, light pollution and inappropriate restoration or use of vegetation around the site.
There are a host of other factors that will need to be considered when deciding how best to manage landscape effects and that can cause the significance of landscape effects to vary, for example:
- Season - natural screening by deciduous trees will decline significantly during autumn and winter.
- Topography - the topographic position of the site relative to surrounding areas can affect visibility.
- Positioning - viewed from a major road, the effects may be less than viewed from an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
- Context - the existence of other aggregate sites locally may reduce the marginal effects for communities.
- Receptors - presence of public footpaths and bridleways, transport routes, rivers and canals, settlements, and recreational and tourist facilities, will affect overall visibility and viewing frequency.
Quarry creating an unnatural feature in gently undulating green pasture landscape.
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