Baseline Information about Breinton

Introduction

The West Herefordshire Landscape (N. Geeson)

The West Herefordshire Landscape (N. Geeson)

The Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP) for the Parish of Breinton seeks to protect the heritage, natural and visual assets of Breinton. It must also “facilitate the provision and development of sustainable development” and conform with the Draft Core Strategy where relevant.

A Habitat Regulations Assessment (HRA) and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA)scoping report on base-line information about Breinton has been prepared by Herefordshire Council, and circulated for consultation with Natural England, English Heritage and the Environment Agency. Supplementary facts about the Breinton environment are summarised below, with greater detail available under similar headings on the Breinton Parish website, see About Breinton

Landscape

Oilseed rape with poppies. Breinton Manor, June 2013 (N. Geeson)

Oilseed rape with poppies. Breinton Manor, June 2013 (N. Geeson)

The parish of Breinton lies directly adjacent to the western boundary of Hereford city, in the “Herefordshire Lowlands” bordering the River Wye. In the last Ice Age the River Wye was diverted from the valley followed by A438 Kings Acre Road (the northern boundary of Breinton, 65m asl) and cut its present course (the southern boundary of Breinton, 55m asl), including the steep-sided cliffs of Breinton Gorge. The valley followed by Kings Acre Road is still prone to surface water flooding. Between these valleys are rolling hills rising to 114m asl at the trig point on Breinton Manor Farm hill, and including Breinton Ridge running E-W at 85m asl. The beauty of the green and rural views of hills and river encouraged the building of several large houses with parkland and landscaped gardens in the 18th/19th century: Wyecliffe House, Breinton Court, Breinton House and Warham House. The landscape also inspired the work of respected artists such as James Wathen (1751-1828) and Brian Hatton (1887-1916).

Geology

The River Wye has cut through Devonian Raglan mudstones to form a steep-side gorge by Breinton Springs (N. Geeson)

The River Wye has cut through Devonian Raglan mudstones to form a steep-side gorge by Breinton Springs (N. Geeson)

The underlying geology consists mostly of mudstones and sandstones of the slightly calcareous Raglan mudstones , part of the Old Red Sandstone sequence belonging to the Devonian Period (417-354 million years ago). Much of the base rock is overlain by glacial Till deposited during Quaternary ice ages. Rock exposures of interest to geologists occur at several places near the river banks, the most impressive being the Red Rocks cliff opposite Breinton Common. Small gravel pits are shown on older maps (1887, 1:2500) near Breinton Common, Wye Cliff and Breinton Court. The 1839 tithe map also shows the gravel pit at the east end of Breinton Common. A Brick Kiln field is shown near Little Breinton, and Brick Kiln Meadow by the Wye at Warham. This suggests that as ice age meltwaters reached Breinton Gorge, first gravels were laid down, and as the valley widened and the velocity slowed, fine clay deposits suitable for making bricks were deposited.

Soils

Map of soil types around BreintonLand in Breinton is classified as Grade 1 (Excellent) or Grade 2 (Very Good). Much of Breinton, especially the higher land, is characterised by slightly acid loamy and clayey soils with moderate to high fertility. Having slightly impeded drainage, these soils are best suited to orchards, autumn-sown crops and grassland. The remaining areas are freely draining slightly acidic loamy soils, mainly on the lower slopes. These soils have supported famous horticultural nurseries over the last 200 years (Cranston’s, King’s Acre, and Wyevale today). Along the River Wye there are freely-draining floodplain soils, also with moderate to high fertility.

Land use

Breinton is very rural away from the ribbon settlement along the A438. Agriculture is dominant and there is a mixture of arable, pasture, commercial orchards, traditional cider orchards, unimproved meadows, woods, unregistered parkland, and public open space. The hamlets of Upper Breinton, Lower Breinton, Breinton Common and Warham are only accessible by narrow country lanes. Most field boundaries are hedges, often including a variety of species, and mature trees. A number of hedges are on banks flanked by ditches that suggest ancient boundaries. A large proportion of the farms are part of agri-environment stewardship schemes that aim to support and enhance natural biodiversity.

River Wye near Breinton Springs

River Wye near Breinton Springs

The landscape and land use give rise to a wide range of wildlife habitats, and a high level of biodiversity. Of particular note are the river cliffs, the woodland (some of it ancient), orchards, unimproved or semi-improved meadows, the unregistered parkland, ponds, streams, and the networks of hedges and footpaths.

The SEA scoping report mentions:

Wyevale Wood (Site of Interest to Nature Conservation), managed by the Herefordshire Nature Trust and Breinton Wood (Special Wildlife Site). Breinton Wood is ancient woodland. In addition there are Drovers Wood (managed by the Woodland Trust), Breinton Springs (managed by the National Trust), Green Bank Meadow (managed by the Herefordshire Nature Trust), Plantation Copse (managed by Warham Court Farm) and two mixed-deciduous copses between Upper Breinton and Breinton Common.

The Historical Context

Breinton in 1815. Note how little has changed since then, such as Breinton Wood following the slope above the River Wye

Breinton in 1815. Note how little has changed since then, such as Breinton Wood following the slope above the River Wye

The Domesday Survey of 1086 describes the hamlet of Warham (dwelling by the water) as being a possession of the Canons of Hereford Cathedral comprising 2 ½ hides which pay tax, 8 villagers with ploughs, – value 30 shillings. Beyond the lychgate to St Michael’s Church in Lower Breinton (SO 4726 3948) there is the National Trust property of Breinton Springs. Here there is a Scheduled Monument, a roughly circular mound or tump with part of a moat in front of it. It is not thought to have been a proper castle but excavations showed walls and a stone gateway. This Norman ringwork was excavated in 1922 and also between 1959 and 1962 when part of a domestic building with a cellar was identified. It was in use around 1150 AD, possibly as a grange when it is known the Dean and Chapter of Hereford Cathedral held land here. However, it was probably abandoned in the 13th century and only used for a stock enclosure after that time. The ground in the orchard to the north of the mound is undulating and thought to be a deserted medieval village. Coins and a spindle whorl have been found, but there has been no modern archaeological investigation in the area.

Immediately to the west a track leads down the steep slope in a cutting to the River Wye at Breinton Springs. This is likely to have been a drover’s way, taking livestock through a ford across the river. Another former drove road, leading west out of Hereford, followed a route from Westfaling Street, along the top of the ridge and along Green Lane towards Sugwas Court just beyond the boundary of Breinton parish. The Green Lane, with clearly defined ditches and banks on each side in some places, and a large pond for watering livestock on their journeys can still be seen and followed today.

Cottages near Breinton Manor Farm

Cottages near Breinton Manor Farm

There are 8 listed buildings, including the St. Michael’s Church in Lower Breinton, and 57 entries in Herefordshire Council’s Historic Environment Records. These include the site of a former medieval village by the Church in Lower Breinton, brick kilns, ridge and furrow, Neolithic and Bronze Age arrowheads, and a number of barns and houses with 16th/17th century origins. There are also undesignated buildings with architectural features of merit: large houses such as Breinton Court and Wyecliff House; barns such as at Pool Farm and Breinton Manor Farm; and buildings associated with Kings Acre Nurseries.

Vegetation

Goldilocks buttercup, an indicator that Breinton Wood is ancient (N. Geeson)

Goldilocks buttercup, an indicator that Breinton Wood is ancient (N. Geeson)

Over 230 species of flowering plants have been recorded in 2012-2014. Of particular note are:

  • Plants indicating ancient woodland in Breinton Wood: Goldilocks, Early purple orchids, wild Daffodil, Bluebells, Dog’s Mercury, Wood Millet, Wood Melick, Wood Speedwell, Yellow Archangel, Small-leaved Lime, veteran Oak trees with at least two aged more than 300 years old.
  • Uncommon arable weeds seen at Breinton Manor Farm: Shepherd’s Needle, Corn Buttercup
  • Uncommon riverside plants: Marsh Woundwort, Pink Purslane, Greater Bellflower, Purple Loosestrife, Yellow Loosestrife, and Soapwort
  • Unimproved meadows that are occasionally cut or grazed but never ploughed include unusual grasses, Common Spotted Orchids and other uncommon species
  • Fritillaries are found at one location, but may have been planted

 

This old oak in Breinton Wood may be 300-350 years old (N. Geeson)

This old oak in Breinton Wood may be 300-350 years old (N. Geeson)

Trees include veterans, especially Oaks and two ancient Yews close to St. Michael’s church. Some older hedges include Small-leaved Lime, and old fruit trees such as Damson, Cherry-plum and Pear.

Near the former Kings Acre Nurseries a number of very unusual trees were planted, e.g. Silver Pendant Lime and Turner’s Oak. Hornbeam and Poplar were commonly used for hedges and windbreaks around the nurseries.

The range of fungi in Breinton attracts regular visits from the Herefordshire Fungi Survey Group.

Animals

Great Crested Newt tadpole, Lower Breinton, August 2014 (N. Geeson)

Great Crested Newt tadpole, Lower Breinton, August 2014 (N. Geeson)

Badgers are abundant all across Breinton, often choosing to burrow around the bases of older trees. Their paths can often be seen across fields and through hedges. The network of hedges allows them to travel widely, mostly unseen. Grey squirrels are common in Wyevale Wood. At least six bat species, including Lesser Horseshoe, Long-eared and Serotine, have been noted in Breinton Wood. Frogs, Toads, Grass snakes, Slow worms and Smooth newts are quite common, and Great Crested Newts have been observed in at least four ponds. Other animals seen include otters, weasels, stoats, foxes, rabbits, hedgehog, moles, voles, shrews and mice. There is also a comprehensive record of insects, beetles, butterflies, moths, etc. The rare and endangered Noble Chafer beetle has been seen in one Breinton orchard, and its droppings (frass) have been discovered in several.

Birds

Baby Tawny owl in woods at Breinton Court, April 2014 (N. Geeson)

Baby Tawny owl in woods at Breinton Court, April 2014 (N. Geeson)

The songs of Cuckoos and Skylarks are heard frequently in spring. Buzzards, owls and woodpeckers nest in Wyevale Wood. Hobbies and Kites have been seen over Warham Court Farm. Kingfishers dart along the river banks. Hedges are home to Sparrows, Warblers, Blackcaps, Yellowhammers and Stonechats. Other locally uncommon species include Song Thrush, Long-tailed Tits, Great Crested Grebes, Greenfinches, Kestrels, Jays, Nuthatches and Tree Creepers.

Green infrastructure, biodiversity and protected species

An avenue of cider apple trees at Breinton Manor Farm (N. Geeson)

An avenue of cider apple trees at Breinton Manor Farm (N. Geeson)

Awareness is growing that biodiversity across England and Wales is at risk, and that more habitats should be identified and protected to stop further decline. The flora and fauna mentioned above are part of the impressive existing range of biodiversity in Breinton. Most fields and many gardens are bounded by species-rich hedges that contribute to a network of connectivity (green infrastructure) for animals, birds, insects, etc. These may provide safe paths of migration between woods, meadows, streams and ponds, for example in search of new food sources (many insects are very specific about the plants they feed on), or in search of a mate. On Herefordshire Council’s map of green infrastructure, Hereford Local Enhancement Zone 1 covers most of Breinton, and Hereford Local Strategic Corridor 1 follows the roughly E-W line of Breinton Ridge.

Protected species observed in Breinton include: Otter, Great Crested Newt, Smooth Newt, Common Toad, Badger, Bats, Grass Snake, Slow Worm, Hobby, Kingfisher, Red Kite, and Redwing. The secluded, but connected, habitats of Breinton offer havens for increasing the populations of uncommon or endangered species.

Recreation and well-being

The Interpretation Board at Green Bank, Warham

The Interpretation Board at Green Bank, Warham

Breinton is well-served by footpaths and bridleways, some suitable for cyclists and horse-riders. In particular part of the nationally-designated Wye Valley Walk (136 miles from Chepstow in Monmouthshire to Plynlimon in Powys) follows a route with splendid views westwards out of central Hereford, close to the River Wye. The River Wye through Breinton also offers recreation in the form of fishing, kayaking and rafting.

The publicly-accessible woods (Wyevale Wood (Herefordshire Nature Trust), Drovers Wood (Woodland Trust), Breinton Wood (National Trust)) and meadows (Breinton Springs (National Trust) and Green Bank Jubilee meadow) are within 3 miles of Hereford City centre. They are therefore an important asset for recreation and well-being for all local people.

N. Geeson, October 2014