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The protection of historic designed landscapes in the United Kingdom

The protection of historic designed landscapes in the United Kingdom

Each of the national heritage agencies for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland offers protection to historic designed landscapes.

The level of protection, and the mechanisms for this are different in each case. The different regimes are summarised below, based on information from each agency's web site.


English Heritage compiles the Register of Parks and Gardens of special historic interest in England. It currently includes some 1,600 designed landscapes of many different types.Lyveden New Bield, Northamptonshire

In the same way as historic buildings are categorised, parks and gardens are graded I, II* and II. Grade I is the highest grade, and a relatively exclusive one. Prior Park is an example of a Grade I-listed site. London Road Cemetery in Coventry is listed Grade II* and Victoria Park, Tunstall is Grade II.

The Register forms part of the National Heritage List for England, available online at


Of the many parks and gardens throughout England which are of historic value, a relatively small number are considered to be sufficiently important to be included on the national Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England.

The decision to register a park or garden is based on an assessment by English Heritage as to whether it can be said to be of ‘special historic interest'. The criteria are set out in four English Heritage Selection Guides covering Rural, Urban, Institutional and Remembrance landscapes.

The majority of sites registered are, or started life as, the grounds of private houses, but public parks and cemeteries form important categories too. Even two pumping stations and hospital landscapes are included, because they have skilfully planned surroundings that reflect the landscaping fashions of their day.

As well as being of particular historic interest, registered sites might also be of note for other reasons such as their amenity value, or for nature conservation. Although these factors are not relevant when assessing the site for the Register, they need to be given consideration to ensure the sensitive management of the site in the future.

The specific assessment criteria are based on the assumption that the older the surviving features of a site are, the more rare that type of site is likely to be, although other factors are considered.

The kinds of sites that are likely to be of sufficient historic interest for inclusion on the Register are:

  • Those with a main phase of development before 1750, such as Lyveden New Bield, where at least a proportion of the layout is still evident, even perhaps only as an earthwork.
  • Sites laid out mainly between 1750 and 1820, such as Berrington Hall, where enough of the landscaping survives to reflect the original design.
  • Places like Kenwood, with a main phase of development between 1820 and 1880 which is of importance and survives intact or relatively intact.
  • Those such as Munstead Wood, with a main phase of development between 1880 and 1939 where this is of high importance and survives intact.
  • Sites such as Civic Square, Plymouth, which were laid out after the Second World War, but more than 30 years ago, where the work is of exceptional importance.
  • Places such as Sissinghurst Castle, which were influential in the development of taste, whether through reputation or references in literature.
  • Sites such as Hestercombe, which are early or representative examples of a particular style of layout, or a type of site, or the work of a designer (amateur or professional) of national importance in this case Gertrude Jekyll.
  • Sites such as Sulgrave Manor, that are associated with significant persons or historical events.
  • Sites such as Lichfield, where a group of sites has a strong value when taken together.

These criteria are not mutually exclusive categories and more than one of them may be relevant in the assessment of any particular site.


Although being included on the Register does not in itself bring additional statutory controls over a park or garden, local authorities are required by central government to provide for the protection of the historic environment in their policies and their allocation of resources.

Under the 2012 National Planning Policy Framework, one of the twelve core principles is that plan-making and decision-taking should conserve heritage assets in a manner appropriate to their significance, so that they can be enjoyed for their contribution to the quality of life of this and future generations.

The compilation of 'local lists' is encouraged. Local planning authorities must consult English Heritage where an application affects a Grade I or II* registered site. The Garden History Society is consulted on all applications affecting registered sites, regardless of the grade of the site. Most Local Plans contain policies to help safeguard the historic parks and gardens which lie within the area covered. These usually stress in particular those sites included in the national Register, while the best plans also cover parks and gardens of more local interest.



The Long Border, Arduaine GardensThe Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes is compiled and maintained by Historic Scotland and can be consulted on-line. It is a growing and evolving record of nationally important gardens and designed landscapes across Scotland.

It is estimated that there are more than 3,000 gardens and designed landscapes in Scotland of varying size, character, value and condition. More than 1,000 sites have been considered so far, and approximately 385 sites are currently included on the Inventory.

A few examples of the range of designed landscape types included in the Inventory are:


Scotland has created a value system to enable sites to be assessed and compared. Gardens and designed landscapes are assessed on each of the following common values:

  • Work of Art.
  • Historical.
  • Horticultural, arboricultural and silvicultural.
  • Scenic.
  • Nature conservation.
  • Archaeological.
  • Architectural.

Sites are awarded a merit category in each of the above areas: Outstanding, High, Some, Little or None. Judgements are based on the condition of the garden and designed landscape as it is seen today. The value system is a means of comparing landscapes of similar scale, age and character.

Once a garden has been assessed against each of these criteria, a decision is made on its inclusion in the Inventory. There are no hard-and-fast rules for what constitutes national significance, and each garden is considered on its own merits.

Comparatively small plantsman's gardens like Arduaine in Argyll and Bute, or Branklyn in Perth, for example, may only score very highly in the horticultural value category and represent little value in the others, but the rare plant collections in these gardens makes them nationally important and worthy of protection.

They are considered to be as significant as much larger and grander designed landscapes like Cawdor Castle in the Highlands or Hopetoun House in West Lothian, which both score very highly in almost every category.

Historic Scotland's Chief Inspector makes the final decision on the inclusion of a garden on the Inventory. Where the the merits of a site are not clear-cut, external experts are asked for their opinion.

‘Lost gardens'

Many landscapes that were once valuable have been lost - the design destroyed or degraded to such an extent that it can no longer be clearly identified. These landscapes may have a richly documented history but are not included in the Inventory because they cannot be protected in any practical way.

There are also many sites where certain features have been lost or degraded - for example, walled gardens taken out of flower, vegetable and fruit production, or follies that have fallen down and their remains removed. However, the overall design of some of these sites may still be intact and easily recognisable, making them highly valuable and worthy of inclusion.

Garden structure

The dynamic nature of gardens and designed landscapes can make evaluation challenging. Especially when trying to determine which aspects of a garden's design or historical periods to highlight for the Inventory. One example is Crarae, recently taken over by The National Trust for Scotland.

The long-term structure of a designed landscape consists of the built structures, landform and trees with a lifespan of 100 years or more. The medium-term structure consists of shorter-lived trees (20-100 years) and shrubs. The short-term structure is made up of the herbaceous plants and bulbs with a lifespan of between one and 20 years.

Although a garden or landscape may be most widely known for its colourful borders or plant collections, these are actually the most short-lived part of the landscape and it is the lasting structures of a garden which must be considered.


Although not a statutory designation, and therefore very different from either scheduling or listing, Inventory status is a material consideration in the Scottish planning system.

The Town and Country Planning (General Development Procedure) (Scotland) Order 1992, amended 2007, requires planning authorities to consult Scottish Ministers, through Historic Scotland, on development proposals affecting Inventory sites.

However, planning authorities may choose to grant consent despite objection from Historic Scotland, or refuse consent despite no objection. In cases where a planning authority is disposed to grant consent in the face of objection, Scottish Ministers cannot call in the case for their own determination unless the setting of a Scheduled Monument or a Category A-listed building is also an issue.



Gravel and water garden, DewstowParks and gardens thought to be of national importance are included on the Cadw/ICOMOS Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in Wales.

The Register was compiled in order to aid the informed conservation of historic parks and gardens by owners, local planning authorities, developers, statutory bodies and all concerned with them.

It is non-statutory and has been issued in six volumes, covering former county council areas and unitary authorities. It was completed in 2002 but is not a closed list, and sites can be added (or subtracted) at any time.

There are currently 372 sites on the Register. In the same way as historic buildings are categorised, these sites are graded I, II* and II. An example of a Grade I-listed site is Hawarden Castle, a Grade II* site is Aberglasney and a Grade II site is Ruthin Castle.


In choosing sites for the Register Cadw takes many factors into account:

  • The date of the site.
  • Its state of preservation.
  • Whether it is a good example of its type.
  • Whether it is the work of known designers.
  • Whether it is associated with persons of note.
  • Whether it is unusual or rare in any way.

Sites on the Register do not have to be open to the public, and in fact most are not. However, an increasing number do open and the Welsh Historic Gardens Trust publishes a comprehensive booklet on them, the Guide to the Historic Parks and Gardens of Wales.

Parks and gardens on the Register range in age from medieval to late 20th-century. Many have features from different styles and periods, such as Powis Castle. There is no exact cut-off date for gardens included on the Register, and there are sites where significant historical developments have been added as late as the 1960s, 1970s and 1990s.

There are many types of site on the Welsh Register:

There are a significant number of urban parks on the Register, with 39 entries (about 10 per cent of the total). Cardiff and Swansea have a magnificent collection of Victorian urban parks, with Roath Park, Singleton Park and Clyne Gardens (all listed Grade I) ranking as some of the best in Britain.


The Register does not affect existing planning and listed building controls, but statutory consultation on planning applications involving parks and gardens on the Register is in the process of being introduced in Wales. All applications will be referred to the Garden History Society and those concerning sites graded I and II* will also be referred to Cadw. In the meantime a similar, but voluntary, system of consultation is in place.

Cadw helps to protect historic parks and gardens through advice to local planning authorities on planning applications affecting registered sites. The aim is to prevent damage to significant features, such as historic layout, structure, built features and planting. The authority does not simply try to preserve everything as it is. In fact, in many cases development is both benign and beneficial. However, it is important that insensitive development should not harm the historic and visual character of historic parks and gardens and consultation on planning applications can help to prevent this.

Northern Ireland

The south facade of Castle Coole seen from across Lough Coole. Photograph by Matthew Antrobus. Copyright National Trust Picture Library.

The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) maintains the Register of Parks, Gardens and Demesnes of Special Historic Interest, which is available online, and has information on more than 150 of an estimated 300 important designed landscapes in Northern Ireland. View of Castle Coole from Lough Coole.

In addition, the NIEA holds the Northern Ireland Heritage Gardens Archive, a comprehensive record of over 700 historic parks, gardens and demesnes, compiled by the Northern Ireland Heritage Gardens Committee.


The character and appearance of the modern landscape of Northern Ireland owes much to ornamental parks and gardens associated with its houses, institutions and public parks.

Many are distinguished by their carefully composed designs of trees, meadow and water, perhaps as a setting for a building. Some boast a valuable collection of trees, shrubs or plants. Others may provide a significant historic record, either of a particular era or showing how the design has changed over the centuries.

Aside from their contribution to the quality and character of our local landscape, those that are open to the public provide an important recreational resource.

However, it is a fragile heritage, for unlike other works of art, these gardens and designed landscapes are living, growing and evolving. As such they need careful management. The NIEA considers it important, therefore, that these valuable features of the built heritage are protected from development which could harm their historic character.

In Northern Ireland, none of the criteria used are considered as mutually exclusive categories. For sites to be included in the Register of Parks, Gardens and Demesnes of Special Historic Interest, they would be expected to score well against the following criteria:

  • Integrity of the site’s design.
  • The historic interest and importance of the site, including age and associations.
  • The horticultural/arboricultural interest and importance of the site.
  • The nature conservation/scientific interest of the site.
  • The aesthetic and scenic quality and importance of the site.
  • The site’s contribution to local landscape character.
  • The surviving condition of the site today.
  • The high recreational or educational potential of the site.

Most of Ulster’s historic gardens and designed landscapes form part of ‘demesnes’ – the parts of a manorial estate not leased to tenants, but retained by the lords for their own use. Demesnes have been a dominant feature of the Irish landscape since medieval times and once occupied over five per cent of the country.

By the early 17th century, gardens with formal layouts were developing beside manors. From 1660, gardens became larger, with tree-lined avenues, canals, parterres and bosquets. There are few extant examples that belong to this category, though there are parts of subsequently altered sites which still have formal elements, such as Antrim Castle.

By the mid-18th century formal layouts made way for the ‘natural’ style of the landscape park, such as Florence Court and Castle Coole. In the Regency and early Victorian era landscapes became even wilder, while flower gardens reappeared close to the house, as at Narrow Water Castle.

In the late 19th century, the great influx of seeds and plants from abroad led to the popularity of specialist tree and shrub collections. There were formal parterres filled with vast numbers of new annuals and tender plants raised in heated glasshouses at places such as Barons Court.

From the 1880s the concept of the naturalised ‘wild’ garden took hold, advocated by the Irish horticulturist William Robinson. His philosophy led to the creation of bog gardens, rhododendron and woodland gardens, mixed borders and the massing of bulbs, typified by gardens such as as Tempo Manor.


While no additional statutory controls follow on from inclusion of a site in the register, the effect of proposed development on a park, garden or demesne or its setting included in the register is considered in planning and/or listed building consent applications and appeals.

The NIEA does not normally permit development which would lead to the loss of, or cause harm to, the character, principal components or setting of parks, gardens and demesnes of special historic interest. Where planning permission is granted this will normally be conditional on the recording of any features of interest that will be lost before development commences. In assessing proposals for development in or adjacent to parks, gardens and demesnes of special historic interest, particular attention is paid to the impact of the proposal on:

  • The archaeological, historical or botanical interest of the site.
  • The site’s original design concept, overall quality and setting.
  • Trees and woodland and the site’s contribution to local landscape character.
  • Any buildings or features of character within the site including boundary walls, pathways, garden terraces or water features.
  • Planned historic views of or from the site or buildings within it.

In assessing proposals which would affect those parks, gardens and demesnes which retain only some elements of their original form - for example, those supplementary sites identified as an appendix to the proposed register - the NIEA considers the need to retain distinctive elements of such sites as features within the changing landscape.

Where a decision is taken to permit development which would result in the loss of any distinctive features of parks, gardens and demesnes, the NIEA will normally require developers to carry out recording, working to a brief prepared by the NIEA, so that knowledge of this part of landscape heritage is not entirely lost.