The valley retains a locally characteristic, rural landscape with a rich diversity of wildlife and habitats. In the AONB, key landscape features have been retained and Constable’s views are still largely apparent. The majority of the land in the valley is still farmed despite development pressures, and supports a viable and diverse agriculture with a mix of farm sizes.
2014 publication by Natural England on the National Character Area No 86, known as the South Suffolk and North Essex Claylands can be seen from this link.
Throughout the valley Eocene and glacial deposits overlay chalk deposited during the Cretaceous period. London Clay and sands are often exposed on the valley sides as the river and its tributaries cut through the deposits. The composition of these layers and where they occur is crucial in determining what species will grow, which habitats can occur and how the area is farmed.
The river is the key landscape focus for the valley; its course is defined by bank side trees and wet meadows, and it supports a variety of river habitats. The valley floor has a large areas of functioning floodplain. Water quality is good, meeting levels demanded in regulations. The catchment meets sustainable demands for water supply, flood control and recreational use, whilst retaining an unspoilt character and healthy ecosystem.
The river has become an important method of controlling water levels, both in the surrounding countryside, and for irrigating crops.
Humans have had a great influence on the landscape, including building isolated settlements, transport links and churches. Agricultural workers divided up the land to plant crops, grow timber and graze animals.
The landscape continues to evolve as changing agricultural practices, increased leisure time and an awareness of environmental concerns all contribute to development of the Stour Valley.