About the Landscape

About the Landscape

The Firth of Forth is geographically and strategically at the heart of Scotland. It has been, and remains, an important seaway linking the Central Belt with the rest of the world, and has been a major point of entry to the country throughout history. The evidence of the strategic importance of the firth is present in countless features all around the Inner Forth, from the medieval battle site of Stirling Bridge to the Victorian landmark of the Forth Bridge, as well as many much older sites.

At the same time, the Inner Forth is home to some of Scotland’s most important natural heritage sites. The Forth valley and adjacent hills illustrate the geology and ancient past of the region and have permitted the development of the rich habitats found in the area today. The landscape of the Inner Forth is host to nationally and internationally important flora and fauna, both coastal and land-based.

The presence of these valued habitats alongside active industrial centres and the depth of the cultural landscape, all within reach of large sections of Scotland’s population, is what make the Inner Forth a unique and valuable landscape resource. 

The Inner Forth Landscape Initiative aimed to protect, enhance and celebrate the area’s rich cultural and natural heritage, and to enable local people and visitors to understand the importance of the Inner Forth to the environment and cultural development of Scotland. Inner Forth Futures plans to continue that work.


Centred on the River Forth, the area is distinctive as a large-scale landscape of carselands and coast, with the dramatic rise of the Ochil escarpment beyond. The large, flat valley of the River Forth is one of the two major river systems in the Midland Valley of Scotland. Moulded by geological, glacial and fluvial processes, this broad basin comprises extensive flat lands of predominantly agricultural use. This land is highly productive and richly varied, with the pattern of the agricultural landscape strongly influenced by the types of crops and seasonal changes in land cover, presenting a patchwork of colours and textures.

Woodlands and forests are mostly associated with the policy landscapes of the principal estates, although the natural topography of coastal bluffs, scarps and incised river valleys has preserved other small but significant woodlands. Many of these scarps are the remnants of raised beaches which fringe the firth.

The River Forth meanders across the carse from Stirling, its course broadening and straightening, before it opens up into the estuarine firth at Grangemouth. The river is integral to the wider landscape, forming a key part of the setting of Stirling. The tidal nature of the river system has a significant effect on the landscape on a daily basis and the seasonal migration of birds to the area to feed on the mudflats contributes to its sense of this being a dynamic, changing landscape. The river is also integral to the cultural landscape, as the basis for the industrial activity which continues today. Infrastructure is a major presence in the landscape, with Longannet Power Station, key transport routes, overhead power lines, Grangemouth Docks and Grangemouth Oil Refinery being not just dominant features within the landscape but significant to the economy of Scotland.

The ‘shape’ and character of the landscape has changed over millennia, but more so in the last 400 years, with land reclamation for agriculture, then industry and the building of sea walls and large- scale industrial infrastructure including pylons and chimneys. Settlement is generally located on the shores of the River Forth where the ground is sufficiently elevated to reduce the risks of flooding, or on higher ground set further back. Stirling and Kincardine are at the major bridging points over the Forth within the scheme area. Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument represent key focal features to the west of the area, whilst the distant Forth bridges form iconic features when looking east, downstream.

Natural Heritage

The low river valley and coastal landscape of the Inner Forth is of European significance for supporting internationally important wintering and migratory waterfowl. The floodplain exhibits a range of outstanding riverine features that include tidal banks, rare saltmarsh habitat and extensive areas of mudflats. Most are designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and form part of the Firth of Forth Special Protection Area under the EC Birds Directive. A host of local sites of importance for nature conservation exist throughout the area, supporting a wide range of estuarine, freshwater, woodland, peatland and grassland habitats, and harbouring many species and natural features.

The natural habitats in the area have been progressively modified, reduced, replaced or eradicated through agricultural improvement, urban expansion and commercial and industrial development, leaving a fragmented nature conservation resource. However, there remain sizeable areas of estuarine and coastal-fringe habitats with high biodiversity value. It is this vast ecosystem, focused on the River Forth that lies at the heart of the Inner Forth landscape.

Agriculture is the dominant land use. Traditional field boundaries and hedgerows still form important linear features within the landscape, despite some neglect. Sites for the deposition of waste products from industry, mining or salt panning have created new landscape features such as coal bings, or areas of land reclamation. These sites have created a unique habitat for biodiversity, often supporting populations of rare and endangered invertebrates alongside other wildlife such as birds, reptiles, plants and lichens. Today, nationally important industry sits adjacent to urban settlements, internationally important natural heritage assets and rich agricultural land, creating a unique juxtaposition of features.

Historical & Cultural Heritage

Throughout history, the society and economy of the Inner Forth has been closely connected to the river and the landscape’s wealth of natural resources. The exploitation of the area’s natural mineral resources has historically been a great source of wealth, and has shaped the landscape. The richness of the soils and mineral resources, coupled with proximity to the Forth, meant that this area was highly accessible and highly prized. The area is significant for its long history of occupation: evidence from shell-midden sites dates back to the Mesolithic period, some of which are a monumental size.

Due to its strategic location, the area has long been the location of significant military defences and battlegrounds. This includes the Antonine Wall World Heritage Site, where the Romans took strategic advantage of the raised beach, to create their frontier with the north. Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn represent other iconic battlefield sites. Other landmarks make good use of hill-top positions overlooking the flat landscape, such as Blackness Castle and Clackmannan Tower.

The course of the river has been directly shaped by human activity that has formed ports and harbours, and drained and reclaimed the edges of the estuary. The main settlements in the area were formed in the medieval period, particularly the burghs and ports. During this time early industries developed and grew significantly, fuelled by the easy access to international trade routes. Salt pans were worked by medieval monasteries. The vast carboniferous coal measures were exploited, including the establishment of the first coal mine in the world to extend under the sea, established at Culross in 1575. The influence of overseas trade on local villages and towns can still be read within the landscape today: distinctive red roof tiles are prevalent in many villages in Fife and are said to have been brought back as ballast by collier ships returning to Culross from the Low Countries.

Remains of former industries remain throughout the landscape, including: disused salt pans, limekilns, coal mines, whisky distilleries and infrastructure associated with the ship-building, fishing and export industries, local ironworks, colliery and planned villages, docks and harbours, the Forth and Clyde Canal, railways, and bridges. Place names reflect the importance of local industries: Kennetpans for its salt panning, Limekilns for its lime production.

The industrial wealth of the area led to the establishment of important designed landscapes such as the Pineapple and Dunmore Park, Valleyfield Estate and Culross Abbey House, all listed on the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes. Many of these sites have connections to notable architects and landscape designers including Sir William Bruce, William and Robert Adam, and Robert Lorimer. Valleyfield is the only Scottish example of a Humphrey Repton designed landscape. The wooded policy landscapes and parkland trees of these landed estates are a significant feature of the area.

Many of the buildings and settlements in the area have fascinating stories to tell, being associated with important people and events, but also increasingly forgotten cultural and historical associations. For example the village of Airth (meaning level green place) has long association with the River Forth and hosted a royal dockyard during the 14th century, used to build ships for war. However, the changing flows of the River Forth led to the silting up of the south west shore. As a result the village's role as a port waned in the 1700s, though not before a number of residents had made their fortunes from trade. The Pineapple, stands a mile north of the village of Airth. It was built by the 4th Earl of Dunmore, John Murray, in 1761 as a birthday present for his wife Charlotte. The pineapple is thought to be a symbol of power, wealth and hospitality.

Today, the land is primarily used for intensive agriculture, industry and recreation.