Holderness is an area of England on the coast of Yorkshire. An area of rich agricultural land, Holderness was marshland until it was drained in the Middle Ages. Topographically, Holderness has more in common with The Netherlands than other parts of Yorkshire. To the north and west are the Yorkshire Wolds.
Holderness falls within the administrative area of the East Riding of Yorkshire, having from 1974 to 1996 been the borough of Holderness in Humberside. Holderness was the name of an ancient administrative area called a wapentake until the nineteenth century, when its functions were replaced by other local government bodies, particularly after the 1875 Local Government Act. The city of Kingston upon Hull lies in the south west corner of Holderness and Bridlington borders the north-east but both are usually considered separately. The main towns include Beverley, Withernsea, Hornsea and Hedon.
There are no motorways in the area, however there is access to the national motorway network via the A63 from Hull. Links to the continent are also via Hull, from where daily ferry services to Rotterdam and Zeebrugge depart. A-class roads centre upon Hull and the coastal resort of Bridlington. Otherwise the A1033 road which connects Withernsea on the south-east coast to inland areas is the only main route in the area.
The only remaining rail link is the Yorkshire Coast Line that runs between Hull in the south and Bridlington and it tends to skirt the area towards the west. Until the 1960s there were lines from Hull to both Hornsea and Withernsea, but these were closed as a result of the Beeching Report. Furthermore, in 1901 there was a proposal to construct the North Holderness Light Railway from Beverley to North Frodingham railway station, but this came to nothing.
Geologically, Holderness is underlain by Cretaceous Chalk but in most places it is so deeply buried beneath glacial deposits that it has no influence on the landscape. The landscape is dominated by deposits of till, boulder clays and glacial lake clays. These were deposited during the Devensian glaciation. The glacial deposits form a more or less continuous lowland plain which has some peat filled depressions (known locally as meres) which mark the presence of former lake beds. There are other glacial landscape features such as drumlin mounds, ridges and kettle holes scattered throughout the area.
The well drained glacial deposits provide fertile soils that can support intensive arable cultivation. Fields are generally large and bounded by drainage ditches. There is very little woodland in the area and this leads to a landscape that is essentially rural but very flat and exposed. The coast is subject to rapid marine erosion.
The Holderness coastline suffers the highest rate of coastal erosion in Europe: 5 feet (1.5 m) a year on average or 2 million tonnes of material a year. Some of this is transported by longshore drift with about 3% of material being deposited at Spurn Head spit, to the south. The growth of Spurn Head is demonstrated by a series of lighthouses that have been built on the point. It is thought that approximately 3 miles (5 km) of land has been lost since the Roman era, including at least 23 towns/villages, including for example Ravenspurn. The Holderness coastline is susceptible to erosion due to the long north-easterly fetch, allowing for powerful waves, and the softness of the geology that make up the cliffs. Holderness is also a former bay that was filled in during the last ice age and is now made up of chalk/glacial compounds that are easily eroded such as boulder clay.
All the villages affected by the erosion are located on the north side of the estuary of the River Humber. The area stretches from Flamborough Head (high chalk cliffs, just north of Bridlington) down to Spurn Head (sand spit, on above map). Villages such as Ravenser, which sent representatives to the parliament of Edward I, have totally disappeared. Holderness has lost about 5 kilometers since Roman times.
The local authorities are endeavouring to prevent the effects of erosion. Hard defences in the form of a concrete seawall and timber groynes have given some protection. It has been suggested that a large underwater reef made of tyres could be built off the Holderness coast to mitigate this erosion but it would be costly to build. Other defences include sea walls, groynes, and gabions but business people say that if the erosion is not stopped then there will be millions of pounds of damage. However, one or more such groynes has had a detrimental effect further along the coast, in some areas resulting in erosion of up to twenty metres per year.
In the east and south-east of Holderness there is a complex network of drains and streams that flow south into the Humber or east into the North Sea. To mitigate the effects of high tides stopping the water flow from these outlets, several have had pumping stations constructed at their outfalls.
The River Hull valley dominates the western landscape of Holderness. The river and its associated wetland habitats support a diverse range of plants and animals. The upper tributaries of the river originate on the edge of the Yorkshire Wolds before entering the area of glacial and alluvial deposits of Holderness. The river bed varies in composition reflecting the underlying geology. In the upper reaches of the river water crowfoot, lesser water parsnip, mares tail and spiked water milfoil may be found in the main channel whilst the marginal vegetation is composed of branched bur-reed, common reed and reed sweetgrass.
Otters have recently recolonised the upper reaches of the river, however the water vole is now confined to a few isolated populations. Notable species of invertebrates include uncommon mayflies. There is a diverse breeding bird community including lapwing, snipe and redshank. Wildfowl such as mallard and mute swans may also be seen, along with yellow wagtail, sedge warbler, reed warbler and reed bunting.
Further south towards Beverley and Hull the river becomes tidal and saline. In the lower reaches it is enclosed by flood banks with little associated natural habitat remaining. The majority of the formerly extensive wetlands have been subject to drainage schemes and agricultural improvement. However some small remnants remain along the Hull valley between Driffield and Wansford. Plants that are typical of these habitats including a variety of reeds, rushes and sedges as well as yellow flag, valerian and meadowsweet may be found.
There are few surviving areas of woodland among the open farmland which supports golden plover and lapwing and a flora of arable weeds.
The coast from Bridlington in the north to Spurn Point is an interesting complex of coastal processes. The soft cliffs of Holderness are subject to rapid erosion whilst the eroded material is being deposited on the Spurn Peninsula. The speed of erosion along the glacial till cliffs prohibits colonisation of anything but sparse ruderal vegetation. Coltsfoot is particularly common and sand martin colonies have become established in places.
Hornsea Mere is the largest natural lake in Yorkshire at 120 hectares. It has, besides the open fresh water habitat, marginal habitats of reed swamp, species-rich fen and carr woodland. It regularly supports populations of wintering wildfowl and the reed beds provide breeding sites for reed warblers. Characteristic plants include milk parsley, greater water parsnip and lesser reedmace.
The intertidal system of the estuary of the River Humber has local seagrass beds that provide feeding and wintering areas for over 133,000 waders and wildfowl. It is rich in invertebrate communities. The estuary also provides for breeding birds, grey seals and natterjack toads.
Spurn Point at the tip of the Spurn Peninsula is made of hard glacial moraine so is less liable to erosion than areas further north on the Holderness coast. The Spurn Peninsula is a beach with dunes which moves in response to the action of the waves. The wave action removes sand from the east of the beach and deposits it on the western side. The coast is influenced mainly by wave action but in the estuary the processes are driven by the power of the tides. The incoming tidal currents carry more sediment into the estuary than the ebb tides carry out. The estuary is shallow because of this constant deposition. Isostatic recoil is, however, causing the area to sink at the rate of 3 mm annually and global warming is making the sea level rise. The combined effects of these processes mean that the sea in the estuary may be half a metre higher by the year 2050. A large area around the estuary consists of land which lies below the present high water mark. Flood defences offer only a short term and local answer and may actually increase the long term risks. Managed realignment of the coast by setting back the coastal defences will provide new intertidal habitats and harness natural equalising processes and is the preferred long term solution.
Large estates in Holderness were held by the Bishop of Durham and the Archbishop of York. Other large landowners in the area included the abbeys of Meaux and Thornton and the priories of Swine, Nunkeeling and Bridlington. This land was confiscated and became crown property when Henry VIII of England dissolved the monasteries in the 16th century.
In 2004 there were 95,077 people living in the area in 41,224 households. Of these people 4.7% were aged below 25 years, 52.6% were aged between 25 and 55 years and 42.8% were 55 years old or more. The population density was in 2001 was 1.25 persons per hectare and 78% of households were privately owned compared with a national average of 68%.
There was a relatively low unemployment rate of 1.7% compared with a national average of 2.3 %.
Agriculture is the traditional employment of the area and there is a substantial area of horticultural development on the flat fertile land in the south-west. Animal husbandry, particularly pig rearing, is a major part of the agricultural scene. In 2001 agriculture employed 4.5% of the working population.
Industrial activity ranges from small workshop units in Hornsea and Withernsea to the Easington and Dimlington gas terminals on the east coast. These terminals process gas from the North Sea gas fields. The British Petroleum chemical works at Saltend uses condensates from the gas refining process and is a major employer in the area.
Tourism makes a significant contribution to the economy of Hornsea and Withernsea with Hornsea Pottery and Freeport attracting around a million visitors each year.