Planning Portal

Design Guide for Rural Northern Ireland
A Special Landscape

The countryside is one of our greatest assets and it is important that development should not only provide for our needs, but also enhance the landscape which has been nurtured and shaped by generations of rural people.
Northern Ireland's topography is very varied - typically in the space of a few kilometres there is a great range of types of landform.
Evidence of man's influence is to be found in the patters of the countryside, ancient monuments, homesteads and outbuildings. Some buildings have been in use for centuries, others have become stores or animal houses or have been abandoned. All are familiar elements of the rural scene.
Centuries of evolution have produced a landscape which is:
  • cultivated, yet natural,
  • picturesque, yet which earns its living,
  • ancient, yet worked with modern techniques...
  • in a word, unique.

Some Typical Landscapes

Drumlin Country

The rolling hills produce all kinds of slopes with many different vantage points. Stands of mature trees are frequently found, often in association with existing or former homesteads. Integrating new buildings with associated older buildings, especially in well treed areas, may make new development less intrusive in the landscape.


Coasts of Northern Ireland vary from craggy limestone and basalt cliffs to sandy beaches, from river estuaries to rocky bays, from high sand dunes to flat coastal plains. Every type of coastline is attractive to look at and may seem to be an attractive place to build, however the coast is particularly vulnerable to intrusive development.

Upland Areas

These open landscapes of great natural beauty are typified by sparse settlement and a lack of human intervention. The introduction of a new building into such a landscape would require great skill, since the building is likely to intrude into the landscape and will be visible from many different vantage points.


Mountains have also tended to be used for recreational purposes. The intrusion of new buildings could spoil the very characteristics of mountains which make them attractive as places to walk and enjoy for recreational purposes.

Forests and Woodland

Northern Ireland has been described as one of the least forested parts of Europe. Forests are rare outside the large estates and tend to be used for commercial production and for recreation. Building in forests has been traditional in many parts of the world, but less so in Northern Ireland. Trees are used as shelter, often in groups around buildings and they generally soften the visual impact.

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Northern Ireland is fortunate in having a rich variety of high quality landscapes, within a relatively small land area. The Department has designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) to give national recognition to some of the most beautiful landscapes and approximately twenty-six percent of the countryside is within existing or proposed designations. Design guides have been published for the Mournes, and Antrim Coast and Glens AONBs.
Environmentally Sensitive Areas are designated by the Department of Agriculture and they are mainly associated with parts of AONBs. They are areas of special landscape, wildlife or historic interest which can be protected or enhanced by specific practices.
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