Settlement site and situation

The piece of land upon which a settlement is built is the settlement site.

There are many reasons why a site might be chosen for the development of a settlement and some factors will be more important than others.

Some common site factors include:

  • Wet point sites - these have a good water supply. Many settlements grew around wet point sites, eg villages in the South Downs.
  • Dry point sites - these are away from the risk of flooding, eg Ely in Cambridgeshire.
  • Defensive sites - often found on higher ground so that in the past, enemies could be seen from a distance, eg Corfe Castle, Dorset, or in the loop of a meander, eg Durham.
  • Aspect - settlements are often found on the sunny side of a deep valley. This is common in settlements in the Alps.
  • Shelter - from cold prevailing winds and rain.
  • Gap towns - Lincoln is found in a gap between two areas of higher ground.
  • Resources - important for industry, eg villages such as Aberfan in the Welsh valleys is close to coal reserves.
  • Bridging point - settlements with 'ford' in their name often grew around a fording point or bridging point, eg Watford is found on the River Colne.
  • Trading centres - often settlements grow where natural route ways and rivers meet, which helps the development of roads, railways and canals.

The importance of many of these functions diminish as technological advances enable people to overcome difficulties.

The situation of a settlement is its position in relation to the surrounding human and physical features, many of which will have an impact on the settlement's type, size and function.

With modern settlements, remember that decisions about location and situation have been made by planners, but that their priorities may differ from those that determined the location of a historical settlement like Southampton. For example, a modern settlement does not need to be close to a river because drinking water is now piped to our homes and waterways are no longer important for transport.