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Plymouth City is situated in the South-West of England on the south coast. It is sited between the Devon and Cornwall County boundaries. It has established rail links to the South West and the rest of the country and good road links via the A38 and M5.
The area of the city is 7929 ha (19,592 acres). It rises from sea level to a height, at Roborough, of about 155 metres above Ordnance Datum (AOD). The bulk of the city of Plymouth lies on a peninsula of land between two rivers, the Tamar to the west and the River Plym to the east. Both rivers flow south into the natural sheltered harbour of the Sound, which along with the lower river valley and estuaries around Plymouth are a classic example of a ria or drowned river valley system. The two main river valleys are incised on both flanks by east-west running valleys, which typically resulted in creeks at the confluence with the main rivers. These creeks are less prominent today as many have been filled in and reclaimed by both man and natural processes. Such reclaimed creeks are found at Lipson, Stonehouse and Weston Mill.
The single best known topographical feature of the city is the Hoe, a limestone ridge some 1.2km long and 30m high. The city centre lies just north of the Hoe, in the shallow basin of an east-west trending valley.
To the east of the core area of Plymouth lie Plympton and Plymstock. Plympton lies in the wide floored valley of the Tory Brook that runs in an east-west direction. Plymstock lies within a more complex system of river valleys and has some significant landform features.
The landscape quality of Plymouth has been shaped historically by natural processes and large amounts of human activity.
The rocks at Plymouth become progressively younger from South to North. The headlands at the entrance to Plymouth Sound are formed of Lower Devonian slates. These are hard rocks that have been able to withstand the erosive powers of the sea. The Jennycliff and Picklecombe stretches comprise other Lower Devonian rocks, grits and shale slates. Running west east from Cremyll to Plymstock and including the Hoe is a band of Middle Devonian limestone formed from the coral reefs that grew in warm shallow waters.
This limestone has and still does provide a source for economic uses such as building stone, aggregates and cement. Local limestone may be seen in numerous buildings, walls and pavements throughout Plymouth. It also contains many cavities, which create difficulties for construction work today but yield evidence of past human and animal presence in the area. The bulk of the city is built upon Upper Devonian slates and shales, which have been greatly folded and faulted. Known as Shallot, the rock is friable and has been used in the past for brick making in the city (and still is at Steer Point to the east of the city) as well as some building construction.
There is evidence within the city of the volcanic activity of the Devonian period at such places as Ford, Hartley and Plymstock.
There are three fresh surface water abstractions in the Plymouth boundaries, which are used within the industrial, commercial, and public services sectors.
There are two designated bathing waters within the city boundaries, Plymouth Hoe East and Plymouth Hoe West. There are several monitored sites within the Plym and Tamar estuaries and Plymouth Sound that are regularly sampled under the European Commission (EC) Dangerous Substances Directive by the Environment Agency. All surface waters are regarded as sensitive receptors and must achieve the classification given by the Environment Agency.
Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs)