What common characteristics can you find in the works of composers like Holst, Vaughan Williams, or Grainger? I list these three in particular because of their propensity to build on existing folk songs in works like "Second Suite in F", "English Folk Song Suite", or "Lincolnshire Posy", allowing them to retain something centrally English about the tunes from which they derive their melodies.
The one unifying characteristic I've noticed is a propensity to use the Dorian mode - both Second Suite and English Folk Song Suite have second movements prominently featuring F Dorian oboe solos(the latter's first movement is also placed mainly in F Dorian). I've also seen a good deal of 6/8 and 12/8 time signatures.
So, in terms of chord progressions, scales, orchestration, textures, form, and composing techniques, what unifies late English Romantic composers? Additionally, what gives tunes such as those of "Second Suite" and "English Folk Song Suite" such a distinctly "nautical" feel?
Also, to clarify, I'm not speaking specifically about works based on english folk songs, though I'd argue that the works of these composers which don't fit that billing still inherited a lot of influence from folk songs. In my mind, something like "Moorside Suite" or "First Suite in Eb"(I'm reticent to list this one given that the first movement has arguable ties to "Agincourt Carol") evokes no less English imagery than "Second Suite".
Edit: In terms of structure, it's hard not to point to some connection between "Second Suite" and "English Folk Song Suite", particularly in their first movements. Both employ a number of folk songs separated into discrete units by perfect cadences before cycling back(EFSS is arch form, SS is ABCAB). Again, the second movements are almost laughably similar, featuring F dorian oboe solos against oscillation of minor chords. EFSS distinguishes itself slightly in this regard by ending its movement with "The Lost Lady Found"(incidentally, one Grainger used in the final movement of LP), a more upbeat folk song. Not sure how much this means, all in all.
You can draw some connections regarding development of themes here. A good chunk of movements from the listed pieces loop the same melody repeatedly while altering instrumentation or adding ornamentation from different sections(the best example I can think of is "The Lost Lady Found" - it's literally the same tune with nothing but orchestration changed; also a masterclass in orchestration in that regard). Some just give in to the urge to create circular melodies(notably, "Fantasia on the Dargason").
One technique common in the elements of the Holst repertoire I listed(as commenters have pointed out, it's inaccurate to characterize all of his opus along these lines) entails the statement of an A theme, the presentation of a B theme(this can be either layered on top of the A theme, which is placed in the background, as with "Fantasia on the Dargason", or played on its own, as with the clarinet sol[i/o]s in "Intermezzo" and "March" from "First Suite"), and the merging of the two(this time allocated equal volume and importance) as point and counterpoint, frequently making use of hemiolas in the process(again, best example is "Dargason").