Axe Valley Hills

Similar to other areas within the west of the AONB, the Axe Valley Hills are characterised by a series of linear hills running north to south, formed from underlying greensand ridges.

Similar to other areas within the west of the National Landscape, the Axe Valley Hills are characterised by a series of linear hills running north to south, formed from underlying greensand ridges. Those summits that form the northern backdrop to the Marshwood Vale including Pilsdon Pen, Lewesdon Hill, Waddon Hill and Payne’s Down are notable features, as are Blackdown and School House. There are a series of small valleys, including the Synderfrod and Temple Brook, draining into the Axe Valley further north. Along the valley bottoms, dense hedgerows and small-scale irregular pastures are surrounded by arable fields with small dense woodlands. Clustered settlement patterns of stone villages are connected by a network of narrow winding lanes, with an intimate and tranquil quality confined by the surrounding steep hills. Along the ridge tops Beech lined avenues lead towards open summits.

  • Numerous linear hills with deep, branching clay valleys
  • Open hill tops of greensand summits, with a heathy character of bracken, heather and gorse, often with dramatic hillforts
  • Patchwork of small, irregular wet neutral pastures on valley bottoms with patches of rush, dense species rich hedgerows, hedgerow trees and large linear wet woodlands.
  • Deep, narrow winding lanes with deep hedge banks leading to occasional beech tree canopies and avenues along open ridge tops
  • Small oak and ash coppice woodlands with regular enclosures on valley sides
  • Open landscape with long views over the Axe Valley
  • Scattered clustered settlements along valley bottoms of golden limestone and thatch
  • Occasional Orchards along valley floors and lower sides
  • The area has largely retained its strong undeveloped rural character, with associated characteristics of tranquility, remoteness and dark night skies. However, these qualities are notably weakened by industrial activity toward Chard Junction.

Land shape and structure

The landform is defined by a series of rounded greensand hills running north to south, set around a network of winding sheltered clay valleys. These hills often form prominent landmarks, particularly towards the Marshwood Vale.

Soils and vegetation

The contrast of deep wet soils along the valley floor to thinner soils on the steep slopes has influenced a diverse range of characteristic habitats. Along the narrow valley bottoms, rough neutral pastures are abundant with wet patches of rush, scrub and wet woodlands enclosed by dense species rich hedgerows and trees.

On the valley sides, small oak and ash broadleaved woodlands with hazel coppice contrast the open arable fields with heather and gorse on the higher greensand summits. The area has several tributary valleys of the River Axe including the Synderford and Temple Brook.

Settlement and land cover

Landcover is mostly grazed pasture with some arable on the valley sides. A network of deep, winding rural lanes, sometimes enclosed by mature beech canopies, connects small clustered villages of golden limestone and thatch located on valley floor. Large agricultural buildings are dotted throughout the valleys along with more traditional farmsteads and hamlets. Although the area has an undeveloped character, the larger villages of Broadwindsor, Thorncombe and Drimpton can be found. These presently sit comfortably within the landscape context. However, there is some pressure to identify settlement extensions to respond to housing need. Sensitive siting and suitable density are likely to be key considerations to maintaining the character of the setting of these villages.

Historic character

The Axe Valley Hills retains some medieval patterns of historical land use with irregular fields and network of rural lanes. Strip lynchets on valley sides are found throughout the area along with the hillforts of Pilsdon Pen, Waddon Hill and Lewesdon Hill key landmarks in the area.

Visual character and perceptions

Impressive views over the Marshwood vale and towards the Axe Valley are afforded from many of the open hilltops. The dense blocks of woodland found along the valley sides evoke a strong sense of enclosure and texture. Within the valleys, there is a strong sense of intimacy and unspoilt rural character. There is pressure to increase the scale and intensity of farming enterprises across the area, resulting in proposals to enlarge buildings and associated development, such as silage clamps. Accommodating such expansion within elevated and visually exposed locations is particularly challenging and there is a risk that the cumulative effects of such growth may erode the undeveloped rural character of the area.

Strength of character

This is a landscape judged to have a strong character. The rolling, hilly landform with greensand summits and transition to deep and narrow valleys combined with the strong pastoral character creates a landscape with a variety of viewing experiences. Although varied, the landscapes are unified by the repeated occurrence of key features across the wooded pastures with clustered settlement patterns, woodland on hillsides, dense hedgerows and winding lanes, and the consistent use of stone as a building material. This creates a combination of elements evoking a strong sense of place.


This ancient pattern of wooded hills has retained a substantial amount of pasture, unlike the chalk downlands and valleys. However, management is intensive in places with some change to arable having taken place. The area exhibits a consistent land cover and land uses with a notable degree of woodland cover. Areas with small-scale field patterns which are considered to be of medieval origin, are a highly valued component of the area’s character. Along the valley floors, rough grasslands and abundant species rich hedgerows are largely intact. Some of the greensand summits have been replanted with conifer plantations and there is a lack of woodland management on smaller sites with some game coverts having geometric edges. Settlement and built character are in good condition within the smaller villages and hamlets. Overall, landscape condition is described as moderate and stable.

The overall objective for the Wooded Hills should be to conserve the intimate, undeveloped and pastoral appearance and protect the wooded character. Ongoing protection of hedgerows, rural lanes, small scale pastures, open skylines and settlement character are important considerations.


Planning guidelines

  • Ensure pylons, masts and other vertical elements are carefully sited and the number restricted to avoid visual clutter and further interruption of the characteristic open views. Encourage the under-grounding of small powerlines in open, sensitive locations.
  • Ensure new agricultural dwellings, barns and structures enhance the local character, are located to reduce their impact on open views and adopt design measures to reduce their perceived scale.  Encourage the restoration of traditional barns and farm buildings and consider the replacement of lower quality structures when planning for expansion.
  • Conserve the pattern of tight knit villages and promote the use of locally sourced stone in new developments. Likewise, planting should reflect local character, using appropriate native species.
  • Limit the impact of camping and caravanning sites. Restrict the expansion and creation of sites in areas where impacts are already significant, including areas subject to notable cumulative effects. Control proposals to introduce new ‘glamping’ facilities, based on landscape and visual sensitives. Pursue appropriate mitigation measures, including seasonal limitations, landscape enhancement measures and conditions that control noise and light pollution.
  • Maintain undeveloped character and resist intrusive developments on sensitive hillside locations.
  • Minimise small scale incremental change such as signage, fencing or improvements to the road network which could change the rural character of the landscape. Protect hedge banks along winding lanes and conserve characteristic finger posts and furniture.
  • Consider screening views to intrusive agricultural buildings and structures and settlement edges through planting new small-scale broadleaved woodlands.
  • Require limitations to and mitigation of noise and light pollution, recognising the impact these issues have on tranquility and undeveloped rural character. Avoid unnecessary and prolonged noise and light pollution. Require good design to limit the impacts and use appropriate planning conditions to secure ongoing control.

Management guidelines

  • Conserve the ancient pattern of small irregular piecemeal enclosures, assarts and strip fields.
  • Protect the wooded character and enhance woodland management with small scale planting of broadleaves along valley sides. Protect important open skylines from future planting.
  • Conserve and enhance permanent grassland and prevent loss to agricultural improvement and consequential damage to wildlife and archaeological features. Promote low impact grassland management.
  • Conserve existing orchards and promote new establishment.
  • Encourage maintenance of species rich hedgerows and trees, particularly along the valley floors and replant any gaps where necessary. Resist use of post and wire.
  • Protect watercourses and associated wildlife from soil erosion and the effects of diffuse pollution.
  • Manage the retreat of coastal landscapes and the coastal corridor. Resist hard engineering solutions in undeveloped locations.
  • Restore important patches of heathland through phased conifer felling and introduce grazing regimes.
  • Enhance the function of habitats in supporting the wider ecological network.
  • Protect patterns of strip lynchets and their setting.