Axe Valley

Circling the north-western part of the AONB, the Axe Valley shares a similar character to the valley floor of the Brit Valley.

Circling the north-western part of the National Landscape, the Axe Valley shares a similar character to the valley floor of the Brit Valley. The wide terraced floodplain and meandering river Axe is enclosed by the surrounding undulating hills. A common occurrence of trimmed hedgerows with mature hedgerow trees is set around medium fields of arable and improved pastures. Ribbons of wet woodland, occasional wet neutral pastures and wet flushes add to the ecological interest. Large agricultural barns and modern development stand out in the open landscape. Forde Abbey and its parkland landscape is a key feature of the area. There is a subtle change in character to the surrounding wooded hills.

  • Meandering terraced river floodplain with damp neutral pastures and linear wet woodlands
  • Patchwork of arable and pastoral fields on valley bottoms with trimmed hedgerows and mature trees
  • Undulating hills with shallow, branching clay valleys
  • Occasional small oak and ash woodlands on upper terraces with large arable and pastoral fields
  • Long open views along the valley floor
  • Historic bridges of local stone crossing the river
  • Scattered nucleated settlements along valley floor with mixed building materials
  • Parkland landscapes and former medieval deer parks support the area’s rich historic character
  • 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

Formed of fluvial deposits, the area is a flat-bottomed valley floor with terraces. The meandering river and floodplain becoming broader further west. Along the valley sides, small clay valleys cut through the undulating greensand hills.

Soils and vegetation

The deep wet soils along the valley are alluvial drift and clays. Riparian habitats in the valley floor include wet pastures, willow and alder. Along the valley sides, small broadleaved woodlands are mostly oak and ash.

Settlement and land cover

Landcover is mostly mixed arable and improved pasture. A network of surrounding winding rural lanes connects small nucleated villages of mixed materials located along the upper terraces. Large agricultural buildings are dotted throughout the valleys along with more traditional farmsteads and hamlets. Occasional parklands add to landscape interest.

Historic character

The area is largely piecemeal enclosure with some planned enclosure. The area has limited surviving archaeology although the Palaeolithic river terraces are of great importance and require further investigation. Old gravel pits and remnant eighteenth century parkland landscapes are found along the valley floor, particularly at Forde Abbey.

Visual character and perceptions

The area has an open character, particularly along the wide valley floor although mature trees create a sense of intimacy. With a variety of land uses, the area has a complex visual character ranging from modern industrial influences, particularly near to Chard Junction, to quiet rural countryside.

Strength of character

This is a landscape judged to have a moderate character. The flat valley floor has been altered by development in part with some loss of important landscape features, particularly around Chard Junction and the larger villages within the eastern segment of the area. Here, intrusive industrial and residential developments have weakened the surrounding rural character. Outside of these areas traditional landscape elements are stronger, although due to more intensive farming practices, these have been lost in part.


Along the valley floor, some hedgerows have become fragmented with hedgerow trees in need of replacement. Only small patches of wet unimproved pastures have survived with most having been drained or turned to arable. Modern development has a negative impact within distinct pockets of the area. In some areas poplar planting detracts from natural character. Overall landscape condition is judged to be moderate and stable.

The overall management objective for the area should be to conserve the open and undeveloped character of the floodplains, wet woodlands and damp meadows with enhancement and restoration of hedgerows and hedgerow trees. Protection of the area from the influence of further intrusive development is a key objective.

Planning guidelines

  • Ensure that settlement growth is directed to areas of least sensitivity and pursue appropriate landscape mitigation measure.
  • Ensure new housing development is complimentary to settlement scale, form and density and secure appropriate mitigation measures. Promote the use of previously developed land before greenfield sites, where this is well connected to settlement form. Require appropriate materials and architectural detailing, recognising the variable viability issues affecting market and affordable homes. Reduce the impact of associated features, including lighting, parking and access.
  • Ensure that greenspace brought forward in connection with housing development is sensitively designed. It should maintain rural character, provide benefits for biodiversity, contribute to the functionality of green infrastructure and deliver landscape and visual mitigation and enhancement.
  • Ensure new agricultural dwellings, barns and structures enhance the local character, are located to reduce their impact on open views and, where necessary, 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.
  • Ensure farm diversification projects do not have a negative impact on local character.
  • Conserve and enhance important open skylines.
  • 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.
  • Minimise small scale incremental change such as signage, fencing or improvements to the road network which could change the rural peaceful character of the landscape. Protect verges along winding lanes and conserve characteristic finger posts and furniture.
  • 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.
  • Where appropriate, encourage the planting of small-scale community woodlands to reduce visual impact of urban area, taking an integrated approach to increased access, nature conservation and greenspace provision.
  • Limit the impact of equine-related activity on landscape character, visual amenity and public access. Avoid the subdivision of prominent fields, particularly at settlement edges and on hillsides, and locate stables, jumps and other equipment in unobtrusive locations. Avoid the use of uncharacteristic fencing materials, which can be widely perceptible and appear out of place. Reduce conflict between equine management and public access where possible and ensure that public rights of ways are properly managed and maintained.
  • Ensure appropriate siting and design for essential infrastructure, such as water and electricity, integrating any required developments into the rural landscape, securing appropriate mitigation and delivering visual enhancements where possible.
  • Ensure that coastal and flood defences are compatible with the National Landscape’s exceptional undeveloped coastline. Require the use of materials that are complementary to the character and appearance of their environs.
  • Ensure that development linked to aquaculture and fishing is compatible with the National Landscape’s exceptional undeveloped coastline. Avoid locating permanent infrastructure in sensitive areas and minimise the impact of essential infrastructure through good design.
  • 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.
  • Maintain the tradition of combed-wheat reed thatching in villages, by resisting the use of water reed on buildings previously thatched in wheat reed. The Dorset traditional style of thatching (wrap-over ridge) should be pursued.

Management guidelines

  • Conserve the ancient pattern of small irregular pastoral fields and narrow lanes interspersed with irregular patches of woodland.
  • Replant hedgerow sections where historical loss has taken place and plant new hedgerow trees.
  • Enhance woodland management, particularly coppice woodlands with small scale planting of broadleaves along valley sides.
  • Promote conservation to low impact grassland management.
  • Enhance the function of habitats in supporting the wider ecological network.
  • Remove poplars in open locations.
  • Promote restoration of orchards and parkland landscapes.
  • Encourage maintenance of species rich hedgerows, particularly along the valley floors and replant any gaps where necessary.
  • Protect watercourses and associated wildlife from soil erosion and the effects of diffuse pollution.
  • Promote screening views to intrusive agricultural buildings/structures and settlement edges through planting new small-scale broadleaved woodlands.