Bride Valley

The sweeping broad profile of the Bride Valley marks a transition from the intimate pastures of the West Dorset Landscape to the broader chalk and coastal landscapes to the east.

The sweeping broad profile of the Bride Valley marks a transition from the intimate pastures of the West Dorset Landscape to the broader chalk and coastal landscapes to the east. The head of the valley is marked by the South Dorset Escarpment to the north and the smaller limestone escarpment to the south. These surrounding valley sides are the source of many smaller springs that feed the river Bride at the heart of the valley which drains into the sea towards Burton Bradstock and West Bay. The source of the Bride is at Blackdown Hill to the east of Littlebredy on an isolated bed of gravels. The clay valley floor has an intimate and tranquil character with small regular pastures, dense hedgerows, and ribbons of wet woodland. A network of rural winding lanes connect a series of small nucleated villages of limestone and thatch with locally prominent churches along the valley sides and isolated manor houses along the valley floor. The open valley sides are more arable in character with larger fields and blocks of occasional broadleaved woodland.

  • Broad clay valley enclosed by chalk and limestone escarpments with outcrops of greensand and gravels
  • River Bride with several tributaries, with rough pastures and winding ribbons of wet woodlands.
  • Continuous patchwork of regular neutral pastures along valley floor with larger fields of arable on open valley sides with patches of scrub and calcareous/limestone grassland on steeper slopes.
  • Mixed boundaries of stone walls towards the coast and dense hedgerows with hedgerow oaks towards the valley floor.
  • Small nucleated settlements of limestone and thatch along valley sides with isolated houses on the valley floor, contributing to the area’s rich historic and built heritage.
  • Features of the exceptional undeveloped coastline within the western extent and glimpses of coast from locally prominent hills and higher ground inland
  • Blocks of small wet woodlands on valley floor with occasional large woodlands on valley sides
  • Strong undeveloped rural character, with traditional agricultural character commonly maintained. However, tranquilly, remoteness and dark night skies have been affected, particularly within the western portion of the area, where tourism, leisure and residential uses are more intensive. Furthermore, the location of the A35 to the north results in some disturbance of traditional character, due to noise and light pollution.

Land shape and structure

The Bride Valley has broad sweeping profile with a clay valley floor, surrounding chalk and limestone escarpments with occasional outcrops of greensand and gravels. The land shape provides enclosure along the valley floor compared to the open valley sides.

Soils and vegetation

The diversity of rock types found along the valley gives rise to a variety of soils and vegetation. The thinner soils along the steep escarpments support patches of rough calcareous and limestone grassland. The clay valley floor supports patches of wet neutral grassland and ribbons of wet woodland. Outcrops of greensand support rough grasslands and bracken.

Settlement and land cover

The valley floor is dotted with manor houses and large farmsteads. Small nucleated villages with characteristic materials of limestone and thatch are found along the valley sides. Landcover is largely pastoral with small woodlands along the valley floor with mixed arable and pasture on the valley sides, often farmed by large estates.

Historic character

The area has overall historic character of medieval or later, particularly as open fields are found in some parts. Regular enclosures are found throughout the area with planned enclosures prominent in the southern part of the valley with piecemeal enclosures, open fields and coppice found towards the north. Occasional burial mounds occur on the higher ground and there are several small disused quarries found throughout the area. The river at Bridehead is dammed at the source with springs beneath a lake, surrounded with a landscaped park. Former medieval settlements are found at Kingston Russell, Sturthill and Ashley.

Visual character and perceptions

The Bride valley has a harmonious and tranquil character emphasised by the continuous patchwork of pastoral fields, ribbons of wet woodland and quiet winding rural lanes. The open, broad valley sides provide occasional glimpses of the coast, particularly from the prominent hills of the Knoll and Shipton Hill. The valley floor, particularly to the west, has intimate and secluded character. Although the area retains a strong sense of rural tradition, there is pressure to increase the scale and intensity of farming enterprises. Accommodating such expansion within elevated and visually exposed locations is particularly challenging and cumulative effects should be considered. Further intensification of tourism-based development toward the coast should be resisted.

Strength of character

The landscape is judged to have a strong character. There are relatively few intrusive features in the landscape with subtle transitions of landscape diversity. The rural sense of place is emphasised by the strong landforms of enclosing escarpment and sweeping valley sides. The distinct and recognisable pattern of characteristic features such as the patchwork of dense hedges, regular pastures and small woodlands is apparent throughout most of the area. However, occasional unsympathetic Leylandii planting, use of inappropriate materials and visitor-based development weakens the traditional character of the Bride Valley towards the west.


Many features of the historic environment such as areas of medieval settlement and parkland landscapes have survived the less intensive agricultural practices on the steep slopes. In terms of land cover and land use there is little evidence of lack of management or underused pockets of land although hedgerows and stone walls are gappy in places. The remaining pockets of damp grassland with ribbons of wet woodland along the Bride contribute to the overall good ecological condition of the area. A large area of conifer perhaps detracts from the intimate pastoral character along with the visual impact of visitor-based development. Settlement condition is that of high quality. The overall condition of the landscape is judged to be good and stable.

The overall objective should be to conserve and restore the intimate patterns of grasslands, woodlands and field boundaries, and to conserve the historic character and form of settlements and enhance their interface with the wider countryside.


Planning guidelines

  • Encourage small scale broadleaved planting around existing settlements and farmsteads to reduce the visual impact of development.
  • Conserve the pattern of tight knit nucleated villages, use of local limestones and views of key landmarks such as church spires.
  • 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 farm diversification projects do not have a negative impact of local character.
  • 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.
  • Ensure pylons, masts and other vertical elements are carefully sited and the number restricted to avoid visual clutter and further interruption of important skylines. Promote 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, 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.
  • Conserve the intimate character of rural lanes and open character towards the coast. Remove excessive signage and seek alternatives to infrastructure associated with urban development and out of character traffic management schemes.
  • Reduce the impact of car parks and other visitor-based development through sensitive design.
  • 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 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

  • Restore and enhance the condition of existing small broadleaved woodlands.
  • Consider extending wet woodland on the valley floor, particularly around existing settlements and farmsteads.
  • Encourage low impact grazing and conservation of permanent pastures including calcareous grassland and wet grasslands to protect wildlife and historic features.
  • Enhance management of arable farmland to create a wildlife-rich habitat supporting farmland birds. This will include retaining areas of fallow land, maintaining an unploughed margin around fields and the introduction of conservation headlands. Reduce the intensity of farming practices around important sensitive habitats.
  • Encourage maintenance and restoration of boundaries, particularly dense hedgerows and banks along the valley floors and stonewalls towards the higher ground.
  • Protect and enhance watercourses and associated wildlife from soil erosion and the effects of diffuse pollution.
  • Prevent the further loss of key landscape features and enhance archaeological features such as medieval field patterns.
  • Encourage grazing towards the chalk and limestone ridges to reduce scrub encroachment on grasslands.
  • Maintain and enhance the sweeping views of the coast.
  • Enhance the function of habitats in supporting the wider ecological network.