The Chaldon Downs are characterised by broad, open and rolling uplands, undulating chalk slopes and small incised valleys.
The Chaldon Downs are characterised by broad, open and rolling uplands, undulating chalk slopes and small incised valleys. Along with the other chalk upland landscapes to the west, they cover a significant part of the National Landscape and have a largely undeveloped, rural character. Regular hedgerows enhance the sense of structure with occasional small broad-leaved woodlands set within a mixed pastoral and arable landscape. The area has a textured appearance due to agricultural patterns of arable cultivation on gentle slopes, some rough grazing on the deeper valley sides and largely arable along the valley floors. Small nucleated villages dispersed within the landscape have a strong association with the agricultural character. There is a marked transition to the surrounding chalk escarpment to the west and south with a gradual change in character to the Lulworth Wooded Pastures in the east.
- Large-scale landform of broad rolling hills incised by small river valleys with occasional linear tree belts and wet grasslands around the springs
- Dominated by a chalk surface geology supporting thin calcareous soils
- A predominantly arable landscape divided into large, straight-sided fields of late 18th/early 19th century enclosures with trimmed hazel hedgerows, with post & wire on the higher ground
- Remnant chalk grasslands are important habitats on steeper slopes
- Occasional old hazel coppice stands and small broadleaved woodlands on gentle slopes
- Large open skies and distant panoramic views, including views of the exceptional undeveloped coastline within the southern portion and far reaching views from the Chaldon Ridge, encompassing both views across the designated area and its northward setting.
- Low density scattered settlement of farmsteads and the occasional downland nucleated villages of cob, stone and thatch on valley floors
- Numerous individual landmarks that include prehistoric barrows on higher ground and extensive medieval field systems
- Winding rural roads with wide verges along valley floors and a network of farm tracks along the valley sides
- Strong undeveloped rural character, with a secluded and tranquil character. There is an absence of modern development and intrusive features that distract from the traditional rural character. Consequently, the area has maintained its dark night skies.
- Field boundaries and footpaths often reflect the tracks, droves and hollow ways that took the livestock to and from the downs in prehistoric times
Land shape and structure
The landscape has a broad open rolling landform with smooth convex summits incised by small-scale valleys with occasional steeper escarpments. The underlying rock is soft chalk with clay to the east.
Soils and vegetation
Towards the valley bottoms, loamy soils are developed directly on the chalk supporting rough dry pasture, dry grassland habitats with fine leafed grasses, low flowering herbs and bracken with occasional wet flushes and linear tree belts. On the higher where the chalky soils become thinner, patches of relic calcareous grassland are found on the steeper slopes. On the shallow valley sides, woodlands are characterised by small oak and ash stands with occasional hazel coppice.
Settlement and land cover
The area is characterised by small nucleated settlements of largely brick, flint and stone with a strong rural, agricultural association. It is a mixed arable and pastoral landscape with small, thinly scattered groups of trees and occasional rough pastures. A network of winding lanes along the valley floors connect dispersed villages with farmsteads along the valley sides.
Today’s historic character is represented by strip fields and open fields in the centre with Parliamentary and other regular enclosure to the east and west. Modern settlements in and adjacent to this area are at least medieval in origin. Each has around it traces of medieval open field systems. Evidence of activity from earlier periods tends to be rather fragmentary and somewhat obscured by relatively modern farming practices. However, a number of barrows, traces of extensive prehistoric field systems and settlements show that this area was as densely farmed as other areas to the east. The extensive prehistoric field systems have been reduced in modern times to soil marks or very shallow earthworks. We might expect to find them preserved within modern field banks (where these exist) or in areas of older woodland. One well known Iron Age/Romano-British settlement is in the vicinity of Daggers Gate.
Visual character and perceptions
The broad chalk uplands have a remote and open character contrasting to small intimate valleys. The textured patchworks of large fields give the area an agricultural appearance with a tranquil experience.
Strength of character
The strength of character of this area is judged to be strong, with the overall combination and patterns of features consistent throughout the landscape. It is essentially a large scale landscape of broad rolling hills mainly under arable production with patches of broadleaved woodland and grassland occurring on the slopes. Settlement is geographically distinct, associated with the dip slope valleys with a scattering of archaeological remains on the downs.
Although this landscape is actively e managed, intensive farming methods mean that some landscape features have declined over time. For example, hedgerows are occasionally fragmented, gappy or over-managed with post and wire fencing often acting as infill where hedgerow sections have been lost. Woodlands tend to be under managed. However, the farmed nature of the landscape also means that there are few areas of under-used or derelict land with some areas in good stewardship under the National Trust. There are a few sites of nature conservation importance including a range of habitats from woodland to chalk grassland and scrub mosaics. Some of the open field systems are still evident despite post war intensive farming practices. Visual unity is afforded by the consistent use of materials and the good condition of the built environment. Overall landscape condition is moderate and stable.
Overall, we should aim to conserve the undeveloped character of the downland landscape. There should be an emphasis on restoring the condition of features and habitats that have declined due to changes in farming practice and other development/infrastructure pressures. To maintain undeveloped rural character, careful consideration should be given to the design of developments such as settlement extensions and large agricultural barns. Sensitive siting and tailored landscaping measure should be pursued. Indirect effects arising from farm diversification and intensification should be considered, particularly where widespread changes to landscape management may arise.
- Conserve the distinctive undeveloped character of the open landscape and the long ranging views especially from roads, Rights of Ways and key viewpoints.
- Limit the proliferation of masts and communications infrastructure. Ensure permitted infrastructure meets essential local needs, building the economic resilience of rural communities. Ensure that the site selection process affords significant weight to the conservation of visual amenity and respects heritage assets and their settings.
- Ensure pylons 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 powerlines in open, sensitive locations.
- 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.
- Improve recreational links into the countryside, with the provision of functional greenspace around main urban areas.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Restore and extend the network of native habitats of chalk grassland, ancient broadleaved oak woodland, and calcareous meadows. For grasslands, encourage opportunities for reversion from arable cropping back to chalk grassland on the valley sides, linking up areas in good condition and enhance management of existing chalk grasslands.
- Restore Winterbourne streams and other water courses along with associated habitats and features of cultural interest.
- Conserve and enhance the integrity and setting of archaeological features through low impact grassland management around prehistoric barrows and promote wider understanding through selective and sensitive interpretation for visitors.
- Promote appropriate 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.
- Restore important boundary features of cultural interest where the open character of the downs will not be affected. New hedgerow planting is not an objective of the area.
- Promote the planting of small oak, ash and hazel broadleaved woodlands on gentle slopes to increase landscape diversity. New coniferous planting and shelter belts should not be encouraged. Restore and enhance old hazel coppice stands.
- Conserve characteristic finger posts and furniture and the open character of rural lanes and access routes. Where necessary, move existing boundaries away from important open views.