The Chideock Hills are characterised by a series of conical hills, formed from underlying greensand ridges.
The Chideock Hills are characterised by a series of conical hills, formed from underlying greensand ridges. These are particularly dominant where these summits form the southern backdrop to the Marshwood Vale, including Hardown Hill and Quarry Hill, as well as along the coast, with Golden Cap, Langdon Hill and Stonebarrow Hill being particularly notable. Along the valley bottoms, dense hedgerows and small-scale irregular pastures are surrounded by wooded hills towards the open summits. 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. There is a gentle transition to the Wootton Hills bordered by the river Char in the west, with a marked contrast to flatter landscape further east and north. The A35 cuts across the area and along this corridor impacts associated with settlements and tourism are common. The remote coastline, accessible by the South West Coast Path, has a spectacular visual quality with impressive summits and coastal landforms.
- Numerous conical hills of greensand with deep, branching clay valleys.
- Open hill tops of greensand summits, with a heathy character of bracken, heather and gorse often nationally designated for their ecological value
- Patchwork of small irregular pastoral fields on valley bottoms with dense species rich hedgerows, hedgerow trees and small broadleaved woodlands.
- Deep, narrow winding lanes with hedge banks and occasional dark tree canopies.
- Large oak and ash woodlands with arable fields on valley sides.
- Occasional Orchards.
- An exceptional, dramatic and remote coastline of imposing summits, coastal landforms and sheltered valleys, providing sweeping panoramic views.
- The exceptional coastline includes a substantial area that is nationally designated for its ecological value, including much of the Gold Cap estate.
- Scattered clustered settlements along valley bottoms of golden limestone and thatch, supporting the area’s rich historic and built environment.
- 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 housing growth and visitor related development toward the coast.
Land shape and structure
The landform is defined by a series of rounded greensand summits set around a network of winding sheltered clay valleys. These hills often form prominent landmarks, particularly towards the more open coast, with Golden Cap the highest point along the south coast of England.
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 and scrub, enclosed by dense species rich hedgerows and trees. On the valley sides, small oak and ash broadleaved woodlands with coppice contrast the open rough grasslands and heather and gorse on the higher greensand summits. Along the coast, a range of important grassland and scrub habitats are found, particularly along Charmouth Cliffs.
Settlement and land cover
Landcover is mostly grazed pasture on the valley bottoms with arable and large geometric oak and beech woodlands on valley sides. A network of deep, winding rural lanes, sometimes enclosed by mature beech canopies and cut into stone, 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. The landscape has a parkland character around Chideock Manor.
The Chideock Hills retains strong medieval patterns of historical land use with irregular fields and network of rural lanes. Strip lynchets on valley sides are found throughout the area with Chideock Hillfort, scattered burial mounds, and Beacons at Thorncombe and Golden Cap particular features of interest.
Visual character and perceptions
Impressive sweeping views of coastal landforms are found along the entire coast set against the greensand summits of Golden Cap, Thorncombe Beacon and the wooded Langdon Hill. Inland just west of Bridport, Colmer’s Hill is a recognisable landmark planted with a group of isolated conifers. Within the valleys, there is a strong sense of intimacy and unspoilt rural character.
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 and unspoilt rural character.
This ancient pattern of wooded hills has retained a substantial area of pasture, unlike the chalk downlands and chalk valleys. However, management is intensive in places with some change to arable taken place. The area has consistent patterns of land cover and land use with and a reasonable woodland cover, including several field patterns which are considered to be of medieval origin. A significant stench of the coast is managed by the National Trust with extensive rough grasslands and abundant species rich hedgerows. Some of the greensand summits have been replanted with conifer plantations and there is a general lack of woodland management on smaller sites. Settlement and built character are in good condition within the smaller villages and hamlets. However, towards the coast and along the A35, more intensive land uses such as camping and caravan parks have a negative visual impact. 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.
- 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.
- 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.