Corfe Valley

The Corfe Valley is a broad sweeping clay valley with a patchwork of rough pastures and dense hedgerows.

The Corfe Valley is a broad sweeping clay valley with a patchwork of rough pastures and dense hedgerows. Enclosed by the imposing Purbeck Ridge to the north and a limestone plateau to the south, small broad-leaved woodlands provide visual unity to the structure of the valley. The focal point of Corfe Castle and Corfe Common adds to the historic character. Discrete picturesque villages set within small scale woodlands on the valley bottom, particularly within the western portion, possess a peaceful and unspoilt character. The fields systems around Tyneham are small narrow strips that, along with other historic land use patterns, convey a strong sense of historical significance. On the chalk and limestone upper slopes of the valley, the fields become larger with gappy hedgerows and scrub encroachment, particularly toward the Purbeck Ridge. Towards the east, the landscape becomes broader in scale and more complex in nature. The influences of Swanage are particularly apparent, with urban fringe housing and employment uses. In the central area, camping and caravanning activities can be both widespread and intensive, particularly during the summer months.

  • Sweeping and secluded clay valley enclosed by the dramatic chalk escarpment to the north and undulating limestone plateau to the south
  • Continuous and complex patchwork of small regular intimate pastures with dense hedgerows and small broadleaved woodlands of oak and hazel
  • Small scattered nucleated villages and farmsteads of limestone on valley floor with adjacent paddocks and piecemeal enclosures and dense small broadleaved woodlands
  • Numerous individual landmarks, including Corfe Castle and historic churches
  • Nationally significant habitats at Corfe Common and toward Worbarrow Bay
  • Occasional springs, flushes and wet woodlands on valley floor with damp rush pasture and meadows
  • Dramatic views of the exceptional undeveloped coast towards the western and eastern extents
  • Network of stone walls towards the Purbeck Plateau
  • Winding rural lanes with dense hedgerows and hedge banks
  • Strong undeveloped rural character, particularly in the western portion, where traditional agricultural character and dark night skies have been largely maintained

Land shape and structure

The Corfe Valley is a broad, sweeping and gently undulating valley on soft heavy clays. The western portion of the character area is set around the Corfe River, which exits the valley at Corfe and flows northwards to Poole Harbour.

Soils and vegetation

The valley is poorly drained with loamy base rich soils, supporting damp grassland habitats and occasional wet woodlands. Fragments of wetland vegetation such as reeds and willow remain in some areas. There is also a large area of acid grassland and ancient woodland at Corfe. Fragments of calcareous grassland occur toward the upper slopes of the valley sides, particularly within areas managed by the National Trust and Ministry of Defence.

Settlement and land cover

It is a largely settled landscape characterised by scattered farmsteads and small nucleated settlements of local limestone with church spires dotted along the valley floor and sides. Frequent loose clusters of dwellings occur along roads and lanes to the east where settlement patterns become more intensive towards Swanage. Land cover is ancient and secondary trees and woods are widely dispersed across this settled pastoral landscape where dairy farming predominates. Towards the west, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) operate, resulting in a different character as a result of limited public access and an alternative approach to land management.

Historic character

The valley has a prevailing historic character of planned enclosure of open fields with fragments of piecemeal enclosure and paddocks adjacent to settlements. There are large areas of common land next to Corfe Castle with barrows. There is a string of substantial farmsteads, hamlets and villages. Some survive as villages and hamlets today, others in the form of earthworks or deserted settlements. There is evidence of prehistoric settlement and industrial activity from the earliest periods, but particularly in the later Iron Age and Romano-British periods. There is evidence of shale working from a number of sites. Evidence of later industrial activity relates mostly to stone extraction. Of particular significance are the remains of medieval quarries at Downshay.

Visual character and perceptions

The Corfe Valley is a diverse, colourful patchwork of structured fields and winding lanes. In the west it is more intimate and peaceful, with views out to stunning, undeveloped coastal views. Corfe Common has a wild feel dominated by views of the imposing Corfe Castle. Towards Swanage, urban influences dominate the landscape, although landscape features such as Ballard Down continue to highlight the wider form and character of the landscape.

Strength of character

Overall, the landscape is judged to have a moderate rural character. However, there is significant variation with the central and western portion commonly exhibiting strong character, reinforced by the distinctive valley landform and sense of visual unity. However, a host of urban fringe land uses around the edges of Swanage clearly detract from the character of landscape features and this portion is judged to have weak character. Overall, the distinct pattern nucleated villages, patchwork of dense hedges, regular pastures and small woodlands is apparent throughout most of the area, despite some change to arable. There are relatively few detracting features that weaken the overall character of much of the area, except for occasional unsympathetic Leylandii planting, some farm-scale wind turbines and a wide distribution of camping and caravanning uses.


Due to historical intensive farming practices and urban fringe land uses, the management of some landscape features has been neglected. Woodlands are generally in need of enhanced management.  Towards the chalk ridge, rough grasslands are subject to some scrub encroachment and a lack of management. Toward the limestone plateau dry stone walls are frequently in a state of disrepair. The large area of acid grassland south of Corfe, managed by the National Trust, is an extensive area in good condition. Further west where development pressures are less apparent (as much of the land is owned by the MoD), the landscape is also in good condition, with species rich dense hedgerows and well managed pastures. Overall landscape condition is judged as moderate 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 tranquillity 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.