Frome Valley Pasture

The Frome Valley Pasture is characterised by a flat valley floor with the meandering River Frome and its floodplain and terraces.

The Frome Valley Pasture is characterised by a flat valley floor with the meandering River Frome and its floodplain and terraces. Views are often extensive particularly towards Wareham with an array of diverse wetland habitats. Coastal grazing marsh grades into reed beds on the harbour fringes east of Wareham. Its harmonious character features large regular pastoral fields running adjacent to the river and occasional arable fields and scattered woodland blocks. To the south of the river there is a gradual transition to the farmed landscapes with larger conifer plantations. Along the terraces are a chain of ancient woodlands. Downstream, there is a more natural character where the Rivers Piddle and Frome drain into the harbour through areas of coastal grazing marsh. Towards Dorchester, there is a more intimate character and landform with dense hedgerows and individual trees. Settlement and road corridors are found on the upper terraces. To the south of the river there is a marked transition to the undulating Dorchester Downs and series of chalk valleys branching off to the north. Historical land use is evident among many stretches of the floodplain including wet winter flooded grassland, water mills and bridges made of local stone.

  • Meandering flat and river floodplain, nationally designated for its ecological value, with small wet woodlands, wet winter flooded grasslands and extensive pattern water meadows
  • Extensive reed beds and coastal grazing marsh towards the Harbour, encompassing nationally important habitat
  • Large open regular fields with dense copses of oak, hazel, holly ancient woodlands and occasional individual trees
  • Linear and nucleated settlements of local stone located on roads along the river terrace margins
  • Historic bridges, mills and ecclesiastical remains, illustrating the area’s rich historic and built heritage
  • Strong undeveloped rural character, with traditional agricultural character, tranquility and dark night skies largely maintained

Land shape and structure

Formed of fluvial deposits, the area is a flat-bottomed valley floor with a meandering river and floodplain becoming broader towards Poole Harbour. A series of terraces form the outer fringes of the main channel.

Soils and vegetation

Soils are alluvial drift, mainly of recent riverine origin. Wetlands habitats in the valley floor include wet pastures, reed beds, willow and marsh. There are some areas of neutral and acid grassland and ancient woodlands with oak, hazel and holly. Towards the harbour, there are significant winter flooded grasslands, reed beds and coastal grazing marsh.

Settlement and land cover

Settlement patterns are characterised by small compact and linear villages, although the area is also influenced by the larger towns of Dorchester, Wareham and Wool. The land cover is typified by rough pasture used for seasonal grazing with small pastoral wet woodlands along the meandering river. Arable fields are found along the upper terraces.

Historic character

The area is dominated by extensive water meadows with some fragments of regular enclosure and evidence of industrial and quarrying activity. Mills and bridges are an important reminder of the extraction of water. Historically, the River Frome acted as a physical barrier between the Isle of Purbeck and the heathlands to the north. It is suggested that the area has a wealth of as yet unrecorded archaeology in river valleys such as extensive prehistoric activity with well-preserved organic remains providing evidence of environmental change and past exploitation of the river and adjacent areas. Excavations in advance of gravel extraction at Bestwall have revealed extensive multi-period occupation and industrial activity. Bindon Abbey is probably the most notable medieval feature in this area, and of particular interest because of its gardens.

Visual character and perceptions

Unified by the river corridor and its patterns of small wooded pasture, it has a natural character emphasised by colourful and textured grasslands and reeds. Key buildings and features form locally prominent landmarks in this sinuous landscape, with extensive views towards Wareham and Dorchester.

Strength of character

This is a landscape of strong character as a result of the distinctive winding river and its floodplains. The distinct and recognisable pattern of features such as grazed valley floor pasture, historic water meadows and linear wet woodlands reinforce the strength of character of the valley pasture. It is largely unaffected by development with a continuation in open landform, and a sense of visual unity. There are relatively few detracting features that weaken the character, except for unsympathetic poplar planting and signage that occur towards Wareham, along the A37 and urban fringe land use around Dorchester.


The natural form of the meandering river channel is strong and has been little altered by man. The condition of semi-natural habitats on the valley floor of wet meadow and riverine habitats has declined over the years, particularly its woodlands. Today only small areas of semi-natural habitat remain. For example, former extensive wet woodland is now mostly restricted to a narrow line of willow along the river and traditional water meadow management is no longer practiced. However, significant areas of wet pastures are dotted along its length with a large area of reeds and marsh at the fringe of the harbour. Some hedges have been replaced by fencing and urban fringe pressures around Wareham and Dorchester and along the major roads impact on the tranquil valley floor. Pylons also have a visual impact along parts of the area. Overall landscape condition is moderate and stable.

The overall objective should be to conserve the strong open, undeveloped character and the visual unity of the valley.  Conserve and restore features and the diversity of semi-natural habitats such as wet woodlands pastures, water meadows, and boundary features.

Planning guidelines

  • Encourage use of native planting in any new landscape scheme and consider removal of unsympathetic species, such as poplar screening, that stand out in the landscape.
  • Monitor development around settlements to ensure planting and built form is both sympathetic and complementary to landscape character.
  • Resist development in open locations, which would impinge upon the open and undeveloped character.
  • Restore traditional mills, bridges and farmstead of local stone.
  • 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.
  • Improve recreational links from main urban centres into the surrounding countryside, with the provision of functional greenspace.
  • 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.
  • Prevent further quarrying in open locations.
  • 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

  • Encourage opportunities for reversion from arable cropping back to pasture on the valley terraces, linking up areas in good condition and enhance management of existing wet pastures.
  • Encourage maintenance of boundaries, particularly along the valley floors.
  • Identify, conserve and restore remnant water meadow systems that are an important historic landscape feature – and consider opportunities for reinstatement of traditional land management practices.
  • Protect watercourses and associated wildlife from soil erosion and the effects of diffuse pollution
  • Consider planting a new generation of floodplain trees to replace those that are becoming over-matured and to replace elms that were lost during the twentieth century.
  • Consider extending wet woodland on the valley floor, particularly around existing settlements.
  • Enhance the function of habitats in supporting the wider ecological network.
  • Minimise small scale incremental change such as signage, fencing or improvements to the road network which could change the peaceful, rural character of the landscape.