Marshwood Vale

The Marshwood Vale, comprising much of the catchment for the rivers Char and Simene, is a traditional, largely undeveloped pastoral clay vale.

The Marshwood Vale, comprising much of the catchment for the rivers Char and Simene, is a traditional, largely undeveloped pastoral clay vale. The visual character is dominated by consistent patterns of trimmed hedgerows and hedgerow oaks set around regular enclosures. This strong pattern, along with small isolated settlements and agricultural buildings add to the sense of rural tranquillity and character. Narrow belts of stream side vegetation and species rich winding rural lanes add to ecological interest. Viewed from a distance the patchwork of fields bounded by hedgerows including numerous hedgerow oaks, is a defining feature. A sense of wide-scale enclosure is provided by surrounding greensand summits, particularly to the north, south and west, with the distinctive appearance and historical association of these features adding further interest.

  • Broad bowl-shaped, gently rolling lowland pastoral vale based on clay, enclosed by greensand ridges with forts, which are distinctive landmarks
  • Consistent regular field patterns with a substantial network of trimmed hedgerows with banks and mature hedgerow trees, providing a speckled appearance to the landscape.
  • Sunken, winding rural lanes with diverse hedgerows and steep species rich verges
  • Scattered, isolated farmsteads
  • Winding network of watercourses with streamside willows and alder and other riparian vegetation.
  • Settlement pattern of dispersed small clustered hamlets, exhibiting a variety of vernacular building materials and thatch.
  • The area has retained a peaceful, tranquil and undeveloped rural character with dark night skies and wide horizons, punctuated by the surrounding hills
  • Meadows of neutral and unimproved grassland with patches of rush.
  • Occasional orchards
  • Small patches of oak, ash and hazel coppice around the vale edge

Land shape and structure

The bowl-shaped clay vale has a flat central area with gently undulating sides towards the surrounding greensand summits. Small river valleys of the Char and Simene flow towards the coast.

Soils and vegetation

The underlying clay with heavy clay soils supports a range of damp neutral pastures with patches of rush. Along the network of small streams, thin corridors of wet willow and alder add structure to the rolling vale landscape. Small coppice woodlands are found around the edge of the vale.

Settlement and land cover

Settlement is largely related to the agricultural character of the area. The are no significant developments with a dispersed pattern of small clustered hamlets and farmsteads, connected by an expansive network of narrow, often sunken, winding rural lanes. Characteristic landcover consists of irregular damp neutral pastures, set within a continuous network of trimmed hedgerows with oaks with occasional small oak, ash hazel woodlands.

Historic character

Perhaps the most significant historical influence on landscape character is the consistent and intricate pattern of medieval or perhaps prehistoric, fields evolved over centuries of agricultural production and woodland clearance. Enclosures are largely regular with trimmed hedgerows, banks and hedgerow oaks. Some piecemeal enclosures survive along with some limited parliamentary enclosure. Towards the north, fragments of strip fields are found.  Although the area has little undiscovered visible archaeology, the remains of St Mary’s chapel and castle in centre of vale are of interest. Occasional traditional orchards are also found.

Visual character and perceptions

The rolling vale landscape has a broad character with vast open skies with a strong sense of rural tranquillity. Towards the west and south, the landscape is more intimate with deep sunken lanes and small intimate river valleys. When viewed from the surrounding ridges and greensand summits, the landscape has a speckled appearance with the consistent pattern of mature hedgerow oaks.

Strength of character

The landscape is judged to have a strong character. The area has a distinct agricultural character dominated by the consistent patterns of trimmed hedgerow with equally spaced hedgerow oaks, with small scattered hamlets and farmsteads of vernacular materials. Land use has remained largely pastoral, underpinning the strong association with traditional dairy practices, with little evidence of recent change. Further east however, the strength of character is weaker with less well-defined characteristic features.


The Marshwood vale is well managed pastoral landscape, although it is intensively managed in places, particularly towards the east. Evolving farming practices have resulting in the loss of most prehistoric fields. Some hedgerows are in decline with hedgerow oaks becoming mature and stag-headed. Although there are some areas still managed as unimproved grassland, many of the wet meadows have been lost. Wet woodlands are mostly confined to a narrow corridor with orchards in need of positive management. A major pylon crosses the Vale although when viewed from a distance from the surrounding higher ground, the impact is not substantial. Condition of the landscape is judged as moderate and stable.

The overall objective is to conserve the patterns and features that contribute to the rural, tranquil landscape of small-scale pastoral fields, winding lanes and small scattered settlements. Restore elements in decline such as the hedgerows and hedgerow trees wet pasture and wet woodlands, particularly where these strengthen riparian corridors.

Planning guidelines

  • Conserve the pattern of small settlements and surrounding woodlands.
    Adopt appropriate screening of intrusive agricultural buildings/structures and settlement edges through planting new small-scale broadleaved woodlands and hedgerow trees.
  • Resist development that would destroy the visual unity of the undeveloped vale, ensuring scale and materials enhance local character.
  • Minimise small scale incremental change such as signage, fencing or improvements to the road network which could change the rural peaceful character of the landscape.
  • Conserve the sense of rural tranquillity and views of surrounding summits.
  • 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 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.
  • Conserve the character of rural roads and enhancement of hedge banks and traditional finger posts.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 and long-straw thatching in villages by resisting the use of water reed on buildings previously thatched in wheat reed or long-straw. The Dorset traditional style of thatching (wrap-over ridge) should be pursued.

Management guidelines

  • Encourage maintenance of boundaries, particularly along the valley floors and replant any gaps.
  • Plant new hedgerow oaks.
  • Restore stream side habitats and wet woodlands and consider extending wet woodland, particularly around existing settlements and farmsteads.
  • Conserve and enhance management of neutral unimproved meadows and encourage restoration where appropriate.
  • Protect watercourses and associated wildlife from soil erosion and the effects of diffuse pollution.
  • Encourage restoration of traditional orchards.
  • Restore and manage pollard trees.
  • Protect the consistent pattern of enclosures and surviving strip and open fields.
  • Restore remaining coppice woodlands around the vale edge.
  • Enhance the function of habitats in supporting the wider ecological network.