Melbury Hills

The Melbury Hills is a rural, largely agricultural landscape characterised by a series of low limestone ridges running north to south incised by deep river valleys.

The Melbury Hills is a rural, largely agricultural landscape characterised by a series of low limestone ridges running north to south incised by deep river valleys. To the south, an extensive deer park at Melbury Park has a significant positive impact on the character of the area with its parkland landscape of mature ash, oak, beech and birch trees. The surrounding hills are covered in extensive broadleaved woodlands set against a patchwork of regular arable enclosures and neutral pastures with small stream corridors. Small irregular woodlands and hedgerow trees on the valley sides add to the sense of enclosure. A series of winding lanes with trimmed hedgerows connect small clustered villages of limestone. Although enclosed along the valley floors, the higher ridges afford good views over the Halstock Vale.

  • Complex geology of rounded limestone ridges with incised clay valleys
  • Extensive patterns of woodland along low limestone ridges
  • Extensive rolling parkland landscape and features, underlining the area’s rich historic and built character
  • Network of small springs with linear wet woodlands and wet neutral pastures
  • Regular fields of arable and pastures with trimmed hedgerows and trees
  • Small irregular woodlands on valleys sides
  • Long views over the Halstock Vale
  • Network of rural winding lanes connecting small nucleated villages of local stone
  • The area has retained its strong undeveloped rural character, with associated characteristics of tranquility, remoteness and dark night skies.

Land shape and structure

The area has a complex geology and landform with a series of low limestone ridges and small incised clay valleys with winding springs and flushes.

Soils and vegetation

The clay soils support small springs flanked by small, wet unimproved pastures and linear wet woodlands. Along the series of ridges, broadleaved woodlands and a pattern of mature hedgerow trees are dotted throughout the landscape. The wood pasture at Melbury Park is an important habitat.

Settlement and land cover

Landcover is mixed arable and mostly improved pasture. It is a largely undeveloped landscape with small clustered villages of limestone, connected by small winding lanes. Large agricultural buildings are dotted throughout the valleys along with some traditional farmsteads. The A37, a former Roman road, cuts across the northern part of the area.

Historic character

Outside of the parkland landscape, enclosures are mostly regular, although the area retains some medieval patterns of historical land use with occasional irregular fields and network of rural lanes. Strip lynchets on valley sides are found in some locations.

The deer park at Melbury Park has a significant positive contribution to the character of the landscape. Some elements date back to the fifteenth century with further eighteenth-century landscaping and extensive relatively recent planting of rare trees and shrubs.

Visual character and perceptions

The enclosed and diverse structure of vegetation provides a small scale and often intimate character. The parkland landscape at Melbury Park has a grander scale with long views and vistas. Extensive views of the Halstock Vale are afforded from the higher ridges.

Strength of character

This is a landscape judged to have a strong character. Largely undeveloped, land use change has been limited, helping to conserve the strong agricultural patterns of landscape features. The incised valleys and low ridges create a variety of viewing experiences and strong sense of place. Although complex and varied, the area has a consistent pattern of pastures, trimmed hedgerows, hedgerow trees, wooded hillsides and winding lanes.


Although this landscape is actively farmed, much of the parkland landscape is under sensitive management. Towards the north of the area, some parts are more intensively managed. For example, hedgerows are sometimes fragmented, gappy or over-managed with post and wire fencing often acting as infill where hedgerow sections have been lost. Scrub encroachment is sometimes and issues on the rough grasslands along the slopes. The extensive parkland landscape ensures the survival and good management of landscape features. Overall landscape condition is good and stable.

The overall objective for the Limestone Hills should be to conserve parkland landscape and the intimate character of the incised valleys and the wooded hillsides. Replant new hedgerow trees and enhance management of existing woodland.

Planning guidelines

  • Conserve the pattern of tight knit villages and surrounding woodlands.
    Maintain undeveloped character and resist intrusive developments on sensitive hillside 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.
  • 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. Protect verges along winding lanes and conserve characteristic finger posts and furniture.
  • 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 farm diversification projects do not have a negative impact on local character.
  • 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 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

  • Conserve the parkland character and features.
  • Conserve the ancient pattern of small irregular pastoral fields and narrow lanes interspersed with irregular patches of woodland.
  • Replant new hedgerow trees.
  • Reinforce the wooded character of the limestone slopes.
  • Enhance woodland management with small scale planting of broadleaves along valley sides. Protect the character of important open skylines from future planting.
  • Ensure conservation of low impact grassland management and protection of associated wildlife and historic features.
  • Promote restoration of traditional orchards.
  • Encourage maintenance of species rich hedgerows, particularly along the valley floors and replant any gaps where necessary. Avoid use of post and wire.
  • Protect watercourses and associated wildlife from soil erosion and the effects of diffuse pollution.