The open chalk uplands of the Chaldon Downs, Dorchester Downs and South Dorset Downs are notable areas of the National Landscape. They are simple, large scale landscapes of rolling open hills, dry valleys with large agricultural estates mainly under arable production. Partly circled by a narrow face of steep escarpments, the open uplands provide the setting for a series of intimate chalk river valleys.

The most notable literary associations of the area come from that of Thomas Hardy’s writings of culture, history and landscape. The atmosphere and natural forces of the chalk uplands are clearly evident throughout his works with description of traditional land management practices. Although the landscape has changed over time, perceptions of the Thomas Hardy landscape still remain today. Other works from William Barnes and Daniel Defoe add further to our understanding of the character of these extensive chalk landscapes.



Landscape change

  • The position of tracts of this type of landscape between the urban areas of Dorchester, Weymouth and Bridport has resulted in a variety of development pressures. There have been physical and perceptual changes to landscape character due to the influence of infrastructure, housing and commercial growth.
  • Past changes from sheep grazing on chalk grasslands to large scale arable use have led to the loss of some field boundaries, habitats and characteristic land cover patterns.
  • Agriculture is becoming more market driven with intensification of production and farm diversification. This may result in short term changes in agricultural patterns in the landscape with diversification into other crops and use. For example, biomass crops, shooting and provision of tourism accommodation have the potential to affect the character of the landscape.
  • Water abstraction and recharge have altered the natural ecology of the South Winterbourne along with some physical engineering.
  • Continued pressure for communication structures could further affect important open skylines.
  • Future small-scale development pressures on the edges of existing villages may threaten the rural character of villages, with intrusion into the open countryside with increased road use.