Powerstock Hills

The Powerstock Hills has one of the most distinctive and intimate landforms of the AONB landscape.

The Powerstock Hills has one of the most distinctive and intimate landforms within Dorset National Landscape. A unique pattern of small conical hills with wooded sides surrounds a branching network of deep, intimate river valleys. Along the valleys floor, dense hedgerows and small-scale irregular pastures add to the intimate quality. The complex network of narrow incised winding lanes is a real feature of this tranquil landscape. The area has an undeveloped character with impressive views from the largely open hill tops. There is gentle a transition to the surrounding hills with a marked contrast to the more flat and open character of the Brit Valley further west.

  • Highly complex landforms of conical hills and deep, branching valleys
  • Small, irregular permanent pastoral fields with dense species rich hedgerows and scattered hedgerow trees
  • Small irregular shaped broadleaved woodlands on steep valley slopes
  • Deep, narrow winding lanes with species rich hedge banks and occasional dark tree canopies
  • Occasional orchards on valley sides.
  • Open hilltops with impressive surrounding views of the complex terrain
  • Intimate and enclosed landscape of close horizons from valley floor
  • Scattered nucleated settlements along valley bottoms of local golden limestone and thatch, exhibiting strong historic and built heritage
  • 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 underlying Bridport Sands with outcrops of limestone, shaping a landscape of numerous small conical hills with steep slopes and incised clay valleys. These hills often form prominent local landmarks.

Soils and vegetation

The contrast of deep wet soils along the valley floor to thinner soils on the steep slopes has influenced a diverse range of characteristic habitats. Along the narrow valley bottoms, rough neutral pastures are abundant with wet patches of rush and scrub, enclosed by dense species rich hedgerows and trees. Along the valley sides, small broadleaved woodlands and coppice contrast the open rough grasslands with a significant yew woodland found to the north of the area.

Settlement and land cover

Landcover is almost entirely rough grazed pasture on the valley floors with small irregular woodlands on valley sides. A maze of deep, winding rural lanes, sometimes enclosed by mature beech canopies, connects small villages of golden limestone and thatch located on valley floor. Large agricultural buildings are dotted throughout the valleys along with more traditional farmsteads and hamlets.

Historic character

The Powerstock Hills retains strong medieval patterns of historical land use with irregular fields and network of rural lanes. Strip lynchets on valley sides are found throughout the area with Castle Hill Hillfort, Remains of St Mary Magdalene Chapel and large old mill buildings adding to the interest of the area.

Visual character and perceptions

The area is has overriding small scale and intimate character with limited views. The dark woodlands and trees contrast with the open hills and skies. The colourful golden buildings and rural lanes are important features of this tranquil landscape.

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 historical patterns of landscape features. The rolling, hilly landform contrasting to the deep and narrow valleys, combined with the strong pastoral character creates a landscape with a variety of experiences and strong sense of place. Although complex and varied, the area has a consistent pattern of rough pastures, dense hedgerows wooded hillsides, nucleated settlement patterns, and winding lanes. The consistent use of golden limestone in small thatched cottages evokes a strong sense of place.


Historical agricultural intensification has been limited by the complex landform, helping to conserve a rich and diverse landscape of natural and cultural interest. Dense species rich hedgerows, although sometimes fragmented, are abundant along the valley bottoms, with significant areas of wet pastures. Hedge banks along the rural lanes have a high conservation value. The valley sides are well wooded but could benefit from ongoing management to retain their species diversity. Strip lynchets have mostly remained intact, enhancing the visual quality of the area. Although a significant pylon crosses the area, its visual impact is minimised by the complex landform. Settlement and built character are in good condition within the smaller villages and hamlets, with the use of golden limestone enhancing the strong sense of place. Overall, landscape condition is described as good and stable.

The overall objective for the Wooded Hills should be to conserve the intimate, undeveloped and pastoral appearance and protect the wooded character. Ongoing protection of hedgerows, rural lanes, small scale pastures, open skylines and settlement character are important considerations.


Planning guidelines

  • Ensure pylons, masts and other vertical elements are carefully sited and the number restricted to avoid visual clutter and further interruption of the characteristic open views. Encourage 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 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 pattern of tight knit villages and promote the use of locally sourced stone in new developments. Likewise, planting should reflect local character, using appropriate native species.
  • 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.
  • Maintain undeveloped character and resist intrusive developments on sensitive hillside locations.
  • Minimise small scale incremental change such as signage, fencing or improvements to the road network which could change the rural character of the landscape. Protect hedge banks along winding lanes and conserve characteristic finger posts and furniture.
  • Consider screening views to intrusive agricultural buildings and structures and settlement edges through planting new small-scale broadleaved woodlands.
  • 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.

Management guidelines

  • Conserve the ancient pattern of small irregular piecemeal enclosures, assarts and strip fields.
  • Protect the wooded character and enhance woodland management with small scale planting of broadleaves along valley sides. Protect important open skylines from future planting.
  • Conserve and enhance permanent grassland and prevent loss to agricultural improvement and consequential damage to wildlife and archaeological features. Promote low impact grassland management.
  • Conserve existing orchards and promote new establishment.
  • Encourage maintenance of species rich hedgerows and trees, particularly along the valley floors and replant any gaps where necessary. Resist use of post and wire.
  • Protect watercourses and associated wildlife from soil erosion and the effects of diffuse pollution.
  • Manage the retreat of coastal landscapes and the coastal corridor. Resist hard engineering solutions in undeveloped locations.
  • Restore important patches of heathland through phased conifer felling and introduce grazing regimes.
  • Enhance the function of habitats in supporting the wider ecological network.
  • Protect patterns of strip lynchets and their setting.