Powerstock Woods

Although similar in character to other areas within the west of the AONB, the Powerstock Woods marks the transition between the rolling pastoral landscapes of West Dorset and the Chalk landscape in the east.

Although similar in character to other areas within the west of the National Landscape, the Powerstock Woods marks the transition between the rolling pastoral landscapes of West Dorset and the Chalk landscape in the east. Several small steep sided valleys run east to west with a series of conical hills, formed from underlying greensand ridges and limestone. The area has a significant woodland cover with Powerstock Common and Hooke Park defining the character of the northern parts of the area. Further south, the area has a more agricultural appearance. Along the valley bottoms, dense hedgerows and small-scale irregular pastures are surrounded by small damp neutral meadows and patches of rush with small wet woodlands. Clustered settlement patterns of stone villages are connected by a network of narrow winding lanes, with an intimate and tranquil quality confined by the surrounding steep hills.

  • Numerous rolling hills of greensand/limestone with deep, branching clay valleys
  • Significant oak, hazel and woodlands of Hooke Park and Powerstock Common, including significant areas that are nationally designated for their ecological value
  • Patchwork of small, irregular unimproved pastoral fields on valley bottoms with dense species rich hedgerows, hedgerow trees and small broadleaved woodlands, damp pastures, rushes and wet flushes
  • Occasional orchards
  • Deep, narrow winding lanes with steep hedge banks
  • Intimate and enclosed landscape of close horizons
  • Scattered clustered settlements along valley bottoms of golden limestone and thatch
  • The area has retained its strong undeveloped rural character, with associated characteristics of tranquility, remoteness and dark night skies.

Land shape and structure

The predominant underling geology of Bridport Sands with Fullers Earth clay with some outcrops of limestone and greensand has shaped a diverse landscape of steep sided valleys and rolling hills. The River Asker drains westwards towards the Brit Valley.

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, scrub and wet woodlands enclosed by dense species rich hedgerows and trees. Extensive oak, alder and ash broadleaved woodlands with hazel coppice are found at Powerstock Common and Hooke Park. This contrasts to the open rough grasslands and heather and gorse on the higher greensand summits. A range of grassland and heath habitats are found at Powerstock Common with landslides constantly shaping a diverse landscape.

Settlement and land cover

Landcover is mostly grazed pasture with some on the valley sides with large arable fields on valley sides, particularly further south. A network of deep, winding rural lanes, sometimes enclosed by mature beech canopies, connects small clustered 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. The village of Askerswell nestles in the valley bottom.

Historic character

The area retains some 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 a few scattered barrows and Shipton Hillfort providing impressive views over the area.

Visual character and perceptions

Within the valleys, there is a strong sense of intimacy and unspoilt rural character defined by the steep valley sides. To the north of the area, the extensive woodlands dominant the character of the area with a more open and agricultural appearance to towards the south.

Strength of character

This is a landscape judged to have a strong character. The rolling, hilly landform with greensand summits and transition to deep and narrow valleys combined with the strong pastoral character creates a landscape with a variety of viewing experiences. Although varied, the landscapes are unified by the repeated occurrence of key features across the wooded pastures with clustered settlement patterns, extensive woodlands, dense hedgerows and winding lanes, and the consistent use of stone as a building material. This creates a combination of elements evoking a strong sense of place and unspoilt rural character.


The area has a good woodland cover, with the range of diverse habitats in positive management by conservation bodies. Wet pastures with rush and abundant species rich hedgerows have largely survived along the valley floors. There is a general lack of woodland management on smaller sites. Along the valley sides, management is intensive in places with some change to arable having taken place. Settlement and built character are in good condition and provides a positive contribution the landscape. 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.