Purbeck Plateau

The limestone plateau is characterised by its windswept landscape of geometric stone walls, lack of tree cover and occasional hedgerows.

The limestone plateau is characterised by its windswept landscape of geometric stone walls, lack of tree cover and occasional hedgerows. The landscape is dotted with small limestone quarries and the association with these rural industries is evident through the character of settlements such as Worth Matravers. There is a strong historical influence, with ancient field systems and strip lynchets. Panoramic views of the Corfe Valley towards Swanage and Corfe Castle from the northern edge of the plateau are superb. In the south there are spectacular and far-reaching sweeping costal views. Toward the Kimmeridge Coast the landscape is dotted with deep coastal valleys. With few trees and hedges, it is a well-ordered and structured landscape. The coastal slope is characterised by the colours and textures of unimproved grasslands. The southern coastline has dramatic vertical limestone cliffs with a range of distinctive features such as bold headlands, caves, a lighthouse and Dancing Ledge.

  • Exposed limestone plateau with incised coastal valleys
  • Continuous network of medieval and planned geometric fields with an expansive network of stone walls
  • Limestone grasslands with a varied flora, with nationally important habitat toward the coastline
  • Sweeping views of coast and Purbeck Ridge, affording fine panoramic views of the sequence and structure of the wider landscape and the exceptional undeveloped seascape
  • Linear and nucleated limestone villages of local stone
  • Ancient field systems, with numerous remnants of past uses
  • Small limestone quarries which are inextricably linked to the area’s rich historic and built heritage
  • Undeveloped rural character, particularly toward the coast, with traditional agricultural character, tranquility and dark night skies largely maintained

Land shape and structure

The hard, fossil rich Portland and Purbeck Beds of gently folded sedimentary rocks form a large and relatively flat plateau. Incised coastal valleys contrast to the striking open landform.

Soils and vegetation

Calcareous soils support species rich limestone grasslands. Where farmed, rare arable flora occurs associated with the alkaline soils. Damp grassland habitats are associated with the clay areas within the incised valleys. The coastal slope from Anvil Point to St Aldhelm’s Head has extensive areas of limestone grassland, managed by the National Trust.

Settlement and land cover

The area has both nucleated and linear villages set within a rural landscape characterised by dry stone walls set within a mixed arable and pastoral landscape. Apart from occasional hedge trees and small pockets of woodland within the coastal valleys, the area is devoid of tree cover. In addition to the designed park at Durlston, part of the landscaped park at Encombe lies within this area.

Historic character

The overall historic character appears medieval and post-medieval in origin. Medieval and post-medieval field systems survive particularly well in the eastern part of this area, where they tend to take the form of stone walls. The village of Worth Matravers is medieval in layout with large areas of medieval strip lynchets preserved south of the village. There was extensive stone extraction in the medieval and post-medieval periods and many associated structures still survive, such as quarry houses, quarries and caves along the coast. There is also extensive evidence of prehistoric and Romano-British occupation and industrial activity. A Romano-British farm with corn driers has been partly excavated at Compact Farm.

Visual character and perceptions

The area has a windswept, almost bleak appearance due to lack of significant tree cover and exposed coastal position. There is a strong association between the past and present due to numerous stone quarries. The designed landscape at Durlston Park adds to the landscape interest.

Strength of character

This is a tranquil coastal landscape dominated by the consistent, simple, geometric patterns of dry-stone walls and pastures, as well as villages and farmsteads of vernacular materials. There is a good survival of some medieval boundaries and strip lynchets. Landcover has remained largely pastoral and undeveloped with little evidence of significant change. Although the area is littered with small stone quarries, these are intrinsic to the surrounding stone walls and villages and have strong cultural association with past land use. The area is judged to have a strong character.


Inland, little semi natural habitat remains and some areas of grassland and arable management are intensive. However, stewardship has been adopted across a wide area and the coastal strip of rough grasslands is largely in good management. The extensive historic pattern of stone walls is generally intact, and a notable amount of restoration has been undertaken in recent years. Settlement and built character are in good condition within the smaller villages and hamlets. Some of the old quarries would benefit from sensitive restoration. Pylons and visitor-based development have a significant visual impact towards the coast. Overall, landscape condition is described as moderate-good and improving.

The overall aim should be to conserve the strong open character.  We should restore the important features of limestone grasslands and stone field boundaries across the plateau and ensure new built development respects local character.


Planning guidelines

  • 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 effects of associated 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.
  • Reduce the impact of car parks and other visitor-based development through sensitive design and management.
  • Conserve and enhance the open character of coastal roads and viewpoints and conserve characteristic finger posts and furniture.
  • Maintain and enhance sweeping views of the coast.
  • Ensure quarry restoration enhances the ecological and cultural value of the landscape.
  • Ensure farm diversification projects do not have a negative impact on landscape character.
  • 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.
  • Prevent further development of intrusive of caravan parks. 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 sensitivity. Pursue appropriate mitigation measures, including seasonal limitations, landscape enhancement, and measures and conditions that control noise and light pollution.
  • Promote under grounding of prominent powerlines in sensitive locations.
  • Ensure that coastal and flood defences are compatible with the National Landscape’s exceptional undeveloped coastline. Require the use of materials that are complementary to the character and appearance of their environs.
  • 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

  • Repair and maintain dry stone walls and replace post and wire fences with walls where appropriate.
  • Protect historic field patterns and features.
  • Encourage grazing to reduce scrub encroachment on grasslands and encourage reversion of arable to grassland where appropriate.
  • Enhance management of permanent pastures, including limestone grasslands, and historic features.
  • Promote appropriate management of arable farmland to create a wildlife-rich habitat supporting farmland birds. This will include retaining areas of fallow land, maintaining an unploughed margin around fields and the introduction of conservation headlands.
  • Woodland planting is not an objective for the area.