Purbeck Ridge

The Purbeck Ridge is a dominant steep sided, undulating chalk ridge, separating and contrasting to the flat heathlands in the north and the patchwork landscape of the Corfe Valley to the south.

The Purbeck Ridge is a dominant steep sided, undulating chalk ridge, separating and contrasting to the flat heathlands in the north and the patchwork landscape of the Corfe Valley to the south. The physical dominance of this dramatic landform is clearly evident from the surrounding landscapes. With its bold and striking form, it provides a significant visual barrier only broken by the fascinating gap at Corfe Castle and smaller passes through Ulwell and Cocknowle. The open flat ridge top consists of a mixture of pastoral and arable land use with significant patches of scrub encroachment extending upward from the steep slopes. There are important areas of chalk grassland along the southern length of the ridge and attractive woodlands on the northern side that blend into the surrounding wooded landscapes toward the heaths. Landmarks and features of historical interest along the ridge add cultural value and include Creech Barrow, with its conical shape and rough vegetation, Flowers Barrow, Nine Barrow and Bindon. Towards the eastern end of the ridge, the area is found a large patchwork of pastoral grasslands located on a gently sloping hill. The Glebeland Estate, south of Studland, is an anomalous inclusion within an otherwise undeveloped character area, with the development being clearly visible across a wide area. Other notable contemporary development is largely limited to infrastructure and includes telecommunications masts, some power lines and roads. In the western extent military uses are also evident within the character area and its setting.

  • A dramatic and exposed steep and narrow ridge with dry valleys
  • Extensive and uninterrupted panoramic views from higher ground, providing the opportunity to look across the surrounding collection of landscape and seascape character areas and appreciate their unique sequence and structure
  • Underlying geology of chalk with greensand, giving rise to predominantly thin calcareous soils
  • Patchwork of small-scale pastoral fields on lower slopes with scattered farmsteads at the ridge bottom.
  • Extensive areas of unimproved calcareous downland turf on steep slopes, including extensive areas of nationally important habitats
  • Large geometric fields on the ridge top
  • Ancient oak, ash, maple woodlands on the northern slopes
  • A series of landmarks from various eras can be found along the ridge, including a hill fort, barrows, Corfe Castle and more recent monuments such as Grange Arch and the Swanage Water Act Obelisk
  • Ancient sunken, winding lanes with an open character towards the top
  • Strong undeveloped rural character, particularly across the western portion of the ridge, where the influence of modern development is significantly lower

Land shape and structure

The landform consists of a steep sloping ridge with summit plateau extending across most of the study area with occasional dry valleys. Although chalk is a soft rock, it is also relatively resistant to sea water, so when the sea levels dropped it left a steep sided chalk ridge with a band of Upper Greensand. The ridge top has a largely smooth profile with convex slopes, typical of a chalk downland landscape. The white chalk face of ‘Old Harry’s Rock’ is a characteristic of the eastern end, whereas the western end of the Ridge meets Worbarrow Bay and Lulworth Coast. These are among the most recognisable and highly valued coastal landscape features in the Purbeck area.

Soils and vegetation

The underlying chalk provides thin, light free draining calcareous soils supporting unimproved chalk grassland habitats with patches of gorse and scrub along with ancient woodland on the northern lower slopes. Towards the west, an outcrop of greensand is indicated by a patch of bracken and heather at Creech Barrow.

Settlement and land cover

The area is devoid of settlement except for occasional small farmsteads at least medieval in origin and the Glebeland Estate on the lower slopes of the ridge. It is largely uncultivated along the slopes with unenclosed grazing of rough pasture. The west of the area is dominated by the Ministry of Defence ranges. On the ridge top, there are large geometric fields of arable and ley.

Historic character

The historic character is largely defined by the open rough ground with planned enclosure and strip fields at the eastern end with a good survival of prehistoric remains. The ridge is the defining feature of the area, forming a natural barrier which Corfe Castle was built to control. That the ridge drew the attention of prehistoric man can be seen in the string of Bronze Age barrows or burial mounds along its length, in some places clustered together into cemeteries, for example at Ballard Down, Ailwood Down and Nine Barrow Down. Later prehistoric activity can be seen in the form of two Iron Age monuments: Flowers Barrow, a hillfort, and Bindon Hill, a large enclosure which may not have played a defensive role but perhaps served in some way to control the harbour at Lulworth Cove.

Visual character and perceptions

The ridge dominates the surrounding landscape with a textured appearance of scrub and significant darker areas of woodland. It has a wild appearance due to its open and exposed nature and provides commanding views of most of Purbeck, Poole Harbour and the coast.

Strength of character

This landscape maintains a strong character, primarily due to its dramatic and exposed landform, its undeveloped character the and survival of historic features. This is emphasised by the characteristic land cover pattern of calcareous downland turf and largely intact ancient woodland. Although some change toward arable management has taken place over time, the ridge largely maintains its strong association with traditional land uses.


Extensive patches of unimproved chalk grassland and ancient woodland provide continuity of past land management practices. Along with good ecological condition of these important habitats, there is a good coverage of environmental land management schemes. Although some arable farming has been introduced, this has not greatly affected the condition of valued landscape features, with a good survival of prehistoric features. Scrub encroachment is a constant threat to the viability of grasslands and monuments and requires constant management to maintain the balance of habitats. There is a high quality of vernacular farm buildings at the foot of the ridge. Communication masts have a negative landscape impact in places, detracting from the otherwise undeveloped character of the Ridge.  Overall the landscape is judged to be in good and stable condition.

The overall aim should be to conserve the historic and undeveloped character of the area, its perceived and physical remoteness and tranquillity and to safeguard views through conserving the open skyline. Management of the distinct mosaic patterning of woodland, scrub and chalk grassland should be undertaken with the aims of restoring and enhancing habitats and historic features.

Planning guidelines

  • Maintain the undeveloped character of the scarp and the contrast with the ridge base farmsteads.
  • New housing development within the setting of the scarp should be small scale and complement the form and character of the historic settlement pattern. Extension toward the scarp should be carefully controlled and should incorporate appropriate native planting to help assimilate it into the landscape. Development that encroaches on the scarp should be strongly resisted.
  • 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.
  • Monitor and 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.
  • Conserve the rural character of lanes and protect sensitive banks from further erosion.
  • Protect and enhance important views to and from the ridge/escarpment.
  • Ensure appropriate siting and design for essential infrastructure, such as water and electricity, integrating any required developments into the rural landscape, securing appropriate mitigation and delivering visual enhancements where possible.
  • 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.
  • Limit the impact of equine-related activity on landscape character, visual amenity and public access. Avoid the subdivision of prominent fields, particularly at settlement edges and on hillsides, and locate stables, jumps and other equipment in unobtrusive locations. Avoid the use of uncharacteristic fencing materials, which can be widely perceptible and appear out of place. Reduce conflict between equine management and public access where possible and ensure that public rights of ways are properly managed and maintained.

Management guidelines

  • Promote the use of visually permeable boundaries such as post and wire fencing on higher ground and enhance the sense of continuity and openness across the escarpment/ridge tops and associated monuments.
  • Monitor continued encroachment of scrub on the steepest slopes. Burn scrub and encourage grazing where appropriate and avoid straight line cutting to minimise visual impact. Retain occasional small patches of scrub for aesthetic and wildlife benefits.
  • Seek opportunities to recreate, link and restore important grassland sites.
  • Enhance the function of habitats in supporting the wider ecological network, where appropriate.
  • Enhanced woodland management a key requirement. Further woodland planting is not a key objective for this area, although some locations on lower slopes may provide opportunities for new planting, particularly where this will augment existing character. However, only native species should be incorporated and rectilinear planting patterns should be avoided.
  • Ensure conservation of low impact grassland management, particularly around prehistoric barrows and hillforts.
  • Promote sustainable management of and recreational access to open access land and significant viewpoints.