South Dorset Ridge & Vale

The South Dorset Ridge and Vale landscape is characterised by a series of small limestone ridges and clay vales running east to west enclosed by the South Dorset Escarpment to the north.

The South Dorset Ridge and Vale landscape is characterised by a series of small limestone ridges and clay vales running east to west enclosed by the South Dorset Escarpment to the north. The landscape has an intensive mixed farmed land use with arable more apparent on the valley floors, particularly towards Weymouth.

Along the vale floor and ridge slopes, small broadleaved woodlands add texture and diversity to the landscape. Towards Abbotsbury, in the west of the area, the landscape becomes more intimate due to its undulating topography. Further east towards Weymouth, the landscape is broader in scale and more simplistic in form. In this area, urban expansion and land uses in locations such as Chickerell are increasingly affecting wider areas of open countryside. The cultural value of the landscape becomes more apparent towards Abbotsbury, with medieval field patterns, strip lynchets and gardens. From the higher ground, there are sweeping coastal views, including the Fleet and Chesil beach. The Fleet has a particularly undeveloped character, with limited development within its terrestrial margin.

  • Broad pastoral clay vale landscape with small limestone ridges with rocky outcrops running east to west
  • 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.
  • Coastal features area a significant element within views.
  • Exposed, rough coastal grazing marsh with scrub
  • Continuous patchwork of planned enclosures of neutral and acid grasslands becoming larger and open towards the ridge tops
  • Enclosure by chalk escarpment to the north
  • Mixed boundaries of stone walls and stunted hedges and occasional hedgerow trees
  • Smaller scale landscape towards the west, where traditional undeveloped character is more strongly expressed
  • Settlements of local limestone located along the Chalk escarpment base, expressing the area’s rich historic and built heritage
  • Small broadleaved woodlands of oak and ash along the lower slopes and vales with occasional hazel coppice
  • Shingle bank and saline lagoon of the Fleet, providing a remote and tranquil experience

Land shape and structure

Partly enclosed by the South Dorset Escarpment, the land shape is characterised by a series small scale limestone ridges, with some rocky outcrops and broad vales running east to west. The small-scale ridges add structure to the otherwise broad scale coastal landscape. To the west, the land shape is more varied with deeper, incised valleys.

Soils and vegetation

The limestone ridges provide thinner soils supporting small patches of rough grassland and bracken whilst the deeper soils of the clay vales support neutral grasses with oak, ash and hazel woodlands, some coppiced. A host of rare flora and fauna are found along the fleet lagoon and shingle bank. The limestone ridge from Upwey to Portesham retains small areas of unimproved turf. Abbotsbury Castle comprises patches of heathland, acid grassland and a small mire.

Settlement and land cover

Rural nucleated settlements made of limestone with well-defined edges are found along the vales. Although the west of the area has a rural character, the landscape is subject to a host of urban influences towards Weymouth, including several caravan parks dotted along the coast. Scattered farmsteads remain along the vale floor and sides. Landcover has remained largely pastoral on the higher ground with mixed arable and pastoral farming with small woodlands in the vales. A trend toward equine-related activity can be observed, particularly in proximity to settlements and in wider locations with relatively good access.

Historic character

Towards the west and north of the area, open fields predominate with some piecemeal enclosure with fragments of rough ground towards the escarpment. Further east, the character is more determined by modern planned enclosures with fragments of strip fields. There are also fragments of coppice woodland and withy beds towards Abbotsbury. Several disused lime kilns are found throughout the area with Abbotsbury Abbey, Gardens and the Chapel set around a landmark hill with strip lynchets adding to the cultural interest in the west of the area.

Visual character and perceptions

The area has strong coastal character with sweeping views of the coast from the higher ridges and hills. Towards the Fleet, the landscape has a remote feel emphasised by extensive patches of rough coastal grasslands. Further inland, the landscape becomes more intimate, particularly where villages nestle between small scale hills and ridges.

Strength of character

Overall the landscape is judged to have moderate strength of character, although the western portion of the area is regarded as having moderate-strong character, whereas the western portion has moderate-weak character. Although the sweeping clay vales and ridges with rough grasslands retain a strong coastal character, with a patchwork of more intimate irregular fields of pasture and small woodlands, these patterns of landscape elements become much weaker towards Weymouth where urban influences are more apparent. However, further west, the landscape has retained a stronger pattern of characteristic features, particularly towards Abbotsbury, helping to conserve a traditional rural/coastal character.


Due to intensive farming practices and urban fringe land uses including equine-related activity and host of recreational and tourism-based land uses with signage and infrastructure, the management of key landscape features has been neglected over time. Towards the coast, rough grasslands are subject to scrub encroachment and a lack of management with dry stone walls in a state of disrepair. Pylons and caravan parks have a major landscape impact around Weymouth and the exposed coastal landscapes. Hedgerows are intensively managed with a lack of hedgerow trees in the clay vales. Pollution from agricultural run-off into water courses is also a concern, particularly due to impact upon the Fleet lagoon. Toward the west where development pressures are fewer and the much of the land is in good estate management, the landscape is in better condition. Prehistoric features are likely to survive as earthworks towards the escarpment where open fields exist. Overall the area is judged to be in a moderate condition that is stable in the west but declining in the east.

The overall objective should be to reduce the impact of urban fringe land uses through measures such as new woodland planting and greenspace provision, as well as seeking to restore the characteristic grasslands and field boundaries along the coast.


Planning guidelines

  • Conserve the pattern of tight knit nucleated villages and resist encroachment of urban development. 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 impact of associated features, including 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.
  • Where appropriate, encourage the planting of small-scale community woodlands to reduce visual impact of urban and tourism-related development, taking an integrated approach to increased access, nature conservation and greenspace provision.
  • Conserve and enhance the sweeping views of the coast.
  • Conserve and enhance the open character of coastal roads and viewpoints and conserve characteristic finger posts and furniture.
  • Limit the proliferation of masts and communications infrastructure. Ensure permitted infrastructure meets essential local needs, building the economic resilience of rural communities. Ensure that the site selection process affords significant weight to the conservation of visual amenity and respects heritage assets and their settings.
  • Encourage the under-grounding of small powerlines in open, sensitive locations.
  • Encourage planting and habitat enhancement to reduce the visual impact of caravan parks where the open character is not affected. Resist further expansion of this type of development in open, sensitive locations. 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.
  • 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.
  • Ensure farm diversification projects do not have a negative impact of local character.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Ensure that development linked to aquaculture and fishing is compatible with the National Landscape’s exceptional undeveloped coastline. Avoid locating permanent infrastructure in sensitive areas and minimise the impact of essential infrastructure through good design.
  • 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 along the coast and other important boundary features.
  • Encourage grazing on the coast and inland limestone ridges to reduce further scrub encroachment.
  • Manage permanent pastures, including calcareous grassland and wet grasslands, to protect wildlife and historic features.
  • Enhance 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. Reduce the intensity of farming practices around important sensitive habitats.
  • Enhance the function of habitats in supporting the wider ecological network, where appropriate.
  • Prevent the loss of key landscape features and enhance archaeological features, such as barrows, through low impact grazing.
  • Protect watercourses and associated wildlife from soil erosion and the effects of diffuse pollution.