Upper Milborne Valley

The Upper Milborne Valley is a distinctive chalk landscape dominated by Milton Abbey and its designed eighteenth century parkland setting.

The Upper Milborne Valley is a distinctive chalk landscape dominated by Milton Abbey and its designed eighteenth century parkland setting. The area has a great sense of seclusion and enclosure defined by the surrounding steep, complex, twisting valley sides. Dense beech, ash and sycamore woodland along the slopes further enhances the sense of enclosure, emphasising the dramatic topography as it follows a series of small, deep coombes around the valley bottom. Within the valley floor, gently rolling arable farmland gives way to long sweeping views and vistas with a wooded background. Small dark woodlands along winding lanes with parkland railings and dense hedgerows and hedge banks seclude villages and clustered farm buildings. Frequent use of brick, flint, cob and thatch further emphasise the traditional rural character with the picturesque villages of Hilton and Milton Abbas adding further interest to this tranquil and historic landscape.

  • Heart shaped valley enclosed with dry tributary valleys and deep coombes
  • Extensive panoramic views from the area around Bulbarrow Hill, including Rawlsbury Camp and Woolland Hill
  • Steeply incised valley slopes with patches of semi-natural chalk grassland and extensive broadleaved woodlands
  • Remnant winding chalk Winterborne with floodplain supporting occasional water meadows, wet woodlands, cress beds and rough damp meadows
  • Winding rural lanes along the valley floor with a series of small linear and nucleated villages of flint and stone, thatch and cob
  • Straight-sided arable fields of late 18th/early 19th century planned enclosures on valley floor with species rich hedgerows and small broadleaved woodlands
  • Thin calcareous soils with underlying geology of chalk
  • Designed parkland landscapes with veteran trees, railings and country houses along the valley floor, with significant historic and cultural value, including association with Damer and Capability Brown
  • Large, straight-sided arable and pastoral fields of late 18th/early 19th century enclosures with trimmed hazel hedgerows, with post & wire on chalk uplands
  • Undeveloped rural character, with a sense of seclusion and tranquility. Modern development and intrusive features have limited impact and the area has largely maintained its dark night skies and traditional character.

Land shape and structure

The steep winding topography of the surrounding chalk escarpment, rising to 200m, defines much of the secluded and tranquil character of the chalk valley. The Milborne Valley is part of a wider chalk landscape and is centred on the gently rolling heart shaped valley floor with a meandering brook with ponds, draining further south into the Piddle Valley.

Soils and vegetation

The light, free draining soils support some small patches of remnant chalk grassland on the valley sides with occasional rough pasture on the valley floor. Woodland along the valley sides are both semi-natural and plantation consisting of mostly beech, oak and conifers with smaller woodland blocks along the valley floor, often with a varied understorey.

Settlement and land cover

Milton Abbas village is considered to be one the first planned settlements (relocated from near the abbey site) and is reflected in the linear landscaped valley with a regular form of identical cottages made from cob, combed wheat read thatch and flush ridges. Hilton is a small nucleated village with brick and flint cottages with a fine elevated church set around the impressive Milton Abbey with lake and individual parkland trees. Land cover consists of mainly arable and small woodlands on the valley floor with extensive secondary woodland plantation on the valley sides.

Historic character

Part of the landscape today is a result of a large-scale improvement designed by Lancelot “Capability” Brown (amongst others) in the late Eighteenth Century, registered as a Grade II listed parkland landscape. This was centred on the lake and greensward by the Abbey (now school) and the expansive plantations of beech and oak forming a ‘romantic’ composition. Nearby is the site of Middelton, the town which was rebuilt at Milton Abbas. The field boundaries and footpaths often reflect the tracks that bought the livestock to and from the chalk downland in prehistoric times.

Visual character and perceptions

The area maintains a strong sense of place and tranquillity emphasised by the enclosed twisting valley sides and picturesque settlements. The cultural associations of Damer and Brown are clearly evident in the dominant Milton Abbey and impressive surrounding designed landscape.

Strength of character

The landscape is judged to have a strong character. The unique landform, with sweeping views and dense wooded sides, enforces a strong sense of visual unity and character throughout the area. The distinctive features, such as the flat valley floor with small woodlands, historic parklands, vernacular linear or nucleated villages and dry coombes reinforce the strength of character of this dramatic landscape. The only few detracting elements that weaken the character are occasional unsympathetic Leylandii planting and signage that occur along the rural lanes.


Only small and isolated areas of semi-natural habitat remain in the Milborne Valley. Patches of remnant chalk grassland with scrub have become fragmented by significant woodland planting on the valley sides. In places, the dark conifers stand out against the broadleaved woodlands. Along the valley floor, wet woodlands and meadows are now mostly confined to a narrow line of willow and alder along the winterbourne. Traditional water meadow management is no longer practiced and the upper stretches of the river have permanently dried up. However, the natural form of the valley sides is strong and has been little altered by human activity. Settlements are generally in a good condition, but boundaries of hedgerows and estate railings are often in poor condition and require restoration. Some of the designed views and vistas of the parkland have been lost over time due to changes land uses and additional planting. Overall landscape condition is moderate and stable.

The overall management aim should be to conserve the strong pattern of existing features, whilst restoring woodlands and meadows, chalk grasslands and boundary features. To maintain undeveloped rural character, careful consideration should be given to the design of developments such as settlement extensions and large agricultural barns.  Sensitive siting and tailored landscaping measure should be pursued. Indirect effects arising from farm diversification and intensification should be considered, particularly where widespread changes to landscape management may arise.


Planning guidelines

  • Conserve and enhance the distinctive undeveloped character of the open downland landscape and the long ranging views especially from roads, Rights of Ways and key viewpoints.
  • Encourage maintenance and replacement of important boundaries, particularly parkland railings and flint walls, along the valley floors.
  • Conserve the character of rural lanes and features such as finger posts and street furniture. Remove excessive signage and seek alternatives to infrastructure associated with urban development and out of scale traffic management schemes.
  • Conserve the pattern of tight knit villages and views of key landmarks.
  • Ensure farm diversification projects do not have a negative impact of local character
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Maintain the tradition of combed-wheat reed thatching in villages, by resisting the use of water reed on buildings previously thatched in wheat reed. The Dorset traditional style of thatching (wrap-over ridge) should be pursued.

Management guidelines

  • 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.
  • Conserve and restore winterbourne/chalk streams and associated habitats and features of cultural interest. Ensure monitoring of low flows takes place.
  • Protect watercourses and associated wildlife from soil erosion and the effects of diffuse pollution.
  • Encourage opportunities for enhanced woodland management on the valley sides, especially coppice management.
  • Where important grasslands and views will not be affected, promote the planting of small oak, ash and hazel broadleaved woodlands on gentle slopes and around settlements and farmsteads to increase landscape diversity. New coniferous planting and shelter belts should not be encouraged.
  • Enhance management of existing chalk grasslands and where important woodland edges will not be affected (along the valley floor and settlements), encourage reversion back to chalk grassland where remaining areas could be linked up.
  • Plant new parkland trees (and retain veteran trees for wildlife purposes) and replant new areas of wet woodland along the river.
  • Conserve and restore remnant water meadow systems that are an important historic landscape feature and provide opportunities for supporting traditional land management practices.
  • Enhance the function of habitats in supporting the wider ecological network.