Upper North Winterborne Valley

The Upper North Winterborne Valley is characterised by a sweeping shallow ‘V’ shaped valley with sheltered and picturesque linear villages.

The Upper North Winterborne Valley is characterised by a sweeping shallow ‘V’ shaped valley with sheltered and picturesque linear villages. The landscape has several distinctive elements. The historical transport routes that connect villages along the valley floor are enclosed by small-scale pastoral fields with dense hedgerows. Flint and brick walls are characteristic built boundaries found in settlements such as Bryanston. With old water meadows along the floodplain and remnant parkland, it is an intimate and enclosed landscape of subtle colours with connections to the past. There is a branching pattern of narrow, steep-sided dry coombes off the main central valley, with small pockets of broadleaved woodland. Towards the upper slopes the valley becomes broader in scale with bare chalk downland, studded with a rich archaeology. Large arable field patterns and significant blocks of dark conifer plantations on the higher slopes and occasional scattered farms provide a gradual transition to the surrounding open chalk uplands. Towards the upper reaches of the valley where the landform rises and becomes narrower towards the North Dorset Escarpment, the landscape becomes more intimate and tranquil.

  • Linear intimate ‘V’ shaped chalk valley with associated winterborne and surrounding steep branching valleys and open chalk uplands.
  • Thin calcareous soils with underlying geology of chalk
  • Incised valley slopes with patches of semi-natural chalk grassland and occasional broadleaved woodlands
  • Clear chalk Winterborne with floodplain supporting occasional water meadows, wet woodlands, remnant 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
  • Smaller scale pastures and fields patterns on valley floor with species rich dense hedgerows, small broadleaved woodlands and occasional hedgerow trees
  • Designed parkland landscapes with veteran trees, railings, flint walls and country houses. Rich built historic character in areas such as Bryanston, which exhibits the architectural style of the Portman estate.
  • Large, straight-sided arable and pastoral regular 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, although changes in agricultural practices and associated farm development has affected traditional characteristics. Nonetheless, the area has largely maintained its dark night skies and undeveloped rural character.

Land shape and structure

The area relates to the undulating chalk valley of the River Winterborne, which runs from the higher ridge of hills to the west and turns south at Winterborne Stickland, towards Winterborne Whitechurch. The river then joins the Stour at Sturminster Marshall. The narrow valley bottom retains its sense of enclosure from the surrounding coombes rising towards the open uplands.

Soils and vegetation

Although the chalk provides free draining soils on the upper slopes supporting remnant unimproved chalk grassland, the brook is a winterbourne, supporting a range of rare aquatic species. Woodlands are both deciduous and coniferous including white beam, beech & douglas fir, ash, sycamore and hazel.

Settlement and land cover

Settlement within the valley follows the linear valley floor, namely Winterborne Stickland, Winterborne Houghton, Turnworth and Winterborne Clenston, all with well-defined edges. The valley has a rich built heritage with remaining churches, manor houses and tithe barns adding interest and often set within locally prominent groups of deciduous woodland. There is pressure for further housing development toward Blandford, with existing housing allocations within and close to the character area.

Historic character

The area has a mixed historic character with a predominance of regular enclosures. Some paddocks are found adjacent to settlements with some strip fields, open fields and downland areas on the valley sides. Woodland is generally mixed with areas of scrub and coniferous plantation. Important archaeology includes Ringmoor, an Iron Age field system near Turnworth along with others, strip lynchets at Whatcombe and large deer park of mature trees in parkland which contribute to the rich historic character.

Visual character and perceptions

The tight knit pattern of linear villages and valley sides defines the intimate visual character of the North Winterborne Valley. With a strong cultural association of settlement patterns, surrounding small pastures leading up towards the larger scale arable uplands, the area retains a strong sense of rural tradition. The eastern portion of the character area contains some recent solar farm development, located with locations that have a limited visual influence. Nonetheless these developments have weakened the rural character of this portion of the character area.

Strength of character

The landscape is judged to have a moderate-strong character. The consistent landform of intimate valley floor, wooded sides and open uplands maintain a strong sense of visual unity and character throughout the area. The distinctive features such as the historic parklands, vernacular linear villages and dry coombes reinforce the strength of character of this chalk landscape. Occasional unsympathetic leylandii planting, a growth in horse pasture, urban fringe growth toward Blandford and solar development within the eastern portion of the area has weakened traditional character to some extent.


Only small and isolated areas of semi-natural habitat remain in the Winterborne Valley. Patches of remnant chalk grassland have become fragmented by significant woodland planting and arable cultivation on the valley sides. Along the valley floor, wet woodlands and meadows are now mostly confined to a narrow line of willow and alder along the river and the river flows and course are engineered in places. Traditional water meadow management is no longer practiced. 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 replacement. It is important to ensure the ongoing use of building materials and finishes which are sympathetic to the area, in particular the use of red brick or flint in facades and slate, tile or thatch for roofs, depending on local context. Overall, although the area’s strength of character has weakened in recent years, 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.