Upper Piddle Valley

In contrast to the Cerne & Sydling Valley, the Upper Piddle Valley, with the associated River Piddle, Devils Brook and Cheselbourne, has a more enclosed character defined by a ‘V’ shaped profile and dry, rounded coombes.

In contrast to the Cerne & Sydling Valley, the Upper Piddle Valley, with the associated River Piddle, Devils Brook and Cheselbourne, has a more enclosed character defined by a ‘V’ shaped profile and dry, rounded coombes. There is a branching pattern of narrow, steep-sided dry coombes, off the main central valley with small pockets of broad-leaved woodland and relic hazel coppice with rough chalk pastures and patches of scrub. Towards the upper slopes, open and expansive uplands of large arable fields are crossed with straight roads leading down the valley sides. Towards the northern escarpment the landscape becomes smaller scale with steep valley sides. Linear settlements follow historical transport routes that connect villages along the valley floor. Settlements are enclosed by small-scale pastoral fields with dense hedgerows and hedgerow trees with old water meadows along the floodplain and remnant areas of parkland, making such areas intimate and enclosed places with strong historical associations.

  • Enclosed, ‘V’ shaped chalk valleys with associated chalk streams and surrounding steep branching valleys, rounded hollows and expansive open chalk uplands
  • Thin calcareous soils with underlying geology of chalk
  • Incised valley slopes with remnant patches of semi-natural chalk grassland, soil creep, and occasional small broadleaved woodlands and relic hazel coppice
  • Clear chalk streams with floodplain supporting occasional water meadows, wet woodlands, cress beds and rough damp meadows
  • Straight rural lanes (historical transport routes) along the valley floor with a series of linear villages of brick and flint, thatch and cob
  • Parklands landscapes with veteran trees, railings, flint walls and country houses along the valley floors
  • Occasional water meadow channels on the valley floor contribute to the visible archaeology
  • Smaller scale pastures and fields patterns on valley floor with species rich dense hedgerows, small broadleaved woodlands and occasional hedgerow trees
  • 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, 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 Upper Piddle Chalk Valley and its tributaries of the Devils Brook and Chesselbourne drain into the River Piddle to the south. The narrow valley bottom retains a sense of enclosure from the surrounding hollows and coombes rising towards the open uplands. The valley bottoms are particularly enclosed towards the north by the twisting escarpment.

Soils and vegetation

The chalk provides free draining soils which on the steeper slopes support small relic areas of unimproved chalk grassland and patches of scrub. Small broadleaved woodlands and relic hazel coppice are found dotted along the valley sides leading down towards damper pastures along the valley bottom. An extensive area of chalk downland is found at Lyscombe Bottom.

Settlement and land cover

Linear settlements within the valley follow the linear road system. The southern part of the valley has more of an urbanised character than other chalk valleys, with business and industrial land uses encroaching into the open countryside. As with other valleys, landcover is typically pastoral along the valley floors with extensive arable fields on the surrounding uplands.

Historic character

In the western half of the valley, strip fields predominate. Elsewhere, the character is planned enclosures with a concentration of parliamentary enclosures in the south west. Broadleaved woodlands are found on the valley sides with more recent small coniferous woodlands to the west of the area. The network of field boundaries and footpaths often reflect the tracks, droves and hollow ways that took the livestock to and from the downs in prehistoric times. Cross dykes and earthworks survive at Lyscombe Bottom with large expanses of prehistoric fields found throughout the area.

Visual character and perceptions

The narrow valley floor defines the intimate and enclosed visual character of the Upper Piddle valley. Landscapes surrounding settlements often have a strong cultural association, with small pastures leading up towards the larger scale arable farmland. Although the area retains a strong sense of rural tradition, there is pressure to increase the scale and intensity of farming enterprises. Accommodating such expansion within elevated and visually exposed locations is particularly challenging and there is a risk that the cumulative effects of such growth may erode the undeveloped rural character of the area.

Strength of character

The landscape is judged to have a moderate character. Although the distinctive valley landform evokes a consistent sense of place and visual unity, the distinct and recognisable pattern of features such as grazed valley floor pasture, historic water meadows, parklands, vernacular linear villages are less apparent than other chalk valleys. There are some detracting features that weaken the character, such unsympathetic Leylandii planting and signage that occur along the lanes, and urban fringe land use. Some arable use along the valley floor has weakened the pattern of characteristic damp chalk pastures.


Only small and isolated areas of semi-natural habitat remain in the Piddle Valley. Patches of remnant chalk grassland have become fragmented by woodland planting and extensive arable use 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. Traditional water meadow management is no longer practiced. Settlements edges often intrude into the open countryside with many boundaries often being in relatively poor condition. Traffic along the road network impacts on the surrounding rural tranquillity. Extensive areas of chalk upland have been subject to agricultural intensification with a loss of boundaries and natural habitat. 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.