Similar to other areas within the west of the AONB, the Wootton Hills are characterised by a series of conical hills, formed from underlying greensand ridges.
Similar to other areas within the west of the National Landscape, the Wootton Hills are characterised by a series of conical hills, formed from underlying greensand ridges. These are particularly dominant where these summits form the western backdrop to the Marshwood Vale, including Coney’s Castle and the nearby Lambert’s Castle, as well as along the coast. These summits include Iron Age hillforts with a heathy character. Along the valley bottoms, dense hedgerows and small-scale irregular pastures are surrounded by arable fields with large dense woodlands. Clustered settlement patterns of stone villages are connected by a network of narrow winding lanes, with an intimate and tranquil quality, confined by the surrounding steep hills. Along the ridge tops Beech lined avenues lead towards open summits. The A35 cuts across the southern portion of the character area and there are a number of impacts associated with larger settlements at Charmouth and Lyme Regis. Furthermore, there is notable pressure for tourism development toward the coastal portion. The remote coastline, accessible by the South West Coast Path, has a spectacular visual quality with impressive views towards the landslides west of Black Ven.
- Numerous conical hills of greensand with deep, branching clay valleys
Open hill tops of greensand summits, with a heathy character of bracken, heather and gorse, often with dramatic hillforts that afford extensive panoramic views
- Patchwork of small, irregular unimproved pastoral fields on valley bottoms with dense species rich hedgerows, hedgerow trees and small broadleaved woodlands
- Deep, narrow winding lanes with hedge banks and occasional beech tree canopies and avenues along ridge tops
- Large oak and ash woodlands and arable fields on valley sides
- Occasional Orchards
- An exceptional, dramatic and remote coastline of imposing summits, coastal landforms and sheltered valleys, with sweeping coastal panoramas
- Scattered clustered settlements along valley bottoms of golden limestone and thatch, supporting the area’s rich historic and built heritage
- Larger seaside settlements at Lyme Regis and Charmouth
- The area has largely retained its strong undeveloped rural character, with associated characteristics of tranquility, remoteness and dark night skies. However, these qualities are notably weakened housing growth and visitor related development toward the coast.
Land shape and structure
The landform is defined by a series of rounded greensand summits set around a network of winding sheltered clay valleys. These hills often form prominent landmarks, for example towards Black Ven, between Charmouth and Lyme Regis, where there have been complex landslides and the under cliffs are constantly eroding. Inland, Lambart’s Castle is a notable feature, although this is located outside of the National Landscape. Coney’s Castle possesses a similar appearance at a smaller scale. The rounded and extensively wooded Wootton Hill occupies a central location within the area, making a notable contribution to its character.
Soils and vegetation
The contrast of deep wet soils along the valley floor to thinner soils on the steep slopes has influenced a diverse range of characteristic habitats. Along the narrow valley bottoms, rough neutral pastures are abundant with wet patches of rush, scrub and wet woodlands enclosed by dense species rich hedgerows and trees. On the valley sides, small oak and ash broadleaved woodlands with hazel coppice contrast the open rough grasslands and heather and gorse on the higher greensand summits. Along the coast, a range of important grassland and scrub habitats are found, particularly along Charmouth Cliffs.
Settlement and land cover
Landcover is mostly grazed pasture with some on the valley sides with large geometric shaped oak and beech woodlands on valley sides. A network of deep, winding rural lanes, sometimes enclosed by mature beech canopies, connects small clustered villages of golden limestone and thatch located on valley floor. Large agricultural buildings are dotted throughout the valleys along with more traditional farmsteads and hamlets. There is pressure to increase the scale and intensity of farming enterprises across the area, resulting in proposals to enlarge buildings and associated development, such as silage clamps. 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, particularly toward the coastal portion which is more affected by road infrastructure, housing development and tourism uses. The towns of Lyme Regis and Charmouth are important coastal resorts. There is pressure for further housing growth at these settlements, with limited new sites of low density remaining. Development at Lyme can be observed to already be spreading beyond the natural bowl that has traditionally contained the town. Further expansion should be carefully planned and controlled.
The Wootton Hills retains strong medieval patterns of historical land use with irregular fields and network of rural lanes. Strip lynchets on valley sides are found throughout the area with Lamberts Castle and Coney’s Castle Iron Age Hillforts providing impressive views over the area.
Visual character and perceptions
Impressive views of coastal landforms are found along the entire coast with Lyme Regis and Charmouth. Inland the dense blocks of woodland found along the valley sides evoke a greater sense of enclosure and texture. Within the valleys, there is a strong sense of intimacy and unspoilt rural character.
Strength of character
This is a landscape judged to have a strong character. The rolling, hilly landform with greensand summits and transition to deep and narrow valleys combined with the strong pastoral character creates a landscape with a variety of viewing experiences. Although varied, the landscapes are unified by the repeated occurrence of key features across the wooded pastures with clustered settlement patterns, woodland on hillsides, dense hedgerows and winding lanes, and the consistent use of stone as a building material. This creates a combination of elements evoking a strong sense of place and unspoilt rural character.
This ancient pattern of wooded hills has retained a substantial area of pasture, unlike the chalk downlands and chalk valleys. However, management is intensive in places with some change to arable taken place. The area exhibits a consistent land cover and land uses and a reasonable woodland cover, including several field patterns which are considered to be of medieval origin. A significant stench of the coast is managed by the National Trust with extensive rough grasslands and abundant species rich hedgerows. Some of the greensand summits have been replanted with conifer plantations and there is a lack of woodland management on smaller sites with some game coverts having geometric edges. Settlement and built character are in good condition within the smaller villages and hamlets. However, towards the coast and along the A35, more intensive land uses such as caravan parks have a negative visual impact along with urban fringe pressures towards Lyme Regis and Charmouth. Overall, landscape condition is described as moderate and stable.
The overall objective for the Wooded Hills should be to conserve the intimate, undeveloped and pastoral appearance and protect the wooded character. Ongoing protection of hedgerows, rural lanes, small scale pastures, open skylines and settlement character are important considerations.
- 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.
- 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.
- Conserve the pattern of tight knit villages and promote the use of locally sourced stone in new developments. Likewise, planting should reflect local character, using appropriate native species.
- Limit the impact of camping and caravanning sites. 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.
- Maintain undeveloped character and resist intrusive developments on sensitive hillside locations.
- Minimise small scale incremental change such as signage, fencing or improvements to the road network which could change the rural character of the landscape. Protect hedge banks along winding lanes and conserve characteristic finger posts and furniture.
- Consider screening views to intrusive agricultural buildings and structures and settlement edges through planting new small-scale broadleaved woodlands.
- 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.
- Conserve the ancient pattern of small irregular piecemeal enclosures, assarts and strip fields.
- Protect the wooded character and enhance woodland management with small scale planting of broadleaves along valley sides. Protect important open skylines from future planting.
- Conserve and enhance permanent grassland and prevent loss to agricultural improvement and consequential damage to wildlife and archaeological features. Promote low impact grassland management.
- Conserve existing orchards and promote new establishment.
- Encourage maintenance of species rich hedgerows and trees, particularly along the valley floors and replant any gaps where necessary. Resist use of post and wire.
- Protect watercourses and associated wildlife from soil erosion and the effects of diffuse pollution.
- Manage the retreat of coastal landscapes and the coastal corridor. Resist hard engineering solutions in undeveloped locations.
- Restore important patches of heathland through phased conifer felling and introduce grazing regimes.
- Enhance the function of habitats in supporting the wider ecological network.
- Protect patterns of strip lynchets and their setting.