National Character Area 133

Blackmoor Vale and Vale of Wardour - Analysis: Landscape Attributes & Opportunities

Analysis supporting Statements of Environmental Opportunity

The following analysis section focuses on the landscape attributes and opportunities for this NCA.

Further analysis on ecosytem services for this NCA is contained in the Analysis: Ecosytem Services section.

Landscape attributes

Strongly rural and pastoral character; agriculture has always been and remains the principal driver of landscape character.

Justification for selection:

  • Farming dictates the character of the vast bulk of the NCA, pastoral activities like cutting silage or hay add a sense of season to the area.
  • Farmsteads, yards and other agricultural infrastructure set the vernacular.
  • A few relict habitats associated with pre-intensification systems make a minor but important contribution to the NCA’s character.
  • Tranquillity and remoteness with some 75 per cent of the landscape not intruded into and a mere 1 per cent urbanised.
  • Strong sense of place and history, though not with the great time depth of some adjacent NCAs.
  • A verdant, lush landscape of twisting lanes and thickly hedged fields with a strong wetland feel.

Contrast between simple low lying pastoral vales and complex, often wooded, ridges, scarps and dip slopes.

Justification for selection:

  • Broad low lying clay vale dissected by a broken ridge of limestone hills.
  • The wooded scarps and open ridges provide the setting and contrast for the flat and regular vales.
  • Magnificent views across vales from scarps with long views from the central ridge and a sense of enclosure from the floor of the vales.
  • Large arable fields on Upper Greensand dip slope contrast with more enclosed pastoral feel of the vales.

Historic houses and parks on the wooded Upper Greensand scarps and hills.

Justification for selection:

  • Historic houses and parklands found along the Upper Greensand scarps and the hills around the Vale of Wardour and the area north of Penselwood are an important element of the character of this NCA.
  • The houses and parks represent important periods in the development of the understanding of landscape and its conscious use as a symbol of power and wealth.
  • The landscape parkland and ornamental lake at Stourhead is one of the archetypal designed landscapes in the history of landscape design.
  • The wooded scarps are themselves an important element in the character of the area, especially the high percentage of ancient woodland.

Complex and distinctive Vale of Wardour.

Justification for selection:

  • Complex geology and subsequently complex landform that is almost a miniature of the Blackmore Vale.
  • The same landscape elements concentrated into a small geographic area amplifies them and gives this area a complimentary but distinct character.
  • The density of parklands on the Upper Greensand exerts a strong influence on the whole vale.
  • Juxtaposition of different soil types and subsequent settlement and cultivation history gives a greater time depth than in other areas.
  • Concentration of important geological exposures has led to history of quarrying and study, with links to the Jurassic Coast.
  • Distinct relationship to the adjacent Chalk country due to the strong influence of the Upper Greensand transition.

Rhythmic pattern of regularly sized, thickly hedged fields in Blackmore Vale contrasting with patches of smaller, irregular ‘assarted’ fields around old settlements and farmsteads.

Justification for selection:

  • The pattern of fields tells the story of the settlement and cultivation of the NCA, reflecting the long history of cultivation and the changes in the relationship between us and the landscape.
  • Hedges and ditches provide a network of connections which link the scattered relict areas of high biodiversity interest.

Semi-natural habitats, particularly broadleaved woodlands but with a small but significant suite of grasslands and parkland.

Justification for selection:

  • Broadleaved and mixed woodland. Much ancient woodland, some sites of which are planted with conifer.
  • Significant areas of wet woodland in the clay vale along the county boundary in the north of the NCA from near Longleat House to near Wincanton, containing important invertebrate assemblages, notably soldier flies, crane flies, snail-killing flies and beetles.
  • Sites show the rich biodiversity pastoral systems used to support. These include Holnest SAC (greater- crested newt) and Blackmore Vales, Commons and Moors SSSI and SAC (marsh fritillary, brown hairstreak, nightingale, a medieval deer park, fen meadow and invertebrate assemblage).
  • The 16th-century Melbury Park, includes a deer park, and is one of only four British Lichen Society grade 1 lowland parks in Great Britain.

Strong sense of place and cultural heritage.

Justification for selection:

  • Vernacular architecture, small villages and pre-20th-century infrastructure patterns.
  • Characteristic dispersed settlement pattern across much of the NCA and a low density of roads, which reflect the different phases of land enclosure.
  • Setting and backdrop for some of Thomas Hardy’s novels and William Barnes’ dialect poetry.

A distinct suite of historic assets, few in number but of high visual impact.

Justification for selection:

  • While lacking the abundant prehistoric archaeology of the adjacent Dorset Downs and Cranborne Chase, the suite of historic parklands, often associated with a house or castle, have a key impact on setting the character.

Landscape opportunities

  • Protect and, where possible, enhance the wide open views across the NCA from the surrounding hills and high ground.
  • Ancient woodlands should be brought into suitable active management and planted ancient woodlands should be returned to broadleaved woodland where possible in order to enhance the contribution broadleaved woodland makes to the coherent and distinctive landscape character, climate change resilience and landscape permeability. In places new mixed and broadleaf woodland should be planted to reinforce character.
  • Protect and conserve the substantial and valuable fossil record held in the Jurassic/Cretaceous strata along the exposures in the Vale of Wardour. Maximise the conservation, scientific and educational potential of important exposures, which contribute scientific and educational value to the NCA.
  • Manage the distinctive boundary hedgerows and hedgerow trees which not only delineate patterns of occupation and land use but also provide an essential network of ecological connections across the wider countryside.
  • Secure the cultural, landscape and ecological continuity of the NCA’s suite of historic parklands through planning tree planting, grassland management and the maintenance of specific parkland features for the future.
  • Protect from damage and positively manage the archaeological heritage and heritage assets of the Blackmore Vale and Vale of Wardour NCA, ensuring its preservation while enhancing accessibility for study.
  • Manage the NCA’s settlements to ensure that sense of place is maintained through the continued use of the local vernacular and that any growth is sustainable and maintains or, preferably, enhances the character and tranquillity of this NCA.
  • Work with land managers to better understand and manage the soils of the NCA. Seek to enhance their structure and organic content where this has been damaged or degraded. Devise practical solutions to issues such as compaction, erosion and run-off.
  • Plan for changes in land use/farming types and cropping patterns in the face of climatic and economic pressures, aiming to both preserve the characteristically pastoral nature of the area and to enhance biodiversity.
  • Work with the protected landscape of the Dorset AONB and the Cranborne Chase AONB to meet the ambitions of their management plans.
  • Manage watercourses and their adjacent flood plains to enhance biodiversity, strengthen landscape character and enhance their role in buffering against downstream flooding and sediment/eutrophication issues. Ensure that the small but significant aquifers are protected from eutrophication and over-abstraction.