National Character Area 135

Dorset Heaths - 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


Extensive tracts of semi-natural lowland heathland supporting a suite of characteristic species.

Justification for selection:

  • Characteristic species include Dartford warbler, nightjar, woodlark, sand lizard, smooth snake, ladybird spider and Dorset heath.
  • Swathes of gorse and heather creating bright colour contrasts and textures.
  • Patches of scrub and woodland providing both important habitat variety and visual relief.
  • Wide open spaces, with long uninterrupted views, a strong sense of wilderness and history, and a lack of modern development and disturbance creating tranquillity.


Micro-tidal harbours supporting important wildlife assemblages.

Justification for selection:

  • Poole Harbour is the second largest natural harbour in the world.
  • Distinctive collection of islands, the largest being Brownsea Island, around the harbour and a complex shoreline creating an intimate network of channels, inlets, views and habitats.
  • Mudflats, reedbeds and salt marshes around the fringes of the harbour and particularly the southern and western edges add variety and a complex range of habitats that attract a wealth of fauna.
  • River channels extending into and forming the edges of, the harbours.
  • Sometimes spectacular flocks of waders and wildfowl in the autumn, winter and spring.


Extensive conifer plantations.

Justification for selection:

  • Conifer plantation became a common land use in the first half of the 20th-century for example Ringwood, Wareham, Rempstone and Puddletown forests.
  • The plantations can create extensive areas of tranquillity.
  • The dark, monotonous blocks of plantation contrast strongly with the intricate, complex areas of heathland, the pastoral river valleys and the fringe habitats of Poole Harbour, most notably between Rempstone Forest and the water of Poole Harbour.


Wild remote-feeling heathland landscape providing opportunities for informal recreation and ‘escape’.

Justification for selection:

  • Proximity of large undeveloped areas of heathland to Poole-Bournemouth-Christchurch conurbation.
  • Expansive open views seemingly unaffected by modern human activity and with a strong connection to a great cultural landscape once widespread across northern Europe.
  • The bright flora and diverse fauna of the heaths and associated habitats provide visual and scientific interest and simple pleasure to visitors.


Small villages and hamlets where sense of a strong vernacular architecture has been maintained.

Justification for selection:

  • For example Moreton where typically cob under thatch but also brick under tile or slate are common, with the use of limestone, common in the adjacent South Purbeck NCA, and ironstone making occasional appearances.
  • Many settlements now dominated by 20th-century design with the influence of Poundbury now extending to some newer developments for example in Stoborough and Wool.


Large conurbation with extensive sea and beach frontage.

Justification for selection:

  • The now contiguous settlements of Poole, Bournemouth and Christchurch connect and partially surround the harbours of Poole and Christchurch with extensive beach and promenade frontages between backed in places by low cliffs.
  • Early settlement pattern now overlain and obscured by 19th- and 20th-century development.
  • Some ‘seaside’ architecture.


Occasional prehistoric earthworks and other heritage assets.

Justification for selection:

  • Long-term existence of undisturbed heath has allowed survival of many barrows (mainly Bronze Age) and other later archaeological features for example the Double Dykes (‘protecting’ Hengistbury Head), Woolsbarrow hill fort in Wareham Forest, Hardy’s Rainbarrow at the western end of the NCA and the Roman Roads at Puddletown and Upton.


Pastoral river valleys.

Justification for selection:

  • Flood meadows and pastoral land use in the river valleys.
  • Riverside trees and occasional hedgerows create the appearance of a lightly-timbered landscape.
  • Occasional arable outside of the flood plain.
  • Scattered farmsteads, villages and hamlets.

Landscape opportunities

  • Further improve the sustainability of the management of lowland heath and substantially increase its extent through restoration and recreation to enhance the open character of the area and improve priority habitats, the range and number of species present, and habitat connectivity.
  • Make the management of the lowest productivity grassland on the edges of the heaths more extensive to create a new buffering habitat of heather-grassland-scrub.
  • Adjust the position and function of the flood defences in the upper Wareham Channel and at Lytchett Bay to create a more naturally functioning shoreline to Poole Harbour that is more resilient to sea level rise.
  • Allow a more natural function of the rivers and their associated flood plains where this does not conflict with the protection of the built environment.
  • Provide new and redesigned greenspace (SANGS) within and adjacent to the conurbation and principal towns to enhance setting, recreation opportunities and to provide residents with wildlife on their doorsteps.
  • Protect and manage the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty so as to retain the sense of remoteness and tranquillity and balance the needs of habitat management for biodiversity and protection of the designated sites with public access and recreation.
  • Plan for significant new green infrastructure provision in association with areas of new urban development to protect and reinforce the local landscape character and expand the existing ecological networks.
  • Protect the landscape setting of historic towns, villages and farmsteads, manage heritage assets which contribute to the landscape character of the area and plan new development, and the change of use of historic buildings, that respects local character and distinctiveness.
  • Manage the small woods throughout the NCA to maintain and enhance biodiversity value and plan continued new native broadleaved planting in appropriate locations particularly where opportunities exist to expand or link existing woodland areas.
  • Manage the existing access network of rights of ways and cycle routes and plan new links, particularly within urban areas and between the urban areas and the wider countryside.