National Character Area 136

South Purbeck - 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

Exceptionally diverse chalk, limestone, shale and clay geology, leading to widely varied landscape morphology.

Justification for selection:

  • Clearly defined ridge, vale, plateau and downland character within a small NCA. Exceptionally clear and ‘readable’ relationship between geological structures/processes, soils, landforms and land use.
  • Long history of extractive and processing industries associated with the various geological strata present within the NCA.
  • Designated as United Kingdom’s only natural World Heritage Site, the Dorset and East Devon Coast World Heritage Site – known as the Jurassic Coast.


Large areas of windswept treeless landscape, elevated, exposed ridgeline with wooded northern slopes and moderately wooded Corfe Valley.

Justification for selection:

  • Contrast between treeless chalk ridge and limestone plateau and moderately wooded clay vale, coastal valleys and chalk downland is a strong characteristic of the NCA.
  • Long, unencumbered views along and from the ridge across ‘blasted’ heath, treeless plateau and changeable seascape all conspire to imbue the landscape with a very strong sense of place.


A valuable range of semi-natural BAP habitats within a small area (reflection of geology). A significant concentration of arable farmland biodiversity, both plants and birds.

Justification for selection:

  • The biological diversity and richness of the South Purbeck NCA is reflected in the range of designations found here.
  • 1,415 ha (12 per cent of the NCA) of principally coastal habitats are designated Special Area of Conservation.
  • 109 ha of National Nature Reserve at Durlston Head including coastal habitats and unimproved grassland.
  • 10 Sites of Special Scientific Interest totalling 1,884 ha (16 per cent of NCA), featuring grasslands, cliffs and slope, woodlands.
  • A suite of internationally important offshore reef communities that reflect the submarine geodiversity.
  • The entire NCA falls within the Wild Purbeck Nature Improvement Area (NIA) announced in 2012.
  • Important areas of traditionally managed semi-natural farmland, particularly arable farmland on limestone plateau have created a refuge for a diverse relict community of arable plants and a small and declining farmland bird population.
  • This NCA is also part of the 10 km square with the greatest diversity of plant species in the country.
  • Important habitats in this NCA are: calcareous grassland, acid grassland, neutral grassland, ancient woodland, parkland, coastal cliffs, quarries, fen meadows and flushes and arable farmland


A very diverse range of species. 

Justification for selection:

  • The Lulworth skipper with obvious association with this part of the Dorset coast.
  • The early spider orchid, chosen by the Dorset Wildlife Trust as their logo, and early gentian are both charismatic species of the coastal grasslands and are two of the botanical ‘must sees’ of Dorset.
  • The summer song of skylarks, climbing far into the sky and the cacophony of bumble bees, crickets and grasshoppers along the coastal grasslands and chalk ridge are the most evocative sounds to be heard in the NCA.
  • Bats which hibernate in the extensive abandoned quarries/mines are a good representation of the long associations between humans and the natural world in this NCA.


Dramatic coastal landscape of tall sea cliffs of Jurassic Portland & Purbeck Limestones, land slips and erosional features.

Justification for selection:

  • Internationally recognised geological record and geomorphological processes as inscribed in the World Heritage Site status.
  • Several type localities (the locality where a particular rock type, stratigraphic unit, fossil or mineral species is first identified) for Kimmeridgian and Purbeck Beds.
  • Exceptionally well utilised educational resource for all levels of study
  • Internationally recognised coastal erosional structures at Durdle Door, Lulworth Cove and Old Harry Rocks.
  • Extensive and almost unbroken maritime cliff and slope habitats along coastal strip – designated as a Special Area of Conservation.
  • Aesthetically outstanding and unspoilt coastline recognised in Heritage Coast designation.

Clearly visible history of human occupation throughout the NCA.

Justification for selection:

  • Corfe Castle dominates the skyline and the built heritage.
  • Visible signs of human habitation, agriculture and industry from Neolithic to present day. Barrows on ridge and Corfe Common, strip lynchets on hillsides, Roman/Romano-British industrial sites, medieval to 20th century quarry workings pockmark the limestone plateau and coastal cliffs and ledges.
  • A range of field/landuse patterns from early, irregular fields in Corfe Valley, small rectilinear system around Durlston to larger more recent patterns on the limestone plateau and arable on the chalk of Chaldon Down.
  • Four sites entered on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens, covering 737 ha.
  • The gradually ‘blurring’ land use pattern around the lost village of Tyneham, where enforced evacuation of the village and surrounding land for military training since the Second World War has allowed natural processes to reclaim farmland.
  • The pattern of settlement throughout most of NCA significantly unaffected by 20th century development and expansion. Small, often sensitive additions to villages, and a small number (57) of listings which belies the large number of unassuming but notable local vernacular buildings in the NCA.


Sense of place maintained by vernacular architecture and predominantly pre 20th century infrastructure patterns.

Justification for selection:

  • Use of Portland and Purbeck stones for most buildings in settlements gives a somewhat austere but strong unity to the area. Foremost amongst these is Corfe Castle and its village.
  • Grand churches with fine Purbeck Marble’ features are a readily visible trademark of the small settlements.
  • On the chalk around Chaldon Herring, stone is joined by brick-with-flints as traditional materials.
  • The strong contrast presented by Swanage strengthens both its ‘differentness’ through the more typically 20th century range of building ‘genres’ and materials and the tradition of the rest of the NCA.
  • A narrow wending network of lanes connecting villages and hamlets/farmsteads in the valley contrasting with a sparser network of tracks on the higher ground. A single main road connecting Wareham to Swanage and guarded by Corfe Castle. A network of quarry tracks and paths now manifested as a particularly dense public rights of way network and topped by the South West Coast path, running the 42 km length of the NCA.


Strong sense of isolation/remoteness from the rest of Dorset, variably rugged and windswept or sheltered and enclosed.

Justification for selection:

  • Many ruined or abandoned features of the landscape (Corfe Castle, quarries, Tyneham) can inspire awe. A landscape that has seen much human endeavour come and go.
  • Contrasts between treeless windswept plateau, ridgelines and coast and the sheltered, relatively luxuriant, valleys heighten the sense of either remoteness or shelter as one proceeds through the landscape.
  • Predominance of natural landmarks, the various ridgelines, headlands, bays, caps and coves all combine to ‘disconnect’ one from modernity – those man-made features that do stand out, Corfe Castle, Clavell’s Tower and Nine Barrow Down have almost become part of the natural land form with age.

Landscape opportunities

  • Conserve the tranquillity and special character of the chalk ridge, conserving the dispersed downland settlement pattern and traditional flint vernacular, as well as drove roads and ancient routes along the accessible downland tops that afford panoramic views over the downs and the Low Weald.
  • Manage recreational pressures to protect historic rights of way and tranquillity.
  • Protect and manage the area’s geodiversity, conserving important inland exposures and the distinctive chalk cliffs along the eastern coastline by ensuring that active coastal processes enable them to be sustained providing nesting sites for fulmar, kittiwake and peregrine falcon.
  • Conserve distinctive earthwork features that include bronze-age barrows and iron-age hill forts, and restoring and managing historic estate and parkland landscapes that are a particular feature of the central downs.
  • Managing and significantly enhancing the area’s rivers and their associated wetland habitats, through the restoration of river geomorphology and the expansion of flood plain habitats to help manage river flooding.
  • Positively manage and expand the area’s broadleaved woodlands, ancient woods and parklands, seeking opportunities for the restoration of planted ancient woodland sites. Conserve the English elms surviving in the Ouse and Cuckmere valleys. Bring areas of ancient and/or semi-natural woodland under sustainable management, especially the internationally designated beech hangers and yew woodlands, expanding and re-linking woodlands to enhance landscape character and provide a robust habitat with enhanced adaptation to climate change.
  • Traditional management practices should be re-introduced to conserve remnant wetland habitats include flood plain grazing marsh, reedbeds and fens.
  • Manage and significantly enhance the area’s rivers and river valley landscapes through restoration and significant re-linking of wetland valley habitats including lowland meadows, reedbeds, fens and flood plain grazing marsh, and restoring natural river morphology of engineered sections where of particular benefit to biodiversity.
  • Manage and enhance the agricultural landscape, including the restoration and management of hedgerow boundaries on the western downs and slopes within river valleys to enhance the wildlife network.
  • Conserve historic field patterns and create conservation headlands and field margins and promote winter stubble on the arable-dominated dip slope for the benefit of farmland birds and wildflowers.
  • Plan for a landscape-scale expansion of semi-natural chalk grassland within appropriate fields of thin chalk soil on the chalk plateau and dip slope, protecting existing valued habitat and assemblages of species. Identify opportunities for linking, expanding and restoring existing fragments on the scarp and valley slopes to create a robust, inter-linked wildlife network with enhanced adaptation to climate change.
  • Plan for an evolving landscape outside of the National Park surrounding the south-eastern conurbations, maintaining food production and areas of semi-natural woodland that help to preserve and enhance the tranquillity of the National Park while maintaining the expansive, open downland character of its eastern extent.
  • Plan for the regeneration and replanting of existing, predominantly, small hill-top beech plantations particularly in the west and east chalk uplands.
  • Encourage restoration and ongoing management of estate and parkland landscapes and the management and conservation of veteran parkland trees for biodiversity and heritage value.