The proposed 188 acre solar farm will significantly affect the setting of the Dorset Area of Outstanding Beauty. Thomas Hardy describes the area as the ‘Vale of the little dairies’. Here is the Dorset AONB Units more business-like description.
The area of the Blackmore Vale within the AONB drains toward the river Stour. The area is comprised of areas of rolling vale at the foot of the North Dorset Escarpment, as well as some more open areas that are similar in character to the wider Blackmore Vale, to the north. The area is a traditional, largely undeveloped pastoral clay vale. The visual character is dominated by the escarpment and presents consistent patterns of trimmed hedgerows and hedgerow oaks set around regular enclosures. There are a number of small nucleated settlements, which are scattered, but generally concentrated within the eastern portion of the character area. Isolated farms and agricultural buildings add to the sense of rural tranquillity and character. Narrow belts of stream side vegetation and species rich winding rural lanes add to ecological interest.
Key characteristics and special qualities
- A combination of rolling vale and broader bowl-shaped vale landscapes occupied by a predominantly pastoral appearance based on clay
- Irregular small-scale pastoral fields toward the foot of the escarpment, with larger scale and sometimes arable fields within the broader and more open areas of the character area.
- Sunken, winding rural lanes with diverse hedgerows and steep species rich verges
- Scattered, isolated farmsteads
- Settlement pattern of historic and predominantly nucleated villages, exhibiting a variety of vernacular building materials and thatch. There is a concentration of larger villages within the eastern portion of the area
- The area has retained a peaceful, tranquil and undeveloped rural character with dark night skies and wide horizons
- Meadows of neutral and unimproved grassland
- Occasional orchards
- Numerous woodlands, often being of relatively small-scale toward the foot of the escarpment
Land shape and structure
Those areas toward the foot of the escarpment are typically undulating rolling vale with complex topography. The more open bowl-shaped vale areas have more in common with the wider Blackmore Vale. The overall structure comprises varied and irregular pattern of predominantly pastoral fields, copses, dense hedges and occasional arable fields.
Soils and vegetation
The underlying chalk and supports a range of landcover ranging from calcareous grassland to damp neutral pastures with patches of rush. A number of larger areas of semi-natural woodland, with substantial areas of ancient woodland at Middlemarsh and Melcombe Park. Elsewhere, small coppice woodlands are found, particularly toward the foot of the escarpment.
Settlement and land cover
Settlement is largely related to the agricultural character of the area. Small farmsteads and nucleated villages, at least medieval in origin, lie along the spring line towards the Blackmore Vale. There is a concentration of villages toward the east, including settlements in the immediate setting of the AONB. Villages are connected by an expansive network of narrow, often sunken, winding rural lanes. Characteristic landcover consists of calcareous and neutral pastures, set within a continuous network of trimmed hedgerows with oaks with scattered native woodlands.
The wider character is mostly piecemeal enclosure with deciduous woodland and coppice towards the western end. To the east, enclosures are more regular with pasture and large areas of woodland. Perhaps the most significant historical influence on landscape character is the consistent and intricate pattern of medieval or perhaps prehistoric, fields evolved over centuries of agricultural production and woodland clearance. Enclosures are largely regular with trimmed hedgerows, banks and hedgerow oaks. Although the area has little undiscovered visible archaeology, the hillfort and later strip lynchets on Dungeon Hill are of interest.
Visual character and perceptions
The rolling vale landscape has a broad character to the north, with vast open skies with a strong sense of rural tranquillity. Toward the south the escarpment dominates the landscape, creating a sense of enclosure.
Strength of character
The landscape is judged to have a strong character. The distinct agricultural character, with scattered farmsteads and historic villages, contains consistent patterns of landscape features such as trimmed hedgerow and semi-natural woodlands. Land use has remained largely pastoral. The characterful nature of historic settlements, typically with strong agricultural associations, underpins the tranquil rural character of the area.
The Blackmore vale is a well-managed pastoral landscape, although there is a trend toward more intensive management in places, particularly within the more open parts of the vale. Some hedgerows are in decline and could benefit from replacement and succession planting. Although there are some areas still managed as unimproved grassland, the ecological value of these could be further improved. There is pressure for further residential development on the fringes of the larger villages both within the AONB and its setting, which could weaken the undeveloped rural character of this area and the North Dorset Escarpment. The overall condition of the landscape is judged as moderate and stable.
The overall objective is to conserve the patterns and features that contribute to the rural, tranquil landscape of small-scale pastoral fields, winding lanes and small scattered settlements. Restore elements in decline such as the hedgerows and hedgerow trees wet pasture and wet woodlands, particularly where these strengthen riparian corridors.
- Conserve the pattern of small settlements and surrounding woodlands.
Adopt appropriate screening of intrusive agricultural buildings/structures and settlement edges through planting new small-scale broadleaved woodlands and hedgerow trees.
- Resist development that would destroy the visual unity of the undeveloped vale, ensuring scale and materials enhance local character.
- Minimise small scale incremental change such as signage, fencing or improvements to the road network which could change the rural peaceful character of the landscape.
- Conserve the sense of rural tranquillity and views of surrounding summits.
- Ensure new agricultural dwellings, barns and structures enhance the local character, are located to reduce their impact on open views and, where necessary, 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.
- Conserve the character of rural roads and enhancement of hedge banks and traditional finger posts.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Maintain the tradition of combed-wheat and long-straw thatching in villages by resisting the use of water reed on buildings previously thatched in wheat reed or long-straw. The Dorset traditional style of thatching (wrap-over ridge) should be pursued.
- Encourage maintenance of boundaries, particularly along the valley floors and replant any gaps.
- Plant new hedgerow oaks.
- Restore stream side habitats and wet woodlands and consider extending wet woodland, particularly around existing settlements and farmsteads.
- Conserve and enhance management of neutral unimproved meadows and encourage restoration where appropriate.
- Protect watercourses and associated wildlife from soil erosion and the effects of diffuse pollution.
- Encourage restoration of traditional orchards.
- Restore and manage pollard trees.
- Protect the consistent pattern of enclosures and surviving strip and open fields.
- Restore remaining coppice woodlands around the vale edge.
- Enhance the function of habitats in supporting the wider ecological network.