Dorset’s Cultural Capital

Gold and Blackmore

In 2016 BC (before COVID-19) there were estimated to be 12.6 million day trips to Dorset’s AONB and 1.8 million staying trips. The landscape underpins our tourism-based economy and supports local services. Tourism supports nearly 13,000 full time equivalent jobs in the AONB districts (West Dorset, Weymouth & Portland, North Dorset and Purbeck), with visitor spend contributing nearly £860 million to the local economy (2016 figures).

Extracted from the Dorset AONB Management Plan

Over the centuries, Dorset’s landscapes and their management have inspired poets, authors, scientists and artists, many of whom have left a rich legacy of cultural associations. Their output is part of the record of rural life, as well as a collection of emotional and artistic responses to the place. Some of Dorset’s strong current cultural sector have engaged with land management, in some cases raising questions or making provocations about sustainability, the origins of our food and the artistry inherent in managing the land.

Exploring, understanding, engaging

 Dorset AONB supports local people and visitors to explore, understand and engage with the landscape in a positive way. The coast and countryside of the Dorset AONB is a popular area for recreation and leisure. Our remit is to manage the demand for recreation within the context of the conservation of natural beauty and the needs of agriculture, forestry and other uses.

 The impact of visitors needs to be carefully managed to ensure that the landscape can continue to sustain benefits for generations to come, while retaining its natural beauty. Dorset’s “high quality landscape and heritage makes a substantial contribution to people’s physical health and mental wellbeing, providing opportunities for physical activity, social interaction, relaxation and inspiration.

Dorset has an extensive public rights of way network of 2,383 miles of footpaths, bridleways and byways. The AONB includes 71 miles of the South West Coast Path National Trail (this includes the first section of the England Coast Path which will eventually succeed the SWCP) and a number of other promoted long-distance walking and cycling routes. Walking is the most popular recreational activity nationally and it is the main activity of leisure trips.

 Nearly 75,000 people live within the AONB boundary, making it one of the most heavily populated AONBs in the country – though as the fifth largest AONB, it remains sparsely populated in many areas. Local communities have a fundamental role in safeguarding its future; the more people enjoy, understand and appreciate the importance of the area, the greater their support and involvement in its protection and sense of pride of place.

Landscape & landform

The varied landscape offers a range of experiences for recreation and learning, both inland and along the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site.

 Dorset’s coastal and market towns, attractive villages and a wide range of natural and cultural heritage assets including key sites such as Corfe Castle, Studland, Maiden Castle and Durdle Door. Away from these key ‘honey-pot’ sites, visitors and local communities can experience tranquillity in less well known but equally beautiful countryside and coastal locations.


The sites managed for wildlife by the National Trust, Natural England, Dorset Wildlife Trust, RSPB, Dorset Countryside and others often provide accessible countryside for visitors through provision of car parking, links to public transport and other visitor facilities. Wildlife also provides an inspiration for people to explore and help conserve the landscape. Additionally, there are 5,461 hectares of open, accessible countryside in the AONB.

Living textbook

 Dorset offers a ‘living textbook’ for people of all ages to experience; spanning geology, wildlife, human influence and natural processes in the landscape and adjoining marine environment. The landscape is firmly embedded in many educational initiatives in Dorset e.g. a strong Forest Schools network, outdoor education centres and Kingston Maurward College. There are also established networks of adult learning for the large population of active retired such as U3A, village societies and the WI.

 Cultural legacy

 The legacy of landscape inspired work by authors, poets, scientists and artists is an important resource that can galvanise an appreciation of landscape and landscape change. Dorset today remains a source of inspiration and has a vibrant contemporary arts community, which together with a rich cultural tradition, adds to the quality of life of residents and draws many visitors. The landscape is used effectively as a venue for cultural performance – such as the Inside Out Dorset festivals as well as many smaller scale local productions. The strong arts community in Dorset also provides a creative way to engage a wide variety of audiences and communicate complex issues.

Extracted from the Dorset AONB Management Plan

© 2023

%d bloggers like this: