The £600,000 bat!

Bellway Homes are handed the ‘largest ever fine’ for wildlife crime over demolition work at bat habitat

The developer carried out the damaging work despite the presence of the protected creatures having been noted the year before.

By Sabah Choudhry, news reporter

Friday 11 December 2020 13:26,

The developer has
Image:Bellway Homes has been fined £600,000 – the largest such penalty ever handed out by a court for a wildlife crime

A major housebuilding company has been fined £600,000 for carrying out demolition work at a site known to be inhabited by bats – the largest such penalty a court has ever handed out for a wildlife crime, police say.

Bellway Homes was investigated by the Metropolitan Police for “damaging or destroying” a breeding site and resting place for bats at a construction site in Greenwich, southeast London.

The property developer admitted guilt on Tuesday at Woolwich Crown Court and was handed the hefty fine, and also ordered to pay costs of £30,000.

All bats in the UK are European Protected Species
Image:All bats in the UK are listed as a European Protected Species

The case came to light after Bellway conducted demolition work at the site in Artillery Place in 2018.

The presence of soprano pipistrelle bats had been noted in 2017 – and Bellway had been informed in planning documents that if it wished to work on the site, then it would need the appropriate mitigation and license.

However, in December 2018, the local council notified police that demolition work had in fact been carried out by the developer without the required permissions.

The planning officer for the particular development confirmed the company attempted to remove that aspect of the planning requirements – but the move had been rejected.

Letter from a friend in the vale!

This letter is full of love for the Blackmore Vale – and passionate, reasoned opposition to building a landscape changing giant solar farm in the ‘Vale of the little dairies’.

October 7th 2020
Dear Ms Telford

Counter Argument to Applicant’s Responses to public representations re Application for
Renewable energy scheme on Higher Stockbridge Farm, Longburton, Sherborne, DT9 6EP.
Planning Application Ref: WD/D/19/003181

I refer to the Applicant’s new Responses to public representations (August 2020).
I confirm that having studied the Applicant’s new Responses I remain opposed to their
scheme of placing solar PV panels on the valued landscape on the Stockbridge site. Please publish my objection on the Council Planning website.

There is nothing in the Applicant’s Responses document to persuade me to think differently
on the proposed installation of arrays of PV panels on land at Higher Stockbridge Farm.
The Applicant’s revised acreage (a reduction of less than 20%) will not change the impact of
the proposed solar panel arrays on this valued Blackmore Vale valley. It will as with the
previous application, result in the ruination of a bucolic landscape, its fauna and flora, and
will affect residents and visitors both near and far who delight in this peaceful valley (Keith
Waterfall’s document – analysis of Voltalia’s reassessment on the public’s concerns on
impact on wildlife). I refer you to Mr Waterfall’s summary (p.1, para.5), where the Voltalia
UK Country Manager admits in effect that they do not have the conservation experience to
lead this project.
I support and would refer you to Richard Pinney’s document countering the claims of the
Applicant’s Responses to public representations, and the bringing forth of information on
the workings of the company Voltalia (Pinney, AONB, 6).
The professional photographs (Johanna Gates document, Landscape, Photographs), ably
depict the beauty of this valley. The Applicant’s Responses do not refer to the
demonstrable beauty and value of the valley. It is side-stepped.

2. It is incomprehensible as to why the Applicant, despite all the cogent and thorough
objections from a national and international diverse community, is intent on destroying a
part of our unique and internationally important county. This valley is a continuance of our
glorious varied county with its thrilling landscapes, its geology, its habitats and bio-diversity, from coast to hills. We are at the starting point of understanding our secretive valleys and if we don’t stop this installation, future generations will have no opportunity to further discover new aspects of this landscape. (Gates document, Summary)
I refer you to the document (Pinney, 2.1 The need for a scheme in Dorset, pie chart), on
Dorset’s contribution of solar power to the grid. ‘West Dorset … will provide 16% above its
target WITHOUT the inclusion of Higher Stockbridge Farm site.’ Voltalia has set its sights on
the villages in this part of West Dorset. Yetminster and Clifton Maybank are now earmarked along with this enormous acreage at Higher Stockbridge. We already have a site in
Ryme Intrinseca, all in a radius of some 6 miles. (Pinney, AONB, 3)
Curiously, the Applicant asks where they can put the installations if they can’t put them on
agricultural land. The Applicant must follow government policy: solar panels are to go on
brown fields sites, on the roofs of warehouses, on farm barns, on industrial sites (Pinney, 2.
General Alternatives). Renewable energy should not be to the detriment to the
environment. They are not to go in valleys valued for their historic interest and beauty. It
has not passed us by that the attraction of the significant electric pylons in this area makes
solar power installations in our treasured landscape a cheaper option for Voltalia. Dorset
Planning must look at the motives for Voltalia plundering this part of West Dorset for their
installation schemes (Pinney, pp.6-8). The Applicant has not satisfactorily acknowledged our role as caretakers of our countryside. We do have a duty to future generations, to prevent this destruction of a significant valley within the preserved landscape of Dorset. (Waterfall, Responses to wildlife impact)

3 The Higher Stockwood proposed site is productive land whatever the grade attributed to it (Pinney, Agriculture Land). When you dig up the land and cover this enchanting landscape with thousands of solar panels, it will never be productive again. It will change from being ad dreamy agricultural valley (Gates, Photographs), with its hedgerows, its old trees, its grazing animals, its crops, its deer, its birds, insects and other animals, to arrays of a photovoltaic system (uncomfortably referred to as a Solar Park), and onwards to a permanent brown field site when the panels have withered and are no good to anyone (Pinney, AONB, 4, 5).
When these panels are deemed redundant and the public, the political and scientific
committees decide they no longer fit the energy bill and are incompatible with preserving
our national parklands, all that will be left will be a useless site, covered with tangled metal
that no one knows what to do with. The Applicant’s Responses does not address this.
The Applicant feels they have satisfactorily addressed the bio-diversity and
wildlife/ecological/ bird damage issues (Impact on Wildlife). But see Waterfall, Part 1 and 2, for a section by section rebuttal.
Dorset National Parks are at present increasing their proposed area of National Parks from
the county’s south coast northwards to Sherborne. With the encouragement of the Prime
Minister’s latest commitment to protect 30% of land, the climate for preserving what is
worth preserving is overtaking destructive actions on our countryside.
As has been said in many of the objections, this is a valley famous for its beauty, its rural
peacefulness, its literary and artistic context, its bio-diversity of flora and fauna. The
landscape of this and the surrounding countryside is second to none (Gates document,
Landscape). It is enjoyed by residents, visitors, cyclists, walkers, horse riders, tourists,
painters and writers. It is an educational and recreational resource for our primary school
children. It is, contrary to what the Applicant says, overlooked by ancient ridge ways
comprising AONB (Gates, Landscape; Photographs). Amongst the cultural heritage sites in
this area, stands the graceful Leweston Manor (incorrectly referred to by the Applicant as St Anthony’s Convent). This is a Grade 1 listed building with an extremely important Grade 1
formal garden, designed in the early 20th century by Thomas Mawson, famed landscape
gardener (Parks and Gardens, Leweston). The house and gardens are designed to look over this valley and in the winter the proposed vast site of shining metal arrays will be seen
clearly through the trees from Mawson’s ha-ha.

4. The Applicant’s Responses have not addressed correctly the tourist value of this valley.
Dorset is known nationally and internationally for its varied countryside. There are B&Bs on
the edge of this valley, in some cases tourists can walk directly into it from their lodging.
They come for the famous south-west coastal walks, the beaches, woodland walks, the
south west Ridgeway, Macmillan’s Way; there are Ways all over Dorset, including across this valley. They come with a bike or on foot, with personal goals to tread ancient walk ways to the coastal sea path via our valley, or they come via the swathe of hills and valleys of Eggardon Heath to the upper hills north of Sherborne, or to Bulbarrow to the East, all
through the proposed site for PV solar panels. The Applicant’s Responses have disregarded
the history and culture of this valued valley. It is not just a Thomas Hardy vista
(descriptions of valleys to be found in all his novels); the landscape has been a source of
artistic inspiration attracting visiting artists to include John Constable, Paul Nash and
Frederick Whitehead, the latter was encouraged by Hardy to paint the landscape during
summer visits. Other painters, whose works of Dorset landscape and rural life are
synonymous with the landscape, are Joseph Benwell Clark, Henry Lamb, Frances Newberry,
Eustace Nash, Lionel Edwards. Eric Ravilious, World War ll artist, painted the landscape of
Dorset, including the Giant on Cerne Hill; his paintings brought out more than any other
artist the humanity and spirit of the county. More recently, Marzia Colonna prides herself
on the Dorset landscape as inspiration for her works, and latterly, David Inshaw’s respected
paintings of Dorset landscapes hang in the Tate. These artists sought out the Dorset
landscape, and this valley is representative of what they found (see below F. Whitehead,
looking down to the valley). The Applicant’s Responses have disregarded the history and
culture of this pastoral land at Higher Stockwood. I would argue that the huge quantity of
PV arrays scheme will significantly reduce the attraction of this area, causing tourists, artists and the like, to seek out other original landscapes.

5. I refer to Voltalia as a trading company (Pinney, pp.6-8). Mr Pinney raises serious concerns with the company’s motivation and trading practices including de-commissioning of the panels. In conjunction, see Waterfall, Part 1, Response D. Voltalia has 15 employees who could not possibly develop and maintain the promised ‘new’ bits of land with boxes for
every kind of bird, owl and dormouse over the years. The Applicant says, ‘the resultant
ecology will become a HAVEN for a range of invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians, small
mammals and birds.’ It is a haven now for these creatures. It is a haven of 150 acres. It will
not be a haven in like-manner again. These are misspoken emotive words. We know once
fauna (and flora) are disrupted, it will be years before they return, if they do. Voltalia will
not be there to oversee the growth and specialised pruning of hedgerows. They will not be
there to manage the ground and to infill with seed. There is no transparency in the
Applicant’s Responses as to who is responsible for the management of the eco-system over the years of the life of these PV arrays. And most importantly they surely will not be there at the end of the course. This is a small French company working in England with large debts, underpinned by a larger French company who will likely withdraw its support and lookelsewhere in Europe for profit.
I disagree with the re-cycling responses of the Applicant. The evidence across the world
shows that re-cycling PV panels is a problem not yet addressed, in part because we have not had to face it. The Applicant’s Responses take no serious responsibility (Pinney, Recycling).
Science moves a pace. The jury is out on the benefits of solar panels versus their potential
destruction of the environment. They will surely be superseded soon by other energy
sources which do not rely on ground foundations. By then though, our wonderful valley, a
part of the wider Dorset landscape, now a productive and beautiful landscape humming
with activity benefitting people and flora and fauna, will have become a dull wrecked area,
good for nothing and nobody.
I would note that the landowner, financial beneficiary of the proposed installation, appears
to have made no gesture towards the local community who are radically affected by this
scheme. Indeed, the map shows that he has chosen not to have the panels in the
immediate fields to his farmhouse.
With reference to the leaflet drop: I emailed for project information and never got a reply. I
rang Voltalia and after persisting, I received vague information with a promise for a further
conversation which didn’t happen. The customer service information was disingenuous, as I
was told the megawattage but not the acreage which they claimed they did not know. I live
at Beer Hackett at the western side of the valley and did not get a leaflet nor was I notified
of the public meetings by Voltalia. Yet our village and other villages are all impacted by this
application. I have read the Applicant’s lengthy response to the public’s objections, and I
noticed, particularly in the wildlife statement, that much of the language and jargon, has
been cut and pasted from other documents on wildlife impact on the internet.
In conclusion, Voltalia is a French company, whose credentials Mr Pinney has exposed. We
face the uncertainty of Brexit and the on-going pandemic; these are challenging times to
commit to such a critical and important issue, impacting on many different levels of UK
future policy and having a lasting and irreversible effect on the Dorset country side.

6. I am confident that Dorset County Planning Department having reflected and evaluated the
arguments will conclude that this planning application should be refused.

Yours sincerely,
Mrs Belinda Wingfield Digby

Frederick Whitehead (1885) (courtesy of Dorset County Museum, Dorchester, The Fredek
Whitehead Collection)

Clean water ponds

Dig (clean) ponds to save freshwater biodiversity

In the UK, and probably elsewhere, ponds support a wider variety of species than rivers or lakes.

New research, published in April 2020, has provided striking evidence of the benefits of making new clean water ponds (CWPs) for reversing catchment-wide declines in freshwater biodiversity. The research was published in the journal Biological Conservation and has important practical implications for the management of freshwater biodiversity generally. The results support many other observations of the exceptional value and impact of ponds, despite their small size. This paper summarises the key practical points.

The link to the journal is here:
Please contact Penny Williams for a pdf copy at

This report is an output of the Water Friendly Farming project

What we learnt from the project: summary
Perhaps the most important finding of the research was how strikingly large and fast the positive response was resulting from clean water pond creation. At a time when most freshwater news is gloomy, ponds are a powerful vehicle for positive gains, with an impact out of all proportion to their size. In contrast, most catchment work to date (diffuse pollution control, river restoration) has had limited, or no, impact on freshwater biodiversity, or needs decades before any effects seem likely to occur.
The new research has important practical implications for reversing declines in freshwater biodiversity. In particular, the work provides further evidence of the exceptional value of ponds as a keystone habitat in maintaining freshwater biodiversity. A central point of this observation is not so much the importance of the ponds themselves
(though they can be very rich habitats), but that they are a vehicle for reliably bringing back clean water into landscapes and catchments when pollution is so widespread.

• Creating new CWPs can help to reverse – not just halt – freshwater biodiversity loss
across the landscape.
• The new ponds didn’t just protect against loss of pond species, but species from all
freshwater habitat types.
• With urgent action needed to address climate change and other threats to freshwater
biodiversity, creating new clean-water ponds can provide oases (and reduce between waterbody distances) helping plants and animals to move across the landscape.
• Ponds pack a big bang for your buck – making just 20 CWPs was enough to increase
freshwater plant biodiversity by over a quarter across a 10 km2
• Good news: amid the depressing news of continued loss of freshwater biodiversity, the
work shows that there is something that we can do to make things better, immediately,
for freshwater.

Key results from the project
Importantly the project found unprecedented and rapid increases in whole landscape
freshwater biodiversity just from making clean, unpolluted ponds (CWPs). In the course of
the 9-year project, which is still continuing, we found that creating just 20 clean water ponds
across a 10 km2 area of farmland increased the number of wetland plant species by more
than a quarter (26%). Achieving this gain required a very modest land-take with less than 3
ha of pond surface area needed in the 1,000 ha project area (0.3%).
The number of regionally rare plants almost trebled (a 181% increase). Species that were
largely extinct in the wider countryside returned once more.

Key results of the project were:
• The benefits gained from making ponds was greater than gained using any other
enhancement method.
• Ponds with multi-uses (e.g. ecosystem services ponds used for intercepting pollutants
and storing water), helped to increase biodiversity a little (i.e. compensated for some of
the recent loss – see below), but did not compensate for loss of uncommon species. The

( Catchment Sensitive Farming Evaluation Report – Water Quality Phases 1 to 4 (2006-2018)
(NE731). )

‘‘Up to now, most lowland stream restoration projects were unsuccessful in terms of ecological recovery” – dos Reis Oliveira et al. (2017)

This report is an output of the Water Friendly Farming project
polluted ponds were not responsible for the large, 26%, increase in species diversity;
this depended on CWP creation.

• This is the first study of biodiversity change across all waterbody types in the
countryside; most other studies consider only one waterbody type (usually rivers,
sometimes lakes) which often over-emphasises the significance of small changes.
• Freshwater biodiversity – in the absence of our practical interventions – declined in the
landscape studied over the course of the previous 9 years (assessed using wetland
plant species, a good surrogate of overall freshwater diversity, and considering all
waterbody types in the area). We believe this is a typical result as the study area is
representative of a large part of lowland England.
• Ponds were a linchpin habitat – they supported the most freshwater species and most
rare species of all the freshwater habitats in the project area. Rather than being a minor part of the freshwater system, they are a critical part.
• Changes in pond biodiversity had a key impact on the total freshwater biodiversity in the catchment.
• There was anecdotal evidence that the new ponds acted as stepping-stones, helping species colonise existing ponds (e.g. Mare’s-tail Hippuris vulgaris, Small Pondweed Potamogeton pusillus). Interestingly, existing ponds that were also managed did not improve catchment wide diversity, mainly because the management did not improve their water quality. The work contrasts strikingly with the effects of other catchment management studies which have shown little effect as a result of land management measures intended to protect freshwater wildlife (e.g. by reducing diffuse pollution). In the UK, for example, a recent review of Catchment Sensitive Farming showed that after 10 years there had been no effect on freshwater biodiversity.

In the present study, the effect on biodiversity is an order of magnitude greater than seen in most other studies which, to date, have shown little or no change in landscape level biodiversity, or only promise changes in the future. Equally, the results were much more rapid than most river restoration projects, which also generally have little impact.

CWP as a nature-based measure
Clean Water Ponds are an example of a nature-based measure. Nature-based measures are often assumed to be automatically beneficial for biodiversity even though there is not much concrete evidence to support this belief. The present study provides important evidence of what nature-based measures can, and can’t, achieve in the protection of freshwater biodiversity:

• Nature-based measures which trap and treat polluted water don’t provide much
biodiversity gain. The present study shows that the polluted features provided only low quality additional habitat (notwithstanding whether they reduced pollution levels), supporting species which were common in other parts of the landscape. They did, however, provide some biodiversity benefit by adding enough new species to stop the ongoing background decline in landscape level diversity which occurred in their absence. One recent example of the effectiveness of wetland plants as indicators of overall freshwater diversity is

There are many other examples

• Ponds are a critical part of the water landscape: in the landscape studied the ponds
supported the largest part of the wetland plant diversity. What happens to ponds had a
disproportionate influence on the landscape freshwater biodiversity. Considering these
factors, ponds are a linch-pin habitat for landscape scale freshwater biodiversity. The
project area was not unusual – the land types in the project area are representative of
about 1/3rd of lowland England so the results probably have wide relevance.
About clean water ponds
• Clean-water ponds can be made in many places – they just need to be (i) isolated from
ditches or streams which are usually polluted and (ii) surrounded by land where no
pollutants are added (e.g. unimproved grassland, woodland, heathland). They can be
made in agricultural or urban areas if they have a wide buffer around them. Evidence
from North America and empirical evidence in the UK suggests >50m is probably
about enough. Smaller buffers probably aren’t good enough – recent literature reviews
show that buffer less than 50 m are very unpredictable; sometimes they work,
sometimes they don’t. Certainty of effectiveness increases substantially above 50 m3
• It’s vital not to dig up existing high quality habitat to make CWPs (there are a few
special exceptions, like turf pits). There are lots of examples of ‘new’ ponds being
carelessly dug in bits of existing wetlands. Britain has no shortage of degraded and
disturbed ground where new ponds are a substantial improvement on what is there now.
But don’t forget that disturbance is itself a natural phenomenon and may be missing
from your otherwise special landscape.
• CWPs are easy and cheap to make – though like everything, people creating them can
benefit from the experience of skilled and experienced pond makers (see for example
the Toolkit from the Freshwater Habitats Trust Million Ponds Project). People tend to
assume that making ponds is so simple, anyone can do it. In practice, this view leads to
substandard decision making and substandard ponds.
• Making new ponds is a very natural thing to do – it recreates a natural process that has
been going on for many millions of years.
• New ponds are needed in both high quality landscapes like nature reserves and in the
wider countryside.
(For technical audience): Making new clean-water ponds in the lowlands can help to
return communities of mesotrophic and oligotrophic species (e.g. old floras show how
many species needing these conditions have been lost from, or are very rare in, the
southern counties).
• Finding clean water sources is essential for clean water ponds: ditches, streams and
rivers, as well as field drains, are worth avoiding. There’s more information here:
• Sites like Pinkhill Meadow, a long-term demonstration site of the Freshwater Habitats
Trust, Thames Water and the Environment Agency, show that new clean-water ponds
can remain exceptionally rich for almost 30 years – with otters, dragonflies and rare

CWPs can be ark sites – e.g. at Pinkhill and Cutteslowe Meadow, both in Oxfordshire,
rare floodplain meadow and wetland plants from the Thames Valley are being protected.

(Prosser et al. (2020). A review of the effectiveness of vegetated buffers to mitigate pesticide and nutrient transport into surface waters from agricultural areas.

At many nature reserves it is ponds which are the critical habitat for endangered freshwater species.

Other general conclusions from the study

  • Over the course of the study there was clear evidence of on-going wetland plant loss in the existing waterbodies, leading to a roughly 10% loss in diversity over the 9 years of the project from the landscape as a whole. The census based survey approach means that these numbers are absolute values. They would not be detected in a sample-based survey approach.
  • The results are consistent with much other data: in all lowland catchments where surveys have used statistically rigorous designs to include all waterbody types, ponds have so far always proved to be the richest habitat type for wetland plants or invertebrates (although where surveys treat floodplain ponds as a part of the river, these results may be less obvious).
  • To understand the freshwater biodiversity of sites, landscapes or catchments you need to consider all of the waters, small and big, in that landscape. They are all connected (even if not literally directly physically connected), and the small ones are often the most important biologically.
  • The Water Framework Directive is missing a trick. Stuck in a 1980s timewarp, the WFD embeds John Downing’s ‘saliency error’: that small habitats are not important. As we revise the way we protect and monitor freshwater biodiversity, we have a great chance to update our approach to protecting freshwater biodiversity by monitoring landscapes, not waterbodies.
    The methods in more detail
    The project censused wetland plant diversity in three 10 km2 headwater catchments over 9 years. Approximately 250 sites were surveyed annually, providing a complete record in unprecedented detail, of the occurrence of wetland plants in all of the landscapes freshwater streams, ditches and ponds. There were no waterbodies large enough to be called rivers orlakes in our study catchments.
    Following a baseline assessment in the first three years of the project, land management measures were introduced to hold back water and reduce pollutant runoff installed in one catchment. In a second catchment the same ‘ecosystem services’ measures were added and new habitats (clean water ponds, woody debris in streams) added.
    The project compared clean water pond creation with a range of more traditional measures used around the world for protecting freshwater biodiversity. This included:
    • adding woody debris to streams and managing existing ponds
    • damming-up ditches to create pools that slowed water runoff and trapped sediments
    • building interception ponds to filter out nutrients and other pollutants
    • a range of other measures to control point source pollution including emptying septic
    tanks throughout the catchment, re-establishing a reed bed sewage treatment works,
    adding a biobed to control pesticide losses and preventing livestock access to streams.

Downing (2009). Global limnology: up-scaling aquatic services and processes to planet Earth.

Together, these measures had some biodiversity benefit; they stopped the general decline in
wetland plant biodiversity that occurred in the landscapes’ steams, ditches and existing
ponds over the course of the 9 years. However, the ‘increase’ in diversity from adding
polluted water habitat was an order of magnitude lower than that achieved by the clean water
ponds alone.

Some key facts about ponds
Despite 25 years of growing research on the importance of small waterbodies, ponds are still
thought to be trivial by most environmental scientists and policy makers. People assume
they are synonymous with gardens and village greens. In fact, ponds have been made by
natural processes for millennia, as well as being created by people. In Britain they occur in
all landscapes from the coast to the tops of mountains.
Ponds are the most numerous of all freshwater habitats, with estimates of up to 3 billion

Ponds are almost completely overlooked in water legislation and policy (they do figure in
nature conservation policy to some extent). This is part of a 100-year long assumption by
freshwater biologists that ponds are not important; in practice, ponds represent a significant
part of the water environment by area (around 10% by area) and often a large part of the
unpolluted water in a catchment.

Community news letter





If, as expected, a Planning Application is submitted, then to object to the industrial-scale destruction of a protected biodiverse landscape, described by Dorset Council as “HIGHLY SENSITIVE TO LARGE SCALE DEVELOPMENT”, you must write to the Council Planners. The detail of how to do that is on our website.

The Council will advertise the date when the 21-day public consultation will start and you can follow our Web and Facebook pages to keep informed. For guidance, visit our web:

and take the link to: ‘Writing to the Planners’ ALL OBJECTIONS MUST BE BASED ON ‘MATERIAL PLANNING GROUNDS’.









Court Justice ruling 2012)



Hazelbury Bryan is only 666 metres east of the proposed solar farm



This is Tess Country

The Blackmore Vale is described in the book of the ‘Hardy Way’ as ‘above all, this is Tess country’. 

In Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Hardy describes the vale from the North Dorset Downs:

This fertile and sheltered tract of country, in which the fields are never brown and the springs never dry. Here in the valley, the world seems to be constructed upon a smaller and more delicate scale’.

Hardy recalls that in former times the Vale was known as The Forest of the White Hart from a legend that in the thirteenth century a beautiful white hart was killed against Henry V111’s wishes and a heavy fine imposed upon the offender.

British Solar Renewables (BSR) Energy have submitted screening applications for a 188 acre Solar Park on farmland between Mappowder, Hazelbury Bryan and Pulham and it is likely that a full application will be submitted in December.  This industrial sized Solar Park will be highly visible from many view points on the North Downs including Woolland Hill carpark and indeed most of the The Wessex Ridgeway  between the B3143 and Okeford Hill.  All of these are within the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with views much loved by locals and visitors to the area alike. A report commissioned by Dorset County Council in 2016 stated: the environment is Dorset’s greatest economic asset.

This giant solar park (one mile from north to south) will also be seen from the ancient monuments of Dungeon Hill Fort and Rawlsbury Camp and from local footpaths, one of which actually runs through the site. The Hardy Way footpath will overlook the site as it descends from Wonston towards Mappowder.

The landscape of the proposed park is largely medium sized arable fields bounded by ancient hedgerows with field oaks running down to the River Lydden, a haven for otters, kingfisher, heron, barn owls and other wild fowl. BSR’s own environmental consultant describes it as A unique mosaic of woods, straight hedgerows and grassland fields ‘dotted’ with distinctive mature hedgerow Oaks. The site comes within 100m of the Lydden and when the river is in flood, it overreaches the boundary.  There is concern that run-off from the solar panels will exacerbate seasonal flooding of the Lydden at the bridge near Kings Stag and at Lydden House.

BSR’s environmental statement shows a map confirming that one of the included fields has a site of archaeological importance including a medieval field system and their Heritage Consultant states:

On the basis of the available information, there is a potential for the presence of archaeological remains within the site, largely associated with medieval agricultural landuse, but remains from other periods cannot be entirely ruled out

There have been many Roman archaeological finds in the surrounding area and an important medieval hoard of 100 gold coins was discovered within a mile at nearby Grange Farm, Pulham in 1983.

Catherine 2020

The Hardy Way

The Hardy Way explores the Wessex of author Thomas Hardy, visiting many Hardy locations beginning at his birthplace near Dorchester. It takes in the Piddle and Frome valleys, an outstanding stretch of coast between Lulworth Cove and the Encombe Valley, to Corfe Castle and Dorchester, ending in Stinsford churchyard where his heart lies buried. The Hardy Way leads through beautiful Dorset and Wiltshire countryside: woodland, high ridgeways, sleepy villages, a variety of farmland, river valleys and dramatic coastal scenery along Dorset’s famous Jurassic coast, now a World Heritage Site inscribed by UNESCO for the outstanding universal value of its rocks, fossils and landforms and England’s only natural World Heritage Site The route parallels the remarkable eighteen mile pebble Chesil Bank from near Bridport to the Isle of Portland, a gigantic limestone mass near Weymouth.

The creator of the route, Margaret Marande, has updated the guidebook with a new edition in 2015. The book includes details of Hardy’s references to the landscapes upon which his books were based. In 1998, at an opening ceremony at Max Gate, the Way became a county footpath and, with the help of the Ramblers Association, was waymarked with distinctive green and white discs. Since that time many walking groups have enjoyed it. Over time one or two route problems made revision necessary and the result is a new and improved edition of the book which retains the essence of the original, but with innovations – Hardy friendly maps and many route amendments. Time, wear and tear and changes to the route made it necessary to re-waymark it in summer 2015. The path website has a listing of accommodation.

The Hardy Way is mainly on footpaths, tracks and bridleways with occasional unavoidable sections on lanes and roads. The Blackmore Vale farmland area in north Dorset can be very muddy in wet weather. Between Beaminster and West Bay through Bridport, the Way is mainly coincident with the waymarked Brit Valley Way (8 miles).

Click here to learn more about the Hardy Way

The Blackmore Vale

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.

Historic character

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.

Landscape Guidelines

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.

Planning guidelines

  • 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.

Management guidelines

  • 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.

“Found in the old oak copses”

Thanks to Mark, here are a few lines from Thomas Hardy’s ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles A Pure Woman’ faithfully presented. Millions have enjoyed the Blackmore Vale, whether lucky enough to live in or around it, or as readers and visitors from around the world, re-rambling the footpaths and bridleways as others have done before them. Drawn along by Hardy’s detailed descriptions of very special places – and which at times can still be just “four hours’ journey from London.”

Angel walks!

“The village of Marlott lay amid the north-eastern undulations of the beautiful

Vale of Blakemore, or Blackmoor, aforesaid, an engirdled and secluded

region, for the most part untrodden as yet by tourist or landscape-painter,

though within a four hours’ journey from London.

It is a vale whose acquaintance is best made by viewing it from the

summits of the hills that surround it—except perhaps during the droughts of

summer. An unguided ramble into its recesses in bad weather is apt to

engender dissatisfaction with its narrow, tortuous, and miry ways.

This fertile and sheltered tract of country, in which the fields are never

brown and the springs never dry, is bounded on the south by the bold chalk

ridge that embraces the prominences of Hambledon Hill, Bulbarrow,

Nettlecombe-Tout, Dogbury, High Stoy, and Bubb Down. The traveller from

the coast, who, after plodding northward for a score of miles over calcareous

downs and corn-lands, suddenly reaches the verge of one of these

escarpments, is surprised and delighted to behold, extended like a map

beneath him, a country differing absolutely from that which he has passed

through. Behind him the hills are open, the sun blazes down upon fields so

large as to give an unenclosed character to the landscape, the lanes are white,

the hedges low and plashed, the atmosphere colourless. Here, in the valley,

the world seems to be constructed upon a smaller and more delicate scale; the

fields are mere paddocks, so reduced that from this height their hedgerows

appear a network of dark green threads overspreading the paler green of the

grass. The atmosphere beneath is languorous, and is so tinged with azure that

what artists call the middle distance partakes also of that hue, while the

horizon beyond is of the deepest ultramarine. Arable lands are few and

limited; with but slight exceptions the prospect is a broad rich mass of grass

and trees, mantling minor hills and dales within the major. Such is the Vale

of Blackmoor.

The district is of historic, no less than of topographical interest. The Vale

was known in former times as the Forest of White Hart, from a curious

legend of King Henry III’s reign, in which the killing by a certain Thomas de

la Lynd of a beautiful white hart which the king had run down and spared,

was made the occasion of a heavy fine. In those days, and till comparatively

recent times, the country was densely wooded. Even now, traces of its earlier

condition are to be found in the old oak copses and irregular belts of timber

that yet survive upon its slopes, and the hollow-trunked trees that shade so

many of its pastures.”

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