Natural England - JCA No. 135 - Dorset Heaths

JCA No. 135 - Dorset Heaths

Heathland covers the core of this wild exposed open landscape which is bordered by rolling hills and broad, river valleys  characterised by a patchwork of small pasture fields divided by hedgerows with frequent hedgerow trees.  Along its eastern edge the heath gives way to the sandy bays, creeks, mud-flats and off-shore islands of Poole Harbour and the Poole/Bournemouth conurbation on the northern side. This area is particularly sensitive to the planting of energy crops which would further fragment and change the character of the landscape.  SRC plantations may be appropriate within the mosaic of woodland and birch on the rolling valleys around the heathland but care must be taken not to further fragment the areas of semi-natural habitat

Generic landscape characteristics (note 2)Key landscape characteristics (note 3)Potential effects (PA, N, PB) (note 4)
SRCMiscanthus
Topography (note 5)

A shallow basin around Poole Harbour drained by the Piddle and Frome.   

PA – Out of character with the open wild heathlands (also a protected habitat).
Would be visible on the rolling hills and broad river valley topography around the edge of the heathland.

 

PA – Out of character with the open wild heathlands (also a protected habitat).
Would be visible on the rolling hills and broad river valley topography around the edge of the heathland.

Open undulating landform of sandy soils broken locally by steep-sided sandstone hills and patches of exposed chalk.

Rolling hills and broad river valleys, commonly bordered by extensive river terrace flats, provide an edge to the area.

The heath gives way to the sandy bays, creeks, mud-flats and off-shore islands of Poole Harbour.

Woodland (note 6)

Extensive blocks of conifers and oak-birch woodland form locally prominent landmarks within the heathland.
Occasional stunted pine stand out on the open heathland.

PA – Out of character with the heathlands (also a protected habitat).

PA – Out of character with the heathlands (also a protected habitat).

Secondary woodland, dominated by birch, forms an intricate mosaic with open pasture around the edge.N – May be possible to plant areas of SRC within the mosaic of woodland and birch within the rolling valleys around the heathland.  Need careful siting and design.
Boundary features (note 7)Wild and open fragments of Heathland linked by conifer plantations are characterised by a lack of boundaries.PA – Out of character with the heathlands (also a protected habitat).PA – Out of character with the heathlands (also a protected habitat).
Off the heathland, a patchwork of small fields are divided by hedgerows with frequent hedgerow trees.PA – off the heathland SRC would bring further enclosure and hence alter character.PA - Visible in a predominantly pastoral landscape, in particular large blocks would overlay the small field pattern.
Agriculture (note 8)Heather dominates the open heathland with areas of purple moor-grass.PA – Out of character with the heathlands (also a protected habitat).PA – Out of character with the heathlands (also a protected habitat).
Pasture characterises the agricultural landscape with areas of  arable confined mainly to the floodplains.PA – the river valleys are predominantly  characterised by pasture and flood meadows.PA – the river valleys are predominantly  characterised by pasture and flood meadows, although possible to accommodate within areas of mixed farming.
Settlement and development (note 9)Growing conurbation of Poole-Bournemouth, takes up the full southern coastline of the area.PB - Good road systemPB – Potential to screen and soften urban sprawl around the Poole/Bournemouth conurbation although competing pressure to recreate and protect the fragmented heathlands and wetland habitats.PB – good road system
Elsewhere area is sparsely populated; dispersed hamlets and isolated farms, and older towns such as Wool and Wareham sited on river terraces.
Semi-natural habitats (note 10)Wet and dry heath.PA – where it would result, in the loss of, or further sub-divide the heathland and other semi-natural habitats.Protection, recreation and linking of the existing heathlands is a priority in this area as is reversion of arable to pasture along the river valleys.PA – where it would result, in the loss of, or further sub-divide the heathland and other semi-natural habitats.Protection, recreation and linking of the existing heathlands is a priority in this area as is reversion of arable to pasture along the river valleys.
Reed beds, marshes, sand dunes, salt marsh and mudflats of Poole Harbour.
Historic features (note 11)Bronze Age barrows are visible on more prominent heathland sites while the prehistoric port at Hengistbury Head is of international historic importance.PA - Avoid these and other known historic features and retain their setting in the landscape.PA - Avoid these and other known historic features and retain their setting in the landscape.
Rivers and coasts (note 12)Broad river valleys with fertile floodplains cut through the heathlands. PA – planting would change the character of these predominantly pastoral river valleys and floodplains.PA– planting would change the character of these predominantly pastoral river valleys and floodplains, although may be possible to accommodate within areas of mixed farming.
The valleys open out into reed beds, marshes and mudflats of Poole Harbour which is dominated by the conurbation of Poole/Bournemouth on the northern sidePB - around Poole Harbour although semi-natural habitats are under pressure and also competing for space.
Views and inter-visibity (note 13)Views are extensive.PA – Planting would change character and hence views of and within the heathlands. PA – Elsewhere plantations would need to be very carefully designed and sited in a relatively un-wooded landscape.

PA – Planting would change character and hence views of and within the heathlands.

PA – Elsewhere Miscanthus would change the character of a predominantly pastoral landscape.

The information contained in the above table and accompanying footnotes has been produced by Natural England, on behalf of Defra, to assess opportunities and optimum sitings of energy crops

1.  Overall comments

This section summarises  the key characteristics of the JCA and the potential impacts and issues concerned with energy crop planting.  It aims to provide an overall indication of the suitability for biomass crop establishment.   In JCAs where the physical characteristics are so extreme that it is unlikely that land managers will want to plant biomass crops this is generally noted.

2.  Generic landscape characteristics

The headings are based on those used in Natural England’s Countryside Quality Counts (CQC) project, with the addition of ‘topography’ and ‘views and inter-visibility’.  They provide a way of breaking down the physical and visual qualities that help to make up the landscape.   The potential impacts of energy crops have been assessed against this common framework.

3. Key landscape characteristics

This section aims to highlight for each of the generic categories, the specific landscape features and characteristics within each JCA that may be relevant to the growing of energy crops

4.   Potential effects

This section summarises the main potential effects of SRC and miscanthus on each of the key landscape characteristics and features.  In making the assessment we considered both the presence or absence of crops, and the the effects of scale and pattern in the landscape.  Where the impacts are likely to differ between SRC and miscanthus this has been noted.  Although it is very difficult to estimate impacts at such a general level we have attempted to assess whether the landscape impact could be beneficial, neutral or adverse, as follows:

  • PB - Potentially beneficial
  • N - Neutral
  • PA - Potentially adverse

5. Topography

Topography, or landform, is often one of the main influences on landscape character, particularly in hilly or upland areas.  We have summarised the overall topography of each area, together with an explanation of any specific or exceptional areas or major landform types.  Topography will influence how obtrusive energy crops might be in some areas, or how they might fit in well in others. 

6. Woodland

This covers all types of woodland, from ancient and semi-natural woodlands to commercial plantations, and includes broadleaved, conifer and mixed woodlands.  As well as woodland type, we are interested in the pattern and scale of woodlands and how woodland cover varies across the JCA.  In some areas there are close associations between specific types of woodland and particular landforms.  Issues of concern include how biomass crops might contribute to or impact on local patterns of woodland cover, and what layouts or scale might be appropriate.

7. Boundary features 

These include all forms of traditional boundaries, including hedgerows, stone walls and ditches.  We are also interested in field patterns, particularly where these are of historic importance or are distinctive to the area.  Issues considered included whether the establishment, growth or harvesting of energy crops could have an impact on traditional and valuable boundaries, either through direct damage (eg to allow access for farm machinery) or by obscuring or affecting the integrity of existing field patterns. 

8. Agriculture

Agriculture  includes arable, pasture (livestock), horticulture and mixed farming.  In areas that are already intensively cropped, energy crops are likely to be less of an issue, and the impacts could be beneficial or neutral depending on scale.  Adverse impacts are more likely in pastoral areas, particularly in low intensity, unimproved grassland areas.  In areas where there is an existing underlying trend from grass to arable, the assessment has taken account of any existing landscape and land management priorities that may exist.

9. Settlement and development.

This covers population centres, roads, other infrastructure and mineral workings.  In most cases energy crops are unlikely to have a significant impacts.  However, in some cases there may be issues concerning the scale or pattern of planting where this would impact on the character of the local road network, or significantly affect the setting of towns or villages.

10. Semi-natural habitats

In this section we are concerned with the presence or absence, scale, and pattern of semi-natural habitats, other than woodland which is covered under 6.  In general, many impacts will only be apparent at the detailed site level, which is outside the scope of this exercise.  We have only commented where it is likely that biomass crops would impact on semi-natural habitats that are an integral part of the landscape. 

11. Historic features.

Historic features refer not just to visible monuments and remains, but also historic areas such as parks and battlefields.  As well as the presence or absence of features, we are interested in their density and pattern of distribution, and whether they are above or below ground.  Specific, extensive archaeological or historic landscapes are noted. Issues considered included whether planting would obscure or damage historic sites, or whether it would affect the setting or integrity of a historic site.  It is important to note that historic remains are extremely widespread and many have not been fully recorded.  At this scale we have only referred to obvious sites and concentrations of sites.  More detailed site assessment will normally be necessary. 

12. Rivers and coasts

Water plays a key role in determining landform and defining landscape character. Issues of concern include whether energy crops could obscure watercourses or disrupt drainage patterns, and any hydrological and coastal management issues.

13. Views and inter-visibility

In some JCAs, views in, out or across an area are a key characteristic of the landscape.  These may be broad, sweeping views or local, intimate ones.  A key concern will be whether biomass crops would obscure or otherwise have an impact on the nature of these views.