Whether you are going for a walk, having a meal out or simply travelling through the county, the landscape in Dorset provides an OUTSTANDING backdrop! The variety of picturesque landscapes and great views you will see around every corner are just some of the reasons that just over half of the county has been designated as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
But the landscape in Dorset is so much more than a fantastic view - it’s a living, breathing landscape and it probably won’t surprise you that the wildlife and history, as well as the people who live and work here, make it a very special place.
Nationally important protected landscapes
The Dorset AONB and Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs AONB are part of a family of nationally important protected landscapes - AONBs and National Parks – in the UK. The Dorset AONB is the 5th largest AONB, stretching from Lyme Regis to Poole Harbour and inland covering much of West Dorset and meeting the Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs AONB at Blandford.
The 'Wildlife Capital' of the UK
With well over 80% of the UK's bird, butterfly and mammal species living here, it’s no wonder that the Dorset AONB is often considered the wildlife capital of the UK. And don’t forget that all 6 of the British reptile species live here too! The Wild Purbeck project is just one of the ways which has helped conserve this local wildlife for all to enjoy – you’ll see some very healthy heathland to explore in the Wareham and Swanage area.
Great wildlife needs great landscapes
To understand the sheer variety of Dorset’s wildlife, you just have to look out of the window as you travel around! It’s the varied landscape that supports such amazing wildlife – one minute you can be in windswept chalk downland, the next in the heathlands of Purbeck or the enigmatic clay vales of West Dorset. Take a look at the 40 ideas of places you can go to experience all these wonderful landscapes and great views.
History brought to life
The Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site offers you the chance to walk through time – 185 million years of geological time no less. But as you walk along the coast and witness the changes in rocks as you go, glance inland and see how these rocks shape the character of the landscape there.
You can get a more intimate insight into life gone by in the South Dorset Ridgeway - an ancient ceremonial landscape between Dorchester and Weymouth. Experts say this ridge of land is as important as Stonehenge and Avebury for the sheer scale of the barrows, henges, hillforts and stone circles. With over 1000 ancient sites, the South Dorset Ridgeway project has helped preserve and celebrate this enigmatic landscape and can help you get a better insight into the area.
The Dorset AONB has an outstanding legacy of artist’s work inspired by the landscape. Thomas Hardy and William Barnes are well known for their literary works that capture the essence of the Dorset countryside so carefully. But Dorset has also attracted many artists, musicians and craftspeople, whose valuable work sheds light on our past – including Paul Nash, Constable, and even Gustav Holst. The Drawing Inspiration project gives you the chance to follow in the footsteps of some of these great artists with a set of walks.
Evidence shows that having access to the natural environment can increase your health and wellbeing – even if you are simply sitting and admiring the view.
The Dorset AONB project team are keen to ensure that opportunities to benefit from the landscape are open to all. The easy access trails at Black Down and their work with people with dementia and their carers are things they are very proud of.
The tastes of Dorset are as varied and characterful as the landscape itself. The Dorset Food and Drink initiative is just one example of how we can support local producers to make a living in Dorset – benefitting the landscape and the local economy at the same time. Try the West Dorset Pedal – a great way to enjoy the landscape and just some of its great tastes whilst cycling.