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The Dorset Downs are an area of Chalk downland in the centre of the county Dorsetmarker in south west Englandmarker. The downs are the most western part of a larger Chalk Formation which includes (from West to East) Cranborne Chasemarker, Salisbury Plainmarker, Hampshire Downs, Chiltern Hillsmarker, North Downsmarker and South Downsmarker.

The Dorset Downs are bounded on the north, along the steep scarp face, by the Blackmore Vale, a large clay and limestone valley. On the east the Downs would once, thousands of years ago, have been continuous with Cranborne Chase, but the River Stour now cuts a valley between them, which is the location of Blandford Forummarker and the eastern boundary of the downs. The hills dip gently southwards down to the River Frome at Dorchestermarker, south of which is a narrow band of Purbeck Limestone along the English Channelmarker coast. In the west the chalk dips down under Marl.

The main land uses on the downs are as arable agriculture, woodland and calcareous grassland, a habitat which is growing as farmers are encouraged with set-aside subsidies. Chalk is a rough rock and the Dorset Downs hold a large water table which acts as a reservoir of drinking water for much of the county. This property of chalk also means there are many seasonal rivers, called winterbourne, that flows depending upon the level of the water table.

Places of interest

See also

  • Bowerchalkemarker - Geological profile of a Lower Greensand inlier on chalklands of Cranborne Chase

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