|LCT7 Semi Enclosed and Clay Farmland||
LCA7A Ashley Downs
The topography of Ashley Downs aligns in a northwest to south east alignment, containing a number of steep dry river valleys which eventually lead down to a tributary of the River Test to the north. Scarps form part of the dry valleys, with one dramatic sinuous scarp leading off from Beacon Hill. This scarp is covered with a mix of woodland, scrubland and grassland. Another scarp can also be found east of Ashley Wood, again wooded.
The Ashley Downs woodland areas are predominantly associated with, and limited to, the steep valley sides, and are loosely linked by shelter belts and hedgerows, providing areas of containment. In between these wooded areas there are large open tracts of arable fields with a limited hedgerow structure.
Ashley Downs lie to the south and east of Ashley, leading across to the eastern edge of the Test Valley Borough boundary.
Local Physical Influences
Geology and Soils: Upper Chalk with several discrete areas of Clay with Flints.
Landform: Undulating landform with higher ground rising to 150m.
Drainage: Well drained down to the King’s Somborne river.
Local Biodiversity and Vegetation Pattern
This area is principally arable farmland and unimproved grassland, divided by hedgerows. There are important patches of ancient semi-natural woodland and the hedgerow structure provides some linkages between areas of woodland. The woodlands are mostly small copses and game spinneys and shelter belts. Most of the ancient semi-natural woodland is dominated by Ash with some Oak where the presence of Oak indicates more acidic pockets of soil. Ash is the most common tree species with Field Maple and Yew. Other trees found in low frequencies include Lime, Hornbeam and Elm. The shrub layers are generally composed of Hazel, Elder, Blackthorn, Dogwood, Spindle and Privet. Typically Hazel was planted as a coppice crop. Ground flora includes Dogs Mercury, with Bluebells, Enchanters Nightshade, Arum Lily, Early Dog Violet, Yellow Archangel, Sanicle, Moschatel, and Pignut. Wetter areas often have dense covers of Ransoms/Wild Garlic. Typical orchids include Early Purple Orchid, Twayblade Birds-Nest Orchid.
Other notable habitats include occasional remnants of unimproved calcareous grassland, that are typically a rich mixture of grasses and herbs and are characteristic of a vegetation with a long history of grazing. The grasslands are dominated by fine-leaved grasses such as Sheep’s Fescue and Red Fescue with Velvet Bent, and there is a variety of flowering plants that comprise a substantial proportion of the herbage, these include Salad Burnett, Selfheal, Birds-Foot Trefoil, Harebells, Lady’s Bedstraw, Devils-Bit Scabious. Less frequent plants include Fairy Flax, Gentian, Eyebright, Kidney Vetch and Stemless Thistle. Typical orchids include Bee Orchid, Common Spotted Orchid, Pyramidal Orchid, Early Purple Orchid, Fragrant Orchid, Green-Winged Orchid, Burnt Orchid, Frog Orchid. Chalk grasslands are noted for their rich floristic diversity and also for their invertebrate populations.
Local Historical Influences
Ashley Downs is dominated by 19th century parliamentary enclosure although stands of pre-1810 assarted woodland remain to attest to the previous agricultural landscape during the earlier post-medieval period. This would have been a more wooded environment interspersed with a great deal of assarting as observed elsewhere on the uplands to the east of the River Test.
A surviving area of downland common remains upon Beacon Hill possibly associated with common rights belonging to the settlement of Ashley during the medieval period.
The remains of a Roman Road have been charted extending throughout this LCA from west to east. This ancient route survives fossilized within the current road network although surviving earthworks can be visited within pre-1810 hanger at Combe Bottom.
Ashley is the only village located within this LCA. It is associated with Ashley Castle which is located at the south eastern end of the settlement within the historic core. The village has developed away from the castle during the later medieval and throughout the post-medieval period along the road to Kings Somborne to the west.
Within the open 19th century agricultural landscape surrounding the village of Ashley the network of farmsteads is very well dispersed.
There is one road, which runs across this LCA, this is located within one of the dry river valleys.
Local Settlement and Features of Built Form
Ashley: Chalk Downland. Hilltop Settlement Type
Traditional building styles include brick, white rendered and brick and flint walls with clay tile and thatched roofs.
Key issues that were raised were the lack of management of woodland and hedgerows and the need for greater access; the need to replace coniferous planting with native deciduous species; the predominance of sheep estates and the importance of hedgerow replacement and the impact of transmitter masts.
Remoteness and Tranquillity
Largely due to the dramatic chalk land topography of this landscape, the area has a strong rural tranquil character.
Small but dramatic wooded scarps, with remnants of unimproved chalk grassland
Remote steep dry valleys
Large tracts of open arable fields
Limited hedgerow structure within open arable land
Patches of woodland linked by hedgerows
Remote rural landscape
Well dispersed farmsteads and small settlement of Ashley
Landscape generally displays extensive areas of parliamentary enclosure although some evidence of assarting and pre-1810 woodland survives
A Roman Road extends through the area with evidence fossilized in the road network and also does survive as upstanding earthworks in Combe Bottom.
17 SINCs, mostly ancient semi-natural woodland and some agriculturally unimproved grassland.