This landscape is centred on the Dart estuary which carves a deep fissure into the surrounding higher land, creating a unique amalgam of land and water. A journey down the estuary displays many contrasts, from steep, wooded cliffs to gentle, rolling pasture lands, and from the grandeur of the wide and deep main channel to the intimacy of the tributary creeks. The tributary creeks have cut their own steep sided, secluded valleys such as Bow Creek, Dittisham Mill Creek and Old Mill Creek, deeply dissecting the high ground. The steeply sloping banks and valley sides, in places too steep for agriculture, support some of the most extensive tracts of ancient semi-natural woodland in the South Devon AONB and these woodlands enhance this landscape’s sense of enclosure. Small historic villages cling to the steep slopes, their vernacular buildings, boathouses and mills sitting on the water’s edge; and this coupled with the network of narrow ancient lanes, lends a timeless quality to the area.
This area comprises the Dart Estuary – a ria valley (drowned river valley) with tidal creeks that extend as far as Totnes (a distance of 17km). Its boundaries are defined by surrounding higher land creating a distinct visual unit focused on the estuary. To the north beyond this landscape the land drops northwards to form Torbay Hinterland while to the east the land forms a coastal plateau (the Froward Point to Berry Head Coastal Plateau) which faces out to sea. To the south and west the tributary creeks of the estuary become inland valleys creating deep incisions into the inland plateau landscapes.
To protect the area’s outstanding scenic quality and valued maritime character, including views across the open waters of the estuary to surrounding unfettered skylines. Historic settlement patterns and vernacular character are reinforced in new development and the pattern of fields, woodlands, hedgerows, parkland and narrow lanes is managed and enhanced. Recreation, particularly water-based recreation, is carefully monitored and managed and the natural and cultural heritage of the estuary is conveyed through sensitive interpretation. Local communities are involved in planning for future landscape change as a result of sea level rise and change in coastal erosion.