Dartmoor’s moorland is a wide open landscape with unbroken skylines and ridges. Tors emerge from the landform providing focal points across the landscape. The high moorland is overlain with thick deposits of peat and form internationally important blanket bogs, these bogs are surrounded by large expanses of heathland and grass moorland. The moorland whilst appearing wild and unmanaged is looked after by commoners who graze cattle, sheep and ponies, maintaining its distinctive character.
The enclosed farmed landscape wraps around the open moorland core. Enclosure has taken place over many generations. The small irregular fields are enclosed with distinctive hedge banks with mixed native hedgerows interspersed with isolated and linear groups of native trees. The fields are mostly grazed creating a unified pastoral landscape. There is a sparse settlement pattern across Dartmoor with buildings mostly located in small settlements or nucleated farmsteads nestled into the folds of the local landform. Narrow winding lanes bounded by high hedgebanks thread through the landscape. This is an intimate landscape with constantly changing colours and textures.
Rivers form on the high moor and as they flow off the moor they travel through deep-cut valleys steeped in broadleaf and conifer woodland. These fast flowing rivers, which quickly swell in size after heavy rain on the moor are strewn with granite boulders with white water and gushing torrents flowing around them. The deep valleys are remote, secluded and tranquil.
Woodlands are a central part of the character of the Dartmoor landscape. Western oak woodlands clothe the sides of many of Dartmoor’s steep river valleys. These valleys have an enclosed and intimate character. The wooded valleys are a unique and varied habitat adding colour and seasonal interest to the Dartmoor landscape.
Some of Dartmoor’s most important oak woodland sites are Sites of Special Scientific Interest, these include: Yarner Wood, Bovey Valley, Holne Woodlands, Hembury Woods, Wistman’s Wood, Dendle’s Wood, Black-a-tor Copse and Shaugh Prior Woods.