The Purbeck Heaths National Nature Reserve

Purbeck Heaths Credit: Middlebere Heath, Jon Bish

The Purbeck Heaths National Nature Reserve

The Purbeck Heaths National Nature Reserve is the beating heart of a healthy resilient landscape, with abundant wildlife brimming over and enriching Wild Purbeck.

Working in partnership across land ownerships and at a landscape scale to both develop and demonstrate best management, the NNR connects Purbeck’s high-nature sites in a dynamic, resilient and ecologically coherent network. Management is guided by research and monitoring across the network; the Purbeck Heaths NNR exemplifies what high quality environmental outcomes look and feel like. The scale of this ambition for nature inspires people to engage in these special places through access, interpretation and direct participation.


Ever since the 1950s the conservation sector has been trying to safeguard what remained of the Purbeck heathland landscape; sites such as Arne, Hartland Moor, Studland and Godlingston Heaths were some of the country’s first designated heathland nature reserves. For the past 35 years we have also been restoring heath on adjacent land where it had been lost to dairy farming and forestry.

Over this period a shared landscape-scale vision for nature and people has developed and this was formalised under the Wild Purbeck Nature Improvement Area project in 2012. This partnership has created an almost unparalleled opportunity to put the Lawton principles of ‘bigger, better, more and joined’ into action.

Purbeck Heaths Credit: Alex_Hyde_Backfromthebrink_Flickr

Purbeck National Nature Reserve in 2019

Three, smaller areas of pre-existing National Nature Reserve in 2019

Newly declared ‘super’ National Nature Reserve in 2020

Newly declared ‘super’ National Nature Reserve in 2020, joining up the three smaller areas with land in between, now known as the ‘Purbeck Heaths National Nature Reserve”



The new Purbeck Heaths National Nature Reserve is a milestone in this journey. It includes around 3500 ha owned and managed by seven different partners across the public, private and NGO sectors. Lowland wet and dry heath is the most extensive habitat, but it also includes a rich mosaic of grasslands, woodlands, scrub, mires and fens, dunes, freshwater lakes, coastal saltmarsh and intertidal mudflats. It is mostly land that is already rich in nature, but it also encompasses the land in between; areas that are either under ecological restoration or which support the grazing systems that maintain the wider landscape.

On the one hand the new NNR declaration is a celebration of what has already happened: an accolade for the landscape we have conserved and restored. But it also marks an opportunity to scale up our collective ambition: to work more closely together to restore resilience and ecological function to a whole landscape, in a way that is both environmentally and economically more sustainable.

Purbeck Heaths Credit: Middlebere Heath, Jon Bish