Habitat, Species and Conservation Management

Purbeck Heaths Credit: Middlebere Heath, Jon Bish


The landscape is a complex mosaic of priority habitats. Of greatest ecological significance are:

  • lowland wet and dry heath (some of the UKs largest intact and best quality remnants of this international priority habitat)
  • valley mires
  • acid grassland
  • coastal sand dunes (largest area of dune heath in southern Britain)
  • lowland oligotrophic lake (largest in lowland Britain)
  • coastal saltmarsh

There are also important areas of lowland deciduous woodland and wet woodland. As well as priority habitats, the NNR includes hundreds of hectares of currently non-priority habitat, mainly conifer plantations, that are under restoration to heathland.

Purbeck Heaths Credit: Mark Singleton, Purbeck Heaths

The NNR is home to tens of thousands of species including many that are rare and threatened. Highlights include:

Reptiles: It is one of the very few landscapes in the UK that is home to all 6 native reptiles, including some of the highest densities of the Annex IV sand lizard and smooth snake.

Birds: Iconic heathland birds including breeding nightjar, dartford warbler and woodlark; Raptors including hen harrier, marsh harrier, merlin, hobby and osprey; internationally important wildfowl assemblage in Poole Harbour, particularly for overwintering black-tailed godwit, shelduck, avocet, and breeding terns (at Brownsea)

Rare native plants including Dorset heath, Marsh gentian, Yellow centaury, Great sundew, Marsh clubmoss, Lesser butterfly orchid

At least 12 bat species including the rare woodland Barbastelle and Bechstein’s bats

Insects including some of the last UK strongholds of heathland specialists such as the Purbeck Mason Wasp and Heath Tiger Beetle;  butterflies ranging from Silver-studded blue and Grayling to Dorset’s only colony of Small Pearl-bordered fritillary; and Britain’s rarest dragonfly, the Southern Damselfly

Purbeck Heaths Credit: 31-Southern-Damselfly-Coenagrion-mercuriale-Alex-Hyde-300x200_flickr

Making Room For Nature

In 2010 the Lawton report concluded that current nature conservation measures were failing to arrest declines of biodiversity and nature loss in the UK. The mantra to come from this was Bigger, Better and More Joined Up. Managing isolated ‘islands’ of wildlife hotspots in nature reserves wasn’t allowing nature to move through and join with other populations to buffer any local population declines. By connecting larger areas of land with bigger and better areas, resilience can be restored to many important wildlife populations.

Not only will this project create a bigger joined up area, it will create the space required to put natural processes back into an area at a landscape scale through the grazing of larger and more diverse range of animals.

Purbeck Heaths Credit: Silver studdedblue butterfly -National Trust Images. Matthew Oates