Dorset to be home to the UK’s first ‘super’ national nature reserve

The Purbeck heath habitat is an incredibly important natural area for Dorset’s wildlife, providing habitats for a great variety of species. The heathland area comprises a number of habitats, including heathland, sand dunes, salt marsh, Reed beds and woods, and these habitats are home to a myriad of amazing species, such as warblers, bats, butterflies, lizards and even carnivorous plants.

Heathland habitat provides a home for many bird and insect species in the area (© J.Dazley)


An idea generated by a group of seven landowners joining forces and combining several chunks of land together, the super national nature reserve (NNR) in Purbeck heath will be the first of its kind in the UK, and it is hoped that by combining this natural land, it will be easier to manage, and will make it much easier for animals to navigate through the environment.


The Purbeck heath area is home to a variety of important species, some of which are unique to the area, and many have very small, fragmented habitats with a dwindling population. As such, this nature reserve will play a key role in connecting their habitat and hopefully sparking population growth. One such species which will greatly benefit from this land integration is the pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly; this species was once thought extinct in Dorset, it is estimated that around 15 individuals are living amongst the Purbeck heaths, and they all occupy a very small area at present.

The pearl-bordered fritillary is one of many insects which will benefit from the formation of the new reserve
(© butterfly conservation)


However instead of merely preserving this habitat, many changes will be made to create a dynamic habitat, allowing a great diversity of species to establish themselves. For example, grazing and trampling by cattle, pigs and other ungulate mammals will be encouraged in order to stimulate ecological succession in the environment. This behaviour is hoped to maximise biodiversity in this habitat. Also, anthropogenic changes to the plant assemblages in the area, such as removing the non-native Scots pine and encouraging growth of native flora, will encourage many insect species to thrive.


Dorset is home to a variety of carnivorous plant species, found mainly in nutrient-poor boggy peat habitats, and have evolved to feed on insects and other invertebrates to supplement their nutrient levels. It is hoped that this super reserve will see a boom in these species, including sundew plants, aquatic bladderworts and butterworts.

The round-leaved sundew, one of the many carnivorous plant species found on the Dorset peat bog environment (© D. Plant)


Among the many species in this new habitat, bird species are amongst those expected to thrive. The Dartford warbler is one such species, preferring in gorse heathland, and feeding on invertebrates such as spiders. The Purbeck heaths are a key habitat for the naturally rare Dartford warbler stronghold in Britain, so the development of this area will be key for the species. The heathland is also home to a variety of other bird species, such as Osprey, Marsh Harrier, Stonechat and Merlin.
Reptiles are also key species, mainly in the sand dune and heathland habitats, indeed all six species of native reptiles can be found here, including smooth snakes, sand lizards and slow worms.

The sand lizard is vulnerable to habitat loss in Dorset, and it is hoped the new reserve will help boost its numbers (© B. Govier)


This project is a landmark step in landscape-scale conservation, and the important that this plays in maintaining Dorset’s native biodiversity and providing a home for wildlife.

Hengistbury Head Garden Competition

Win your own garden BioBlitz!

Alongside the 2018 Great Wildlife Expedition (at Hengistbury Head on June 9th), Hengistbury Head are offering you the chance to have a BioBlitz in your own garden!

The winner of our Great Wildlife Garden Competition will have a team of experts take over their outdoor space on June 16th.

Using detectors, hand lenses and lots of books, the team will identify bats, mammals, moths, birds and plants that live in, or visit your garden. You will be able to spend time with the team and learn the difference between the species that thrive on the work you have done to make your garden a place for nature.

The team will show you where to go to record your finds, adding these species to Bournemouth’s wildlife map. There will also be a talented local film maker who will capture the day, the activities and the excitement of identifying the plants and creatures that live in your garden.

To enter, use the entry form to tell us about your garden, your household, and any wildlife that you have seen in, or nearby, your garden. Please send your entry via email: hengistbury.head@bournemouth.gov.uk

Closing date: 30th April 2018 (Winner will be chosen by the Hengistbury Head Ranger team)

Terms and conditions apply – see poster for details.

Saving Europe’s Crickets and Grasshoppers From Extinction

A recent assessment of cricket and grasshopper species in Europe has shown that up to 25% are facing extinction. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the group Orthoptera, which includes Grasshoppers, Crickets and Bush Crickets, is the most threatened group assessed so far. An estimated 1000 species of Crickets and Grasshoppers are found in Europe. They play a vital role in grassland ecosystems; many species of birds and reptiles feed on them. The main factor contributing to decline is habitat loss due to wildfires, tourism and intensive farming. Many species are confined to small areas due to the break up of their natural habitats; for example the Crau Plain Grasshopper has been confined to the steppes on Southern France.

So what can be done in order to protect these insects? According to research from the IUCN Global Species Programme, more effort must be put into restoring the habitats of these insects in order to increase population size. This can be achieved using sustainable grassland management by employing traditional agricultural practices. It is imperative that these insects are saved from extinction, not only because they are very important biodiversity indicators, but also they are an integral part of grassland ecosystems.

Image Credit: Axel Hochkirch