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.

‘Signs of hope for the environment’ – Sir David Attenborough

Sir David Attenborough has stated that he is more encouraged about the future health of the Earth. This is due to a “worldwide shift” in attitudes about concern for the natural world and the damage humans are causing.

He states “The effect human beings are having on the natural world is profound. We are having a great damaging effect. Because we are out of touch with the natural world in a way that we weren’t 2oo years ago that means most of us don’t see the effect we are having. What is more, we don’t understand the processes of the natural world, which makes natural history broadcasting of crucial importance to the future of humanity.”