Purbeck Heaths becomes the first ‘super’ National Nature Reserve in the UK

Dorset's Landowners have combined three existing NNRs to form a biodiverse haven for wildlife, with the environment seeing phenomenal benefits already.

Landowners in Dorset have joined forces to create the first ‘super national nature reserve’ (NNR) in the UK. The new Purbeck Heaths NNR will bring together 11 types of habitat, with the goal being to create a landscape that encourages wildlife to move around more easily. It will combine three existing NNRs at Hartland Moor, Stoborough Heath and Studland and Godlingston Heath, which will be linked by other reserves, conservation areas and an eco-friendly golf course, creating a single expanse some 8,000 acres in size.

Studland Heath, a biologically important heathland reserve on the Isle of Purbeck, Dorset.

Studland Heath, a biologically important heathland reserve on the Isle of Purbeck, Dorset.

Purbeck Heaths is one of the UK’s most biodiverse places, with thousands of species of wildlife, 450 of which are listed as ‘rare’. One is the carnivorous sundew plant: it catches dragonflies, digests their bodies and spits out the wings. More convivial species include Dartford warblers and sand lizards.

It’s hoped that the new reserve will allow species to shift around the landscape as the climate changes. Peter Robertson of the RSPB tells the BBC that ‘in recent years, we’ve been trying to protect individual species on a micro level on small fragmented sites. Sometimes, we’ve employed volunteers to reshape the earth with trowels to help a single type of wasp. Now the fences are coming down, we’ll be able to allow grazing animals to roam around and do the job of disturbing the ground and creating different habitats for us’.

‘The biggest winner has to be the environment itself’

The Purbeck NNR will become a jigsaw of lowland wet and dry heath, valley mires, acid grassland and woodland, as well coastal sand dunes, lakes and saltmarsh. At the heart of the NNR are two large forested grounds owned by Forestry England and the Rempstone Estate, both of which have agreed to co-operate with the new plan. Much of the forest will be removed and the land restored to carbon-trapping wet heath.

M49N4J UK,Dorset,Isle of Purbeck,Newtown Viewpoint with Isle of Purbeck Golf Club,Godlingston Heath & Poole Harbour in distance

Doug Ryder, a Purbeck landowner, notes: ‘The estate sees the benefit of a combined management approach to enhance the environment, while balancing that with the continued need to operate a viable, rural estate for all those who derive their livelihood from it. Who benefits from the nature reserve? We all do, but the biggest winner has to be the environment itself.’

Mark Harold, the National Trust’s director of land and Nature, says: ‘All the rare and beautiful wildlife living in and beyond the reserve will benefit hugely from a landscape where habitats are bigger, in better condition and better connected – and where natural processes are restored.’

AB3YDD Studland Heath a biologically important heathland reserve on the Isle of Purbeck Dorset

Mr Harold’s sentiments were echoed by Defra minister Rebecca Pow, who says the Purbeck Heaths NNR is a ‘trailblazing example of how landscape-scale conservation can help wildlife thrive, improve people’s wellbeing and build resilience to climate change’.