UK’s first “super” National Nature Reserve in Dorset returns farmland to nature and aims to help tackle climate change

Nature conservationists in the UK have come together to create what is hailed as the UK’s first ever “super” National Nature Reserve (NNR) on the Purbeck Heaths in Dorset.

The new super NNR combines three existing NNRs at Stoborough Heath, Hartland Moor, and Studland and Godlingston Heath linking them with a significant amount of new land including nature reserves and conservation areas.

The super reserve is a rich mosaic of lowland wet and dry heath, valley mires, acid grassland and woodland, along with coastal sand dunes, lakes and saltmarsh. Conifer plantations are also being carefully restored to heathland.

The new Purbeck Heaths National Nature Reserve (NNR) covers 3,331 hectares (8,231 acres). It stretches from Grange Heath in the west to Studland in the east and from the Arne peninsula in the north to Norden in the south, and is now the largest area of lowland heath managed as a single nature reserve in England.

Purbeck is one of the most wildlife rich places in the UK and has gained further recognition with the declaration of the new Purbeck Heaths National Nature Reserve (NNR).

The expansion, which triples the size of Purbeck Heath, provides numerous benefits to wildlife by allowing all species the opportunity to move around the landscape more easily. This will give rare and varied wildlife, including the sand lizard, the Dartford warbler, and the silver studded blue butterfly, a better chance of adapting and thriving in light of the current climate crisis.

A number of conservationists including the National Trust, Natural England, RSPB, Forestry England, the Rempstone Estate, Dorset Wildlife Trust and Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, along with other landowners and managers have been involved in the creation of the new super reserve.

The landscape-scale conservation, which is the latest intiative in a drive to return local farmland to nature, aims to help tackle climate change and benefit more than 2.5 million visitors.

Mark Harold, National Trust Director of Land & Nature, said: “For generations to come, Purbeck Heaths will be at the heart of a healthy, resilient landscape brimming with wildlife. As well as creating a special place for wildlife to recover and move around freely, we hope to inspire people to engage with nature and explore the great outdoors.

“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. Here they will be able to spread and build more resilient populations.”

Purbeck Heaths is home to thousands of species of wildlife, including 450 that are listed as rare, threatened or protected.

Purbeck, which includes the richest recorded 10km square for biodiversity in the UK, is home to heathland birds include breeding nightjars, Dartford warblers and woodlarks. And raptors such as hen harriers, marsh harriers, merlins, hobbies and ospreys all find these productive hunting grounds.

At least 12 species of bats live on the NNR. The Purbeck Heaths are some of the last strongholds for many specialist insects and other invertebrates, such as southern damselflies (Britain’s rarest dragonfly) and the Purbeck mason wasp. This reserve is also home to Dorset’s only colony of small pearl-bordered fritillary butterflies.

Rare plants include marsh gentians, great sundews and lesser butterfly orchids. And there are at least two fungi that are found nowhere else in England and Wales – the sand earthtongue and Roseodiscus formosus.

Image Credit: National Trust/Jonathan Miller

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at

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