UK’s first “super” NNR on Purbeck Heaths

SEVEN landowners – the National Trust, Natural England, RSPB, Forestry England, Rempstone Estate, Dorset Wildlife Trust and Amphibian and Reptile Conservation – have joined forces to create the UK’s largest lowland heath National Nature Reserve on the Purbeck Heaths in Dorset.

The new “super “NNR will give greater protection for wildlife in the internationally important area, and will help to help tackle climate change and benefit more than 2.5 million visitors.

The Purbeck Heaths NNR knits together 11 types of priority habitat to enable wildlife to move more easily across the landscape. 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.

The new super reserve combines three existing NNRs at Stoborough Heath, Hartland Moor, and Studland and Godlingston Heath, and links them with a significant amount of new land including nature reserves and conservation areas managed by seven partners. It is 3,331 hectares (8,231 acre) in total, expanding the current NNR in Purbeck by 2,335 hectares (5,770 acres). The new designation has resulted in a landscape-scale haven more than three times its original size.

The expansion will create the largest lowland heathland NNR in the country providing tremendous benefits to wildlife by allowing all species the opportunity to move around the landscape more easily.  Building resilience into the landscape will help tackle the decline in nature, with 41 per cent of species in decline in Britain since 1970.

It will also offer a public benefit by giving people more opportunity to explore and in turn help improve the health and wellbeing of more than 2.5 million people who visit Purbeck every year.

By working together and combining land, expertise and a common vision, 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, are taking important strides forward in landscape-scale conservation and nature recovery.

This 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.

Tony Juniper, chairman of Natural England,r said: “This new super nature reserve is a great example of what can be achieved through partnerships and collaboration. It demonstrates how by working together we can secure a brighter future for our wonderful natural environment. By creating bigger, better, and more joined-up wild places like this one, we will achieve big benefits for both people and wildlife.”

Purbeck Heaths is one of the most biodiverse places in the UK – home to thousands of species of wildlife, including 450 that are listed as rare, threatened or protected. Purbeck includes the richest recorded 10km square for biodiversity in the UK. All six native reptiles call this reserve home – including endangered smooth snakes and sand lizards. 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 reserve and 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.

Emma Marsh, director, RSPB England, said: “We’re excited about the opportunity to make this an even wilder landscape, where some of our rarest wildlife can find a home. Together we’re forging ahead to achieve even more success for both nature and people at a landscape scale.”

Doug Ryder of the Rempstone Estate is a private landowner. He said: “The Rempstone Estate, together with the National Trust and RSPB, owns the majority of the heath and former heath on the south side of Poole Harbour. It includes Rempstone Forest (which is let by the Estate to Forestry England) and environmentally rich land to the south of the forest and also north to the harbour’s edge. 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.”

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said it was “a trailblazing example of how landscape-scale conservation can help wildlife thrive, improve people’s well-being, and build resilience to climate change.”

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Pictured: View from Arne; Slepe Heath; Corfe Castle glimpsed across the heath; an aerial view of part of the new super National Nature Reserve.