Wild Purbeck Partnership agrees 20-year plan for 'super NNR'


The partnership behind Purbecks Heaths, Dorset, described as the UK's first 'super National Nature Reserve' (NNR), has announced its 20-year plan for the reserve.

The Wild Purbeck Partnership, comprising Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust, Dorset Wildlife Trust, Forestry England, National Trust, Natural England, Rempstone Estate and the RSPB, has agreed a Memorandum of Understanding and a joint management plan for the site.

The management plan will allow the partnership to work at a large landscape scale and use natural processes and animals to sustain this dynamic and ever-changing mix of habitats – a quality long missing from much of the British countryside, but vitally important to its wildlife.

Godlingston Heath with Poole and Bournemouth in the distance. Image credit: National Trust Images and John Miller
Godlingston Heath – seen here with Poole and Bournemouth in the background – forms part of the Purbeck Heaths 'super National Nature Reserve' (National Trust Images and John Miller).

In November 2020, the Wild Purbeck Partnership received a Green Recovery Challenge Fund grant of £549,900. This, along with backing from the Wytch Farm Landscape and Access Fund, will be used to more than double the land grazed by cattle and ponies.

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The project, led by the Dorset AONB team, will create 1,370 ha mosaic of lowland heathland stretching to Arne RSPB. It will involve the removal of existing internal fences, creation of an external fence-line, the installation of cattle grids and an upgrade to roadside parking controls.

This will allow for the introduction of rare breed pigs alongside cattle and ponies, rootling the landscape for the first time since the extinction of Wild Boar some 300 years ago. Grazing by free-ranging cattle, ponies and pigs will more naturally drive changes to the heathland environment, enhancing the micro-habitats on which many rare and threatened species depend and helping to create a more dynamic, complex and better-connected suite of habitats.

"Functioning ecosystems and abundant wildlife are the cornerstones of natural beauty," Dr Phil Sterling, Dorset AONB chairman, commented. "The scale at which the Purbeck Heaths NNR partners are working makes such a contribution to the nationally important landscape of the Dorset AONB."

Purbeck Heaths is the largest area of lowland heath managed as a single nature reserve in England. Covering 3,331 ha, it includes Studland and the Arne peninsula. By working together, the different partners benefit from each other's strengths and expertise to recover nature and restore natural processes across the reserve.  

Natural England Area Manager Rachel Williams said: "This is a fantastic example of partners working together to make nature recovery a reality. Purbeck Heaths NNR is an inspirational place for people from all walks of life to enjoy the natural world. By giving wildlife space to thrive and restoring natural processes across the landscape, we can reverse the decline in nature."

Douglas Ryder of the Rempstone Estate added: "We are delighted to be working to help deliver a landscape that gives space for nature, working together to appropriately manage Purbeck Heaths using tried and tested agricultural methods, such as grazing with native cattle, to enhance habitat and species recovery is hugely important."