UK’s first ‘super’ National Nature Reserve on Purbeck Heaths

With the growing need for a bigger, better and more collective approach to nature conservation, seven leading partners have joined up to help protect wildlife by creating the UK’s first ever ‘super’ National Nature Reserve (NNR).

The NNR is located on the Purbeck Heaths in Dorset and ‘knits’ together 11 types of priority habitat to enable wildlife to move with more ease 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.

Similar in size to Blackpool

The new ‘super’ NNR combines three existing nature reserves at Stoborough Heath: Hartland Moor; Studland; and Godlingston Heath, linking them with a significant amount of new land – including nature reserves and conservation areas managed by seven partners.

It is 3,331ha (8,231ac) in total, expanding the current NNR in Purbeck by 2,335ha (5,770ac).

The new designation has resulted in a landscape-scale haven more than three times its original size, and similar in size to the town of Blackpool.

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% 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 well-being of more than 2.5 million people who visit Purbeck each year.

By working together, the National Trust, Natural England, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Forestry England, the Rempstone Estate, Dorset Wildlife Trust and Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, are taking important strides forward in landscape-scale conservation and nature recovery.

They are doing this by combining land, expertise and a common vision, while working along with other landowners and managers.

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.

“This new super nature reserve is a great example of what can be achieved through partnerships and collaboration,” said Natural England chair Tony Juniper.

“It demonstrates how, by creating bigger, better and more joined up wild places like this one, we will achieve big benefits for both people and wildlife.

Today’s move [March 17, 2020] marks a shift in gear and a new era for nature recovery in England.

“Comparable ambition is visible in other partnerships that are established or forming across the country, not only setting the scene for species recovery, but also increased resilience to climate change.

Help wildlife thrive

DEFRA Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “I commend all of the partners coming together to deliver this landmark milestone for wildlife and people – the UK’s first super National Nature Reserve.

“Purbeck Heaths is a trailblazing example of how landscape-scale conservation can help wildlife thrive, improve people’s well-being and build resilience to climate change.

“Through our landmark 25-year environment plan, we will deliver a greener future, and the collaborative spirit of Purbeck Heaths marks a significant step towards putting our ambitious plans to leave the environment in a better state than we found it into action.

The National Trust, which already had 746ha (1,843ac) of land in the NNR, has designated a further 644ha (1,591ac).

For generations to come, Purbeck Heaths will be at the heart of a healthy, resilient landscape brimming with wildlife,” said Mark Harold, National Trust director of land and nature.

“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.

Rare wildlife will benefit…

“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,” said Harold.

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. Indeed, Purbeck includes the richest recorded 10km² 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; while 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.

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

Emma Marsh, RSPB England director, 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.”