ARC was one of seven environmental partners that came together in 2010, to help protect wildlife and connect people to it by creating the UK’s first ever ‘super’ National Nature Reserve (NNR) on the Purbeck Heaths in Dorset.

Purbeck Heaths NNR ‘knits’ together 11 types of priority habitat that provide home to wide range of wildlife, including rare species such as the the sand lizard, the Dartford warbler, and the silver studded blue butterfly.

The new super NNR has been created by combining three existing NNRs at Stoborough Heath, Hartland Moor, Studland and Godlingston Heath and linking them with other land including nature reserves and conservation areas. ARC is one of the seven landowner partners, along with the National Trust, Natural England, RSPB, Forestry England, the Rempstone Estate, Dorset Wildlife Trust that are working together at a landscape scale, towards helping nature’s recovery.

It is 3,331 hectares (8,231 acres) 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, and similar in size to the town of Blackpool.   

ARC's Norden reserve,
now part of the Purbeck NNR
ARC's Corfe Bluff reserve,
now part of the Purbeck NNR

The expansion has created the largest lowland heathland NNR in the country. These large, connected areas provide tremendous benefits to wildlife by through allowing species to move around the landscape more easily and by building resilience into the landscape. These will help tackle the decline in nature, and provide a better chance of adapting and thriving in the light of climate change.

It now also offers its annual 2.5 million visitors greater opportunity to appreciate the area through downloadable walking and cycle route maps, improved public transport and locally sourced food, while also providing more effective arrangements for managing the impacts on the habitats and their wildlife.

ARC will be particularly focused on ensuring that amphibian and reptile populations for which the area is so important are benefiting. This provides a fantastic opportunity to work together and combine land, expertise and a common vision, and to implement an effective programme of monitoring across a wider area in the Purbecks.

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 Gent, CEO Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, said:

“At the heart of the new Purbeck Heaths National Nature Reserve is a landscape level partnership which is well equipped to safeguard this internationally threatened habitat and its diversity of species. The lowland heathlands found here are a stronghold for our native reptile and amphibian species – their conservation is at the heart of ARC’s work. This new designation celebrates the significant commitment of the partners who have contributed so much for so long to the conservation of the Purbeck peninsula. We look forward to working in close collaboration to look after this area in the face of the many challenges to our environment.”

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 10km square for biodiversity in the UK.

All six native reptiles call this reserve home – including endangered smooth snakes and sand lizards. Heathland birds that breed in the Purbecks include nightjars, Dartford warblers, 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. There are at least two species of fungi that are found nowhere else in England and Wales – the sand earthtongue and Roseodiscus formosus - as well as nationally rare fungi such as Verdigris navel.

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