What is heathland habitat?
Heathland is beautiful, wild and full of rare and intriguing wildlife. Together, Dorset’s heathlands form one of the best remaining areas of this rare and special habitat.
Dorset’s heaths were once vital for grazing livestock and much more - gorse for firewood, bracken for bedding, heather for thatch, and extraction of sand and clay. These activities created microhabitat such as tramped trackways, shallow pools and exposed sandy patches - vital home for specialist heathland wildlife. Sadly, only 15% of Dorset's heathland still exists.
Why is this habitat at risk?
The reasons for this are varied and complex, but one of the key issues is the halting of traditional management practices; the impact of these is not fully replicated by modern habitat management. Despite long-standing efforts to conserve the remaining patches of heathland, 60% of key heathland species are in decline in Dorset, with some just barely hanging on.
How we brought back Dorset’s heaths
This Back from the Brink Project included an ambitious programme of management work across selected sites, creating the micro-habitats that key heathland species needed if their populations were to expand and colonise new areas.
We targeted eight microhabitats, 19 localised species and an additional 16 species that are more widely dispersed across the heaths. The ranged from the Large-celled Flapwort (a tiny liverwort) and the striking Purbeck mason wasp to the beautiful sand lizard and the miniature gentian known as Yellow Centuary. At the same time, and just as importantly, we worked with local communities to enthuse new audiences and naturalists alike. We also offered a range of walks, events and training opportunities to local people and land managers.
What we achieved
Amongst other things, over 400 patches of heathland microhabitat have been created or restored at 13 sites across the Dorset Heaths, to benefit the 19 target species that are dependent on them. As a result of this project positive species responses have already been observed, with surveys revealing that populations of Marsh Clubmoss, Yellow Centaury, Pale Dog Violet, Pennyroyal, Lesser Butterfly Orchid and Southern Damselfly have increased. Landowners of the sites where microhabitat creation and restoration work has taken place will continue to manage the sites in a way that will benefit the heathland species that call it home.
target species factsheets
Habitat and survey work in Dorset’s Heathland Heart has been targeted at a range of species that will benefit directly from the creation of areas of bare ground and early successional habitat. These factsheets have been compiled by project staff, volunteers and colleagues to provide information on their identification, life cycle, status and requirements plus monitoring approaches.
With thanks to: Stuart Ball, Clive Chatters, Joan Childs, Chris Dieck, Mike Edwards, Katy Lake, Sophie Lake, James Lowen, Roger Morris, Aemelia Roe, Stuart Roberts, Phil Saunders, Chris Spilling, Robin Walls, John Walters, Daniel White, Mariko Whyte, Terry Bagley.
partner species information
Provided by two of our project partners - Butterfly Conservation, Amphibian & Reptile Conservation Trust and Species Recovery Trust:
Learning and Enquiry Resources
The Explore Dorset’s Heaths sheet provides a good introduction to Dorset’s heathland habitats and the species it supports. This can be used on its own or as part of the overall set for further exploration.
Back from the Brink Innovations Conference Presentation
Species Recovery and Management - Farmland and Bareground