Dorset Heaths is the best heathland in Britain, providing a unique environment
which is home to a wide range of wildlife.
These heath lands once covered
over 50,000 hectares, stretching as far as Dorchester and Poole.
|Dorset Heaths. Photo: Jenny Goy|
Heath is not a 'natural' habitat but was created and shaped by ancient man over
about 4,000 years.
Today the heaths cover only 15% of their former area,
and are in fragments, separated by poor agricultural land, large urban areas and
Changes in farming, the growth of towns and road building
have all contributed to a reduction in the heath's size to about 7,000 hectares
Despite the loss of some areas, the Dorset Heaths boast a range
of unique habitats from open, exposed landscapes to undulating, lowland heath
and an outer edge of rolling hills with a patchwork of pasture and woodland.
A good time to explore the heathlands in the Summer when there's
a great display of birds.
One of the classic heathland birds is a Dartford
Warbler. Heath land is particularly attractive to birds who like to nest on or
near the ground including Dartford Warblers, Woodlarks, and Nightjars.
Nightjar is one of the heath's most distinctive birds with its 'chirring' sound.
When it flies, the bird's wings make a clapping sound to attract females.
male bird is characterised by white patches on its wings and tail. A good way
to attract one is to wave a white handkerchief or throw a white ping pong ball
in the air.
If you're lucky, the bird will fly out thinking that there is
another male in its territory. Try this at dusk when the birds are most active.
the United States these birds are called Night Hawks because they look a little
like birds of prey.
There are certain plants which characterise heath lands - particularly
heathers and gorse - and these thrive because they can tolerate the nutrient poor,
Hartland Moor Nature Reserve is a superb example of a heathland
site. It is unique in having a Y-shaped bog system which includes both acid and
alkaline drainage systems.
Typical plants include ling, cross-leaved heath,
bell heather, bog asphodel, white beak sedge, western gorse, and rarities such
as Dorset heath, marsh gentian and bog orchid.
The range of plants make
this a good place to see heathland insects such as rare heath and large marsh
Stoborough Heath Reserve lies adjacent to Hartland, and is
another great example of a heathland.
Typical heathland plant species found
at Stoborough include the rare bog orchid, Dorset heath, white and brown beak
sedge, marsh gentian, dwarf and common gorse.
A good time to visit the
Dorset Heaths is when the gorse and heather are in full bloom.
Heaths boast all six species of reptiles found in the United Kingdom - Adders,
Grass Snakes, Common Lizards, Slow Worms, Smooth Snakes and Sand Lizards.
Snakes and Sand Lizards are very rare and only found in this part of the world.
is the best time to see Sand Lizards, when the males are getting ready to mate,
turning a fabulous bejewelled green colour for just a few days.
known as 'little dragons' but they aren't easy to find, relying on camouflage
to avoid being eaten by predators.
These creatures love this habitat with
its sandy heathland and warm climate, but they're very vulnerable because the
heath is becoming more fragmented due to forest fires and the intrusion of roads,
which they can't travel across.
Photo credits - Dorset Heaths copyright of
Jenny Goy, RSPB Dorset Heathland Project. Snake and lizard courtesy of Chris Packham.