About the Dorset Heaths
The heathlands in Dorset are owned, managed and protected by law. Over 96% of Dorset's heaths are classified as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a designation given to the most valuable wildlife habitats.
Approximately 30% of Dorset's heathlands are found in southeast Dorset with nearly half a million people living nearby. The urbanisation of these sites has additional conservation pressures such as fire, trampling of vegetation and wildlife disturbance as the result of recreation.
Heathland is not a "natural" environment but ancient "made"; created and maintained by people for over 4,000 years, since the Bronze Age. Woodland was cleared for building materials, agricultural and domestic use. The grazing of domestic animals prevented the re-growth of trees. Plants that now grow on heathland such as heathers and gorses, tolerate highly acidic soil which is low in nutrients.
Landowners now manage heathlands to protect the landscape and conserve the rare and endangered wildlife species. Without human intervention heathlands would become overgrown by birch and pine, invaded by non-native species such as rhododendron, and rare birds, reptiles, insects and plants would be out competed by common or garden species.
Today's remaining fragments of heathland are in danger of being squeezed out of existence. British and European laws help to conserve these beautiful open spaces for people and wildlife.
Heathland conservation is a constant balancing act for owners and land-managers between people and wildlife.
Contrary to popular belief heathland is not a 'natural' habitat but an ancient "made" landscape created and maintained by people for over 4,000 years.
The Urban Heaths Partnership covers the majority of South East Dorset. Geographically the project area extends from the Purbecks in the west to Christchurch in the east and up to Verwood in the north. Within this vast area 56 heathland Sites of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSI) have been identified as most at risk from local urban pressures.
Wildlife - plants and animals
Wildlife on today's heathland has adapted to survive on dry and wet heath, bogs and mires, woodland edge and bare patches of sand and gravel. Many animals and plants found on heathlands cannot be found in any other place and are protected by law.