South Purbeck Heaths

This is a very diverse and dynamic landscape ranging from large remaining tracts of open heathland to dense conifer plantations with a variety of industrial and military land uses.

This is a very diverse and dynamic landscape ranging from large remaining tracts of open heathland to dense conifer plantations with a variety of industrial and military land uses. Its outstanding wildlife interest and wide variety of heathland habitats, including wet valley mires and bogs, are of great landscape interest. Towards Studland, a dramatic relief offers spectacular views of the surrounding wild heathlands and coast. The area becomes more pastoral towards the Corfe farmlands and Studland village with its wooded character dominating the eastern fringe of the heath. Around the fringes towards the west and south the landscape becomes more pastoral in character whereas larger conifer plantations occur towards Poole Harbour and the Lulworth Ranges and Estate. Hartland Moor forms a superb heathland and mire landscape with extensive views of colour and texture. Arne Peninsula is complex structure of pastoral woodlands with veteran oaks opening out to a mosaic of heathland and scrub with mires, grasslands, reed beds and salt marshes grading towards Poole Harbour. Where field boundaries exist, they are largely made up of trimmed hedgerows and trees.

  • Wildlife of national and international significance
  • Wide open views of colourful and textured heathlands, with tranquil and remote character derived through perceived naturalness and an absence of development
  • Undulating and exposed heathland landscape with dense heather carpets, valley mires, gorse and isolated Scots pine
  • Occasional small birch and oak woodlands
  • Patches of rough acidic grassland and small rough enclosed pastures
  • Mosaics of patchy heathland and scrub with woody thickets
  • Reed beds and marshes grading towards exceptional undeveloped coastline around Poole Harbour
  • Straight roads flanked by broadleaved woodlands and surrounding open heathlands
  • Occasional isolated linear settlements

Land shape and structure

The area has a distinctive and dramatic relief with small ridges rising to 100m, rolling hills, undulating lowlands with upstanding geological features of dark ironstone and valley bottoms. The underlying rock is soft and of sedimentary origin.

Soils and vegetation

The soil is light, shallow, free draining and sandy. These impoverished conditions support a wide range of heathland habitats with heather, gorse, bracken, dry acidic grassland, stands of birch, oak and pine, reed beds and wet valley mires. The quality of these habitats is indicted by the wealth of national and internationally important nature conservation designations. The largest area of heathland survives within the army ranges near Lulworth.

Settlement and land cover

Purbeck Heaths displays a complex mix of land cover. Due to many of the heathlands being protected, much of the area is free of settlement except a few scattered farmsteads. Towards Studland, landcover becomes more pastoral with small broadleaved woodlands. Planned farms and ordered lanes lie within a relatively well-wooded landscape characterised by recent secondary and medium sized woodlands and tree belts. There is seasonal grazing of rough pasture on marginal uncultivated land along with some arable farming. Former mineral workings provide a range of interesting wetland habitats, with Blue Pool one of the best known.

Historic character

The prevailing heathland character is the result of soil exhaustion through intensive farming, primarily in the Bronze Age.  Along with the survival of open heathlands, the area is also dominated by recent large conifer plantations. Some piecemeal enclosures with mixed woodlands are found towards the west.  A number of Bronze Age barrows survive here, particularly in the eastern part, but the most notable monument is probably Rempstone stone circle. A number of late Iron Age and Romano-British pottery manufacturing sites are recorded in the vicinity of Stoborough, part of a massive industry centred on Poole Harbour. Particularly notable modern monuments are the World War pumping station in Studland village, with pipes leading to the sea and Fort Henry from which Churchill viewed D-day preparations.

Visual character and perceptions

The area has a diverse visual character appearance ranging from wild open heathlands to enclosed wooded areas. In the eastern and western extents, there is a lack of tree cover alongside gently rolling relief, providing impressive views, such as of the remote and colourful heathlands towards the tranquil fringes of Poole Harbour. The central area is wooded with a more intimate and enclosed feel.

Strength of character

The overall landscape is judged to have a moderate character. Although the area is affected by a wide range of land uses and pressures, heathland habitats are largely unsettled with consistent patterns of heathland features and have benefitted from recent enhancement though initiatives such as the Nature Improvement Area (NIA). Such measures have improved the management of existing heathlands and have removed a number of conifer plantations that had weakened the area’s natural character. Although a number of plantations remain, some serve to screen some industrial and residential development. Agriculture and mineral workings have become part of the landscape and often provide well managed features.


There has been a significant reduction in the extent of plantations in recent years, with heathland restoration projects benefitting heaths at Arne, Holme, Slepe, Rempstone and Newton. Additionally, changes in the management of remaining plantations are considered to have improved their visual characteristics and biodiversity. Heathland habitats are largely in good condition with continued ecological management in place. Heathland mosaics are under constant pressures from encroachment of woodland and scrub. Furthermore, the heaths are often subject to pressures from their recreational used, including disturbance, fly tipping and fires. As significant recent enhancements have partly addressed a decline in traditional heathland character, overall landscape condition is judged to be moderate and improving.

Planning guidelines

  • Protect important conifer plantations that screen intrusive development with phased replacement to broadleaved woodlands. Ensure that commercial forestry plantation is located away from designated heathland and balanced with native deciduous planting, thereby enhancing natural character and delivering biodiversity gains.
  • Secure appropriate mitigation measures and landscape enhancements resulting from further oil and gas extraction. Resist new proposals that result in significant harm to the character and appearance of the National Landscape and/or its setting.
  • Protect heathlands from excessive visitor pressure and associated infrastructure.
  • Limit the impact of camping and caravanning sites. Restrict the expansion and creation of sites in areas where impacts are already significant, including areas subject to notable cumulative effects. Control proposals to introduce new ‘glamping’ facilities, based on landscape and visual sensitives. Pursue appropriate mitigation measures, including seasonal limitations, landscape enhancement measures and conditions that control noise and light pollution.
  • Encourage the use of native planting in any landscape scheme associated with new development and consider removal of unsympathetic species, such as the Leylandii screening hedges that stand out in the landscape.
  • Conserve the open character of rural lanes. Remove excessive signage and seek alternatives to infrastructure associated with urban development and out of scale traffic management schemes.
  • Ensure mineral workings are mitigated as far as possible with clear aims for long term restoration.
  • Promote under grounding of small-scale powerlines in open, sensitive locations
  • Ensure that coastal and flood defences are compatible with the National Landscape’s exceptional undeveloped coastline. Require the use of materials that are complementary to the character and appearance of their environs.
  • Ensure that development linked to aquaculture and fishing is compatible with the National Landscape’s exceptional undeveloped coastline. Avoid locating permanent infrastructure in sensitive areas and minimise the impact of essential infrastructure through good design.
  • Avoid unnecessary and prolonged noise and light pollution. Require good design to limit the impacts and use appropriate planning conditions to secure ongoing control.

Management guidelines

  • Pursue the removal of and improved management of conifer plantations. Avoid clear felling except for heathland restoration and otherwise encourage continuous cover and phased transition to broadleaf species. Soften edges of retained woodland blocks to follow landform.
  • Restore heathland habitats to improve extent and connectivity.
  • Protect acid grasslands from further scrub encroachment.
  • Restore mires back to functional ecosystems.
  • Maintain the balance and monitor heathland mosaics from scrub encroachment, bracken and woodland succession, particularly where these buffer existing heathlands through promoting grazing regimes. Encourage woodland thinning within and around the wooded heath habitats.
  • Conserve and enhance extensive grazing regimes.
  • Enhance the function of habitats in supporting the wider ecological network, where appropriate.
  • Protect stands of mature broadleaved woodland along roadsides and create glimpses of open heathlands through scrub clearance.
  • Soften edges of existing woodland blocks to follow landform and protection of important views.
  • Manage the impact of rising sea levels through creation of flood marsh around Arne Moors.