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Special Areas of Conservation

Dorset Heaths

Designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
Country England
Unitary Authority Dorset and Somerset
Centroid* SY887835
Latitude 50.65083333
Longitude -2.16
SAC EU Code UK0019857
Status Designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
Area (ha) 5719.54
* This is the approximate central point of the SAC. In the case of large, linear or composite sites, this may not represent the location where a feature occurs within the SAC.
Location of Dorset Heaths SAC

General site character

  • Inland water bodies (Standing water, Running water) (1%)
  • Bogs, Marshes, Water fringed vegetation, Fens (8%)
  • Heath, Scrub, Maquis and Garrigue, Phygrana (86%)
  • Dry grassland, Steppes (1%)
  • Humid grassland, Mesophile grassland (1%)
  • Broad-leaved deciduous woodland (1%)
  • Coniferous woodland (1%)
  • Mixed woodland (1%)

Download the Standard Data Form for this site as submitted to Europe (PDF <100kb)

Note When undertaking an appropriate assessment of impacts at a site, all features of European importance (both primary and non-primary) need to be considered.

Annex I habitats that are a primary reason for selection of this site

  • This is a complex site which includes 37 SSSIs, most of which include fine transitions between 4030 European dry heaths and wet lowland heathland and mires, as well as other habitats such as woodland, grassland, pools, saltmarsh and reedswamp. The common characteristics of the M16 Erica tetralixSphagnum compactum wet heaths are the dominance of cross-leaved heath Erica tetralix, heather Calluna vulgaris and purple moor-grass Molinia caerulea, and the presence of a diverse group of rare species. These include Dorset heath Erica ciliaris (which readily hybridises with E. tetralix), white beak-sedge Rhynchospora alba, brown beak-sedge R. fusca, marsh gentian Gentiana pneumonanthe, great, round- and oblong-leaved sundews Drosera anglica, D. rotundifolia and D. intermedia, and marsh clubmoss Lycopodiella inundata. Typical mosses of the wet heath include Sphagnum compactum, S. pulchrum and S. tenellum. These sites are a stronghold for invertebrates, particularly dragonflies, damselflies, butterflies and spiders, including the Annex II species 1044 Southern damselfly Coenagrion mercuriale. Within the UK, some of these invertebrates are restricted to the Dorset heaths.

  • This site comprises 37 SSSIs with fine transitions between 4010 Northern Atlantic wet heaths with Erica tetralix, dry heaths and other habitats. Dry heath NVC types include H2 Calluna vulgarisUlex minor, H3 Ulex minorAgrostis curtisii, H4 Ulex galliiAgrostis curtisii and H8 Calluna vulgarisUlex gallii. The area of heathland has been reduced and fragmented, with about 86% lost since the mid-18th century. However, the Dorset heaths represent some of the biggest and finest remaining areas of lowland heathland in the UK. The dry heath occurs on very infertile soils and is not very diverse botanically, but occasionally some nationally scarce plants occur, such as mossy stonecrop Crassula tillaea and yellow centaury Cicendia filiformis. In places, where heather Calluna vulgaris occurs in mature stands, lichens of the genus Cladonia are very abundant. Uncommon features of the south-eastern heathlands are the localised presence of bilberry Vaccinium myrtillus and the co-existence in some areas of western gorse Ulex gallii and dwarf gorse U. minor. The dry heaths support populations of European importance of several species, including rare butterflies (e.g. silver-studded blue Plebejus argus), grasshoppers and spiders. Among birds, the dry heath is very important for woodlark Lullula arborea, European nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus, Dartford warbler Sylvia undata and some migrants such as hen harrier Circus cyaneus and Eurasian hobby Falco subbuteo. All six species of native British reptiles, including the Annex IV species sand lizard Lacerta agilis and smooth snake Coronella austriaca, occur within the Dorset Heaths.

  • The two Dorset Heaths cSACs, together with the New Forest, support a large proportion of the resource of Depressions on peat substrates of the Rhynchosporion within England. The habitat is widespread on the Dorset Heaths, both in bog pools of valley mires and in flushes. There are numerous valley mires within the Dorset Heaths, and the habitat type is most extensively represented here as part of a habitat mosaic. This location shows extensive representation of brown-beak sedge Rhynchospora fusca and is also important for great sundew Drosera anglica and bog orchid Hammarbya paludosa.

Annex II species that are a primary reason for selection of this site

  • 1044 Southern damselfly Coenagrion mercuriale

    This site in south-west England, along with Dorset Heaths (Purbeck and Wareham) and Studland Dunes, represents the Dorset stronghold of southern damselfly Coenagrion mercuriale. The large size of the two cSACs, and a long history of records indicating well-established populations, should ensure the future viability of the small populations that occur here.

Annex II species present as a qualifying feature, but not a primary reason for site selection

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