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Special Areas of Conservation

Dorset Heaths (Purbeck and Wareham) and Studland Dunes

Designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
Country England
Unitary Authority Dorset and Somerset
Centroid* SZ024839
Latitude 50.65444444
Longitude -1.965833333
SAC EU Code UK0030038
Status Designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
Area (ha) 2230.53
* 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 (Purbeck and Wareham) and Studland Dunes SAC

General site character

  • Coastal sand dunes, Sand beaches, Machair (5%)
  • Inland water bodies (Standing water, Running water) (4%)
  • Bogs, Marshes, Water fringed vegetation, Fens (8%)
  • Heath, Scrub, Maquis and Garrigue, Phygrana (79%)
  • Dry grassland, Steppes (1%)
  • Broad-leaved deciduous woodland (1%)
  • Coniferous woodland (1%)
  • Mixed woodland (1%)

Download the Standard Data Form for this site (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

  • Embryonic shifting dunes initiate the very clear successional sequence of dune communities at Studland Dunes, which are representative of the habitat type in southern England. This is a part of the UK where this habitat type is rare, partly owing to intensive recreational use of the coast. The site is also of interest in that there are well-developed examples of both sand couch Elytrigia juncea and lyme-grass Leymus arenarius-dominated communities. The former occurs discontinuously along the whole shoreline, while the latter is locally abundant in disturbed locations at the northern end of the site.

  • Studland Dunes represents shifting dunes along the shoreline in southern England. Shifting dunes form one part of the very well-marked successional sequences. The seaward dune ridge supports marram Ammophila arenaria vegetation mainly of NVC type SD6e Ammophila arenaria mobile dune, Festuca rubra sub-community, though three other types are represented. There are transitions to embryonic dunes, which are rare on the south coast partly because of intense recreational pressure, and extensive transitions to decalcified fixed dunes and dune heath.

  • Studland Dunes comprises the only large dune heath site in the south and south-west of Britain. The heathland occupies a series of dune ridges, which have developed over a period of several hundred years. The development of these ridges was the subject of a classic study (Diver 1933) and the processes are still active today. Structure and function of the dune heath communities are therefore well-conserved. The dry open heath is an important habitat for rare reptiles such as sand lizard Lacerta agilis. At the western margin of the dune ridges the dry dune heath grades into wet heath in which cross-leaved heath Erica tetralix is prominent, while at the northern end it grades into the southern heathland types of inland Dorset.

  • Studland Dunes is a large acidic dune system in south-west England with well-conserved structure and function. The site has been intensively studied. The structure and function of dune systems are well-represented with dune-building processes still active. These processes have resulted in the formation of acidic humid dune slack communities with a high water table, which lie in the parallel hollows between the dune ridges. In these slacks, acidic fen and reedbeds have developed. Some areas are dominated by grey willow Salix cinerea and birch Betula sp. carr with the very local royal fern Osmunda regalis a conspicuous element. The dune slacks are linked to an area of open fresh water known as the Little Sea.

  • Little Sea is a shallow lake at Studland Dunes in south-west England. It is of recent origin (<500 years old), formed as a large body of seawater became landlocked by the growing sand dunes (hence the name Little Sea). This water is now fresh and is replenished by acidic, oligotrophic water draining off the adjacent heathland, which then flows through the dune slacks and into the sea. The submerged vegetation is characterised by communities of alternate water-milfoil Myriophyllum alterniflorum, shoreweed Littorella uniflora and spring quillwort Isoetes echinospora, together with bladderwort Utricularia australis and less frequently six-stamened waterwort Elatine hexandra.

  • The two Dorset Heaths SACs, together with the New Forest (also in southern England), contain a large proportion of the total UK resource of lowland northern Atlantic wet heaths. The habitat is of the M16 Erica tetralixSphagnum compactum wet heath type and occurs as well-developed transitions between dry heath and valley bog. This habitat type is important for rare plants, such as marsh gentian Gentiana pneumonanthe, brown beak-sedge Rhynchospora fusca and great sundew Drosera anglica. The wet heaths and mires are also important for scarce Odonata, such as small red damselfly Ceriagrion tenellum and the Annex II species 1044 Southern damselfly Coenagrion mercuriale. The sites are an important transitional area between the more oceanic heathlands of the south-west peninsula and the semi-continental heathlands of eastern England.

  • The greatest concentration of Dorset heath Erica ciliaris in the UK is in Dorset on the heaths south of Poole Harbour, with outlying stands elsewhere in Dorset. Dorset Heaths (Purbeck and Wareham) and Studland Dunes has therefore been selected as it contains a high proportion of the total UK population of E. ciliaris.

  • This site in southern England has extensive stands of lowland dry heath vegetation. The types include H2 Calluna vulgarisUlex minor heath, H3 Ulex minorAgrostis curtisii heath and some areas of H4 Ulex galliiAgrostis curtisii heath. The communities are dominated by heather Calluna vulgaris growing in association with bell heather Erica cinerea and one of the dwarf gorse species – dwarf gorse Ulex minor or western gorse U. gallii. The heaths are rich in rare plants, invertebrates, birds and reptiles. Both of the Dorset Heath SACs and the New Forest are in southern England. All three areas are selected because together they contain a high proportion of all the lowland European dry heaths in the UK. There are, however, significant differences in the ecology of the two areas, associated with more oceanic conditions in Dorset and the continuous history of grazing in the New Forest.

  • 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.

  • 91D0 Bog woodland  * Priority feature

    The Dorset Heaths contain small pockets of wet woodland within valley mires but most of these appear to be of recent origin. However, at Morden Bog a Bog woodland stand is of ancient origin, as shown by its pollen record and old maps. The woodland is dominated by downy birch Betula pubescens with a ground flora consisting of greater tussock sedge Carex paniculata and purple moor-grass Molinia caerulea. There is a rich epiphytic lichen assemblage, again indicating the persistence of this area of bog woodland.

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, 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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