The Purbeck countryside is unique with around 30 different habitats and 200 species of conservation interest, making it one of the most biologically diverse districts in England.

Did you know:

  • the butterfly called the Lulworth skipper was first discovered near Durdle Door in 1832
  • Durlston Country Park is one of the best places in the country to see Dolphins
  • the Purbeck heaths support more sand lizards and smooth snakes than anywhere else in the country

Thousands of years of management by people have shaped Purbeck's landscape, and archaeological features such as field systems, stone walls, hill forts and castles give clues to how our ancestors lived. Management by the people who live and work in Purbeck is still required to ensure that this thriving countryside is maintained.

Unfortunately this marvellous countryside is under pressure - to ensure that you and future generations can continue to enjoy it, we need your help to protect the countryside.


Heathland is a unique and special habitat and over 5% of the UK's heathland is found in Purbeck. It is very important for biodiversity and conservation in the landscape. It is home to many rare species including Dorset heath, nightjar, Dartford warbler, marsh gentian, smooth snake and sand lizard, as well as Purbeck mason-wasp and ladybird spider (both only found in Purbeck).

Heathland is threatened by invading scrub (e.g. gorse and bracken) and also increasing human populations. Restoring heathland is a big part of the conservation work in Purbeck.


Purbeck contains a variety of woodland habitats including ancient woods, veteran trees, parkland, conifer plantation, wet woodland and coppices. Much of Purbeck's woodland is found on the edge of our heaths, as trees naturally take over heathland if left unmanaged.

Woodland management includes tree planting and coppicing. Hazel was traditionally coppiced (cut back to a few centimetres above the ground) to provide wood for a number of uses including temporary fences and hurdles.

Rivers and wetlands

The rivers Frome and Piddle are good examples of chalk rivers. Both rivers flow through Purbeck and out into Poole Harbour. The Harbour is well known for being one of the largest natural harbours in the world and is a huge wetland area for birds and other wildlife. Both the rivers and harbour are internationally important for their varied and plentiful plant and animal life, including over 20,000 birds who visit the area in winter.

Around Wareham, the River Piddle water meadows contain large numbers of wild flowers and the River Frome water meadows attract important populations of winter visiting birds. The river and wetland wildlife includes otters and water voles, as well as ground-nesting and roosting birds such as redshank, lapwing and black tailed godwit. Management of water levels, grazing by cattle or ponies and lack of disturbance are needed to maintain this special habitat.

To see the wildlife on and around the Rivers Frome and Piddle, why not go on one of the Two Rivers Walks?


Coastal cliffs, Lulworth Ranges, the Purbeck Ridge and Corfe Common are all important grasslands in Purbeck. They are home to species like the Lulworth skipper, Adonis blue, early spider orchid, wild chamomile and early gentian (a plant found only in this country).

To maintain this very important habitat, the grassland needs grazing by cattle or ponies and the scrub (e.g. gorse and bracken) needs to be managed. Also by not cutting hay meadows until late in the summer allows flowers to set seed for the next year.

Coast and marine

Coastal and marine habitats in Purbeck are found in two areas: the exposed coast from Durlston Head to White Nothe, and the sheltered Poole Bay.

Rocky limestone reefs are found at Durlston Head, St Aldhelm's Head and Kimmeridge, and chalk rubble is found at Old Harry Rocks and White Nothe. Seagrass beds, shell and gravel waves, and clean sand are found around Poole Bay. Other marine habitats include maerl (deep water calcareous seaweed), shell beds, and man-made structures such as wrecks and piers. Swanage Pier helps support a variety of fish and other sea creatures including the tompot blenny.

Visiting the Purbeck countryside

The sites below are managed by Dorset Council. The council also manages Eight Acre Wood in Bovington, Winfrith Newburgh picnic site and Pine Clump near Upton.

Share this page