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Dorset heaths conservation issues

Urban pressures

Nearly a third of Dorset's internationally important heathland is situated in the urban areas of south east Dorset, with nearly half a million people living nearby.

These urban heaths experience particular problems including:

  • arson uncontrolled and deliberately set fires destroy wildlife and habitat and put lives at risk
  • trampling of rare plants and animals
  • erosion of vegetation and the sandy heathland soil
  • disturbance of ground-nesting birds such as nightjars and woodlarks
  • enrichment of the soil by dog faeces
  • fly-tipping of rubbish and garden refuse
  • predation of rare animals by domestic pets

The aim of the Urban Heaths Partnership is to promote positive behaviours on heathland and conserve wildlife for future generations. 

Research shows intensity of urban pressures increases with proximity and density of residential development. Research by Natural England, The Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions amongst others, is referred to in Annex 1 of the Dorset Interim Planning Framework: Natural England's Advice Note, summarised by Natural England - Dorset Heathlands.


The remaining urban heaths are mainly small, fragmented and isolated from each other by roads, houses, shops and factories. This can make the wildlife that live there especially vulnerable to decline or extinction. If lost from one area, recolonisation may be slow or impossible unless aided by a helping hand. 

People pressure

People use the heaths for recreational activities such as dog walking and cycling. Staying on paths and bridleways helps to reduce erosion and trampling in sensitive areas. 

Dog faeces and garden refuse add unwanted nutrients to heathland soil. Disposing of them in the proper place means that heathland plants can grow in favourable conditions.

Illegal riding of motorbikes and scramblers erodes fragile heathland soil puts lives in danger on public open spaces. Any person caught riding a bike on a heathland in Dorset will be issued with a section 59 of the Road Traffic Act and risks having their motorbike crushed.

Arson is the biggest threat to heathland wildlife. Deliberate and accidental fires can destroy whole colonies of wildlife. Be careful with cigarette butts and do not use disposable BBQ's on heaths.

Human intervention

Traditionally, heaths were a cultural landscape maintained by human involvement. The agricultural use of heathland changed suddenly about 50 years ago as people no longer cut heather and gorse for fuel or grazed their cattle and ponies. Today land-managers and their volunteers are in a continual struggle to conserve the remaining fragments of heathland in Dorset.

There are many ways to help with the removal of unwanted vegetation such as rhododendron, leggy gorse, birch and pine. Contact us to find out about volunteering opportunities in your area.

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