Down on the historic Dorset coast, we’re working on an area at Studland covering over 230 hectares of dunes and heathland. The dunes in the Studland system have been built up by wind-blown sand over the past 400-500 years and at the northern end of the peninsula, dunes are still growing at a rate of around 1m per year. There are four clear dune ridges here and they make this a great site to see how dunes progress over time, a process known as succession: furthest from the beach, the older mature dunes are covered in gorse and birch scrub, heather has flourished creating a beautiful region of dune heather, and younger embryo dunes by the sea at Shell Bay still have bare, shifting sand.
Our work on the Dorset coast is taking place at the beautiful and historic Studland coast, part of the new Purbeck Heaths NNR. The project here is led by National Trust.
Studland is a site that is visited by millions of people every year. It’s often described as a place where time stands still – but when we look at maps and photos from the past we can see that the opposite is true! In fact, much of the wildlife that is unique to Studland depends on the dunes being open, sandy and constantly changing.
The trees, moss and dense scrub that have covered our older dunes have stabilised the sand, changing the habitat so that some of our specialised dune wildlife are no longer able to live there. We’re re-introducing a small herd of grazing cattle to keep some of the vegetation on the older dunes and heath low, as it’s grown very quickly since cattle were removed from the landscape in 1940, which will help bring these areas back to the ideal conditions for dune wildlife.
The beach is often the main attraction but the dunes behind it are a fantastic place to explore and go for a walk and enjoy the beautiful dune trails. By following one of our 800m trails, you can travel across over 400 years of dune accretion! As the dunes and the peninsula here have grown, a 33 hectare freshwater lake, known as Little Sea, has become separated from the sea. Carp were illegally introduced into the lake and have changed the lake chemistry and habitat, so we’re working now to reduce their numbers and restore the lake to its former glory.
Wildlife you might see in Dorset
On sunny days you might see sand lizards or rare smooth snakes sunbathing on patches of sand or bare ground.
Studland is also an important site for many bird species, including the beautiful nightjar, and the brown speckled meadow pipit which can be seen ‘parachuting’ over their nests in the spring.
The dune heath is home to important species of fungus and lichen, including the sand earthtongue fungus which is only found here, and the light green reindeer lichen which forms clusters in shapes similar to reindeer antlers.
As far as insects go, Studland sees plenty of dragonflies during the summer months such as the four-spotted chaser, and is home to the highest density of heath tiger beetle in the UK.
Meet Your Friendly Face in Dorset
People Engagement Officer, National Trust
When I enter the dunes, I could be anywhere in the world. I feel a sense of true wilderness as the sand towers over me and the birds take to the skies. I love to kick up the sand and find new trails off the main path. We now know that such disturbance is critical to maintain the dunes’ ever moving state. I am so excited to be part of this new approach to nature conservation, where the dunes need people and people most certainly need the dunes.
You can get involved!
We are planning a whole host of events, guided walks, nature talks, citizen science projects, volunteering and training or work experience opportunities for the whole community to get involved in.
We’ll also be offering opportunities for local schools to explore the dunes and learn about the importance of sand dune habitats and species. We will regularly update our events page on this website, so remember to check back often to see what we’ve added to our exciting calendar!