Dorset heathland project

Dorset’s lowland heathland is a fragmented remnant of a once extensive landscape. In the early 1800s, heathland covered most of south-east Dorset.

Dartford warbler, Arne RSPB reserve, Dorset


Some 86 per cent of Dorset’s heathland has been lost since then and the surviving area is broken into more than 150 fragments.
Heathland is a cultural landscape, meaning it depends on human intervention for its survival. The heaths in Dorset were developed by Neolithic farmers and kept open by people grazing their livestock, cutting gorse for firewood and heather turfs for fuel. 
When agricultural use of Dorset’s heathland ended, this important habitat started to become neglected. Today, heaths are under constant threat of invasion by scrub. 
Project staff work with landowners to remove invasive scrub species and rejuvenate heather and gorse.  Pine, birch and rhododendron are cleared using chainsaws. Once felled, trees and scrub are removed from site.
This work is carried out during the winter months to avoid disturbance to nesting birds,. Priority is given to the areas worst affected by scrub, because these are in greatest danger of losing their characteristic wildlife.


  • Increase area of heathland by 5.6 square kilometres, by restoring to favourable condition.
  • Monitor results of management on bird numbers.
  • Offer habitat management services to local landowners.
  • Raise awareness of heathland within local community.

Key Dates

  • Initial target to increase the area of good heathland by 5.6 square kilometres reached in November 1996.
  • By 2006, we had completed around 13 square kilometres of heathland management.
  • Worked with around 50 landowners on 70 sites across Dorset.
  • Annual heathland festival established.
  • Involvement with local schools through the 'Christmas tree' scheme - Christmas trees from the heath were donated and information about heathland management given.
  • Various articles in local papers and magazines covering heathland management and heathland species.

Planned Work

The Dorset Heathland Project is still undertaking important habitat management work, now as a contractor. This work is not only confined to Dorset, but extends throughout the south coast and further afield. We carry out a range of conservation and habitat management services. 
We have extensive experience of working with protected sites and species and therefore offer specialist knowledge of working practices and legal requirements. We can put together the applications for all the necessary licences, permissions and grants.
Tel: 01929 556651


The Dorset Heathland Project has been highly successful. When it was set up in 1989, there were about 56 square kilometres of open heathland left in Dorset, together with a further 16 square kilometres which had been severely affected by the invasion of scrub and bracken. 
The initial target for the project was to increase the area of good heathland by 10 per cent (5.6 sq km) over a 10-year period (by 1999). This target was reached two years early, in November 1996. By 2006, we had completed around 13 square kilometres of heathland management. 
Regular monitoring has been undertaken of birds, invertebrates and plants and has shown an increase in available habitat and subsequent expansion in ranges.


In Dorset, many organisations and landowners are involved in restoring and maintaining heathland habitats. The RSPB has worked with many of the heathland owners during the last 20 years including all local councils and conservation organisations. 
Between 2000 and 2006, 13 organisations in Dorset, including the RSPB, have been working together as partners in the Hardy's Egdon Heath Project - the return of the native Dorset heathland.
The target of this ambitious project was to restore and secure the future management of 70 square kilometres of lowland heathland, including the removal of more than 10 square kilometres of scrub. It also planned to include 15 square kilometres of heathland in restorative grazing schemes.


The Dorset Heathland Project has received funding from BP, the EU Life Nature Fund, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Wildlife Guardians Scheme supported by the SITA Environmental Trust through the Landfill Communities Fund (formerly the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme), and Scottish and Southern Energy plc.


Coast on a stormy day

Wesley Parnell

Office manager, Dorset
Tagged with: Country: England Habitat: Heathland Species: Dartford warbler Species: Linnet Species: Nightjar Species: Stonechat Species: Woodlark Project status: Ongoing Project types: Advocacy Project types: Site protection Project types: Species protection