”Dorset’s biggest heathland benefits the public, livestock and wildlife’

September 9, 2018


NATIONAL ASSET: Heathland is a rare and restricted habitat that needs careful management and conservation designation. Only 15 per cent of the original heathland in Dorset (like this) survives and only occurs where there is a suitable soil and a temperate climate.


RESOURCE EFFICIENT: These Shetland and British White cattle near Gravel Hill are the natural lawn mowers for the management of the reserve. They are good browsers and readily take out willow, birch, bramble and gorse. They are part of a 30-strong herd used by the Dorset Urban Heaths Grazing Partnership. A piece of advice to walkers reading this, make sure you keep and especially your pet well away from any cattle that have calves as their inclination may be to attack if you get too close.



WALKERS PARADISE: There is a network of footpaths and bridleways across Canford Heath that are used by walkers and their dogs, horse riders, cyclists and runners.

RUNNING AMOK: This is a view of the heath where it reverts to birch and a thick undergrowth where it has been left to the elements, and shows how grazing is crucial for the management of the heathland.



RESIDENTS across east Dorset sometimes don’t always appreciate what is right on their doorstep.

Canford Heath is one of the largest remaining heaths in the county is 850 acres in size or 380 hectares. This is the equivalent of 532 Wembley Stadium-size football pitches.

The heathland is in the northern part of the Borough of Poole and is five kilometres from the centre of town and on a clear day there are views of the Purbecks and the harbour.

Heathland is a SSSI and special protection area

The heath separates the original town from the farmland settlements of the Stour Valley to the north. This included the parkland setting of Canford School and the original house of Lord Wimborne that included Canford Heath.
Much of the heathland is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is part of the Dorset Heathland Special Protection Area.

It is the largest lowland heath in the country and is home to all three species of lizard – sand lizard, common lizard and the slow worm – and snakes – the adder, the smooth snake and the grass snake.

Other rare species the heathland is home too include the Dartford warbler, the nightjar, damselflies and dragonflies. From a flora perspective, the floor of the heath is dominated by purple-coloured Common and bell heather and the yellow flowers of the Western Gorse.

Many of the pictures that are being used with this article have been taken from access to the Gravel Hill lay-by that is along the road that heads between Poole and Wimborne.

‘Heath has a good network of footpaths’

There are other roads locally where lay-bys are available for walkers to use but these are limited. Out of respect for residents in these areas, I don’t want to draw too much attention as to where these are.

Other access points that walkers and cyclists can access the heath are at Culliford Crescent, near the big Asda supermarket and Francis Avenue.

‘Site is under a 10-year management conservation plan’

The management of the heathland is part of a 10-year management plan and this includes staff ensuring that the heather is protected ahead of other invasive plants as it is crucial for the survival of the unique wlldlife. Rare breed cattle are also used as part of the management system.

In the document that details the work to be carried out in the 10-year management plan that was initiated in 2010 low-intensive extensive grazing is integral to it as well as control of scrub and trees.

The eight years this management has been in existence has seen the heaths and mires maintained as an open landscape where the flora and fauna has flourished. This management has given it the sturdiness to withstand its urban fringe location and intensive recreational use.

Under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CROW) footpaths and bridleways are available to walkers, horse riders, runners and cyclists. The network of paths (particularly from Gravel Hill) have access points with gates, some of which may be suitable for disabled access.

‘Using heathland products would help manage habitat’

There are some barrows on the heath that are classed as Scheduled Ancient Monuments and there are some also elderly noble pines that were planted in the 19th Century that linked ornamental drives from Canford House to the town.

The management plan states that local communities used to have heathland products such as fuel from gorse or turf, small timber or bracken for animal bedding and these activities had a direct impact on maintaining the heathland habitat and its wildlife, and these need to be replicated or repeated through modern management.

Natural England says grazing is integral for the management of heathland as it would quickly revert to pine and birch with a thick under storey of bramble and rhododendron.

For the benefit of the vocal minority in the vegan lobby who campaign to shut down the livestock industry, this is what the rare breed Dorset White and Shetland cattle do for this heathland and brings forth the consequences for this special environment if they are not there to fulfil this role.

The grazing prevents scrub and trees from taking over and creates a patchwork quilt of vegetation heights and bare ground for the benefit of ground-nesting birds and other wildlife species; dominant grasses are controlled giving rare plants a change to grow and the dung from the 30-strong herd is used in the life-cycle of invertebrates such as the rare Hornet Robber fly.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Nick Connell October 2, 2018 at 5:29 pm

The local heaths are a great place to spend a bit of time but please take nothing away apart from your memories and leave nothing behind.


Steve Hayhurst October 2, 2018 at 5:30 pm

It gets mentioned quite often by Poole Planning Dept when planning permission is dependant on a ‘voluntary ‘ contribution to the heathland protection fund.Even if the development isn’t near the heath
Quite ironic when the same council approved building on so much of it


Liz Smith October 2, 2018 at 5:31 pm

It’s lovely, but did you know there are lizards and snakes on turbary park common as well.


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