More than 200 acres of the sort of wild and windswept heathland that inspired Dorset’s most famous writer, Thomas Hardy, has been acquired by the National Trust. Slepe Heath in Dorset is the largest area of lowland heath that the Trust has acquired for more than a decade.
The magical Slepe Heath in Dorset. A landscape that inspired Dorset’s most famous writer, Thomas Hardy. Credit: National Trust/Will Wilkinson.
As part of a conservation vision inspired by the landscapes featured in the novels of Thomas Hardy, Slepe Heath will connect the protected lowland heath of Hartland Moor, already looked after by the National Trust and Natural England, and the Arne reserve, owned by the RSPB.
A former forestry plantation, the 240 acres of heathland is a haven for wildlife attracting rare birds such as Dartford warblers, nightjars and woodlark.
Along with rare wildlife, visitors to Slepe Heath, which rises 30 metres above its low-lying surroundings, are treated to breathtakingly panoramic views taking in Corfe Castle, Poole Harbour and the Purbeck Hills.
Laurie Clark, National Trust Purbeck General Manager, said: “Slepe Heath is somewhere you can get that little bit closer to a true wildness. It’s a magical and wonderfully atmospheric place where visitors can experience Hardy’s fictional Egdon Heath, the setting for the Return of the Native.
“Dorset’s heathland is among its crown jewels in terms of both wildlife and landscape. By looking after Slepe Heath we can ensure that this heathland remains open and protected for everyone to continue to enjoy.”
The previously separated Hartland Moor and the Arne reserve have been protected by conservation cattle grazing. This £650,000 acquisition, which was made possible by a legacy for the purchase of unspoiled countryside or coastline in Dorset, means that the two sites can be united into a single grazing area, as envisaged under the Wild Purbeck Nature Improvement Area announced by the Government in 2012.
Wild Purbeck is one of 12 Nature Improvement Areas across the country, designated with the aim of bringing significant benefits to nature conservation at a landscape level.
As well as Hartland Moor, the National Trust also manages nearby Studland and Godlingston Heaths. All three are national nature reserves.