Hartland Moor

Hartland Moor and its neighbouring heaths together form a tranquil oasis, ideal for getting away from it all to enjoy natural treasures and atmospheric views from the pages of a Thomas Hardy novel.

Corfe Castle is a brooding presence to the south, set against the background of the Purbeck Hills. 

Slepe Heath, to the north, came into our care in November 2014 – the National Trust’s largest lowland heath acquisition for a decade at the time - and it will take time to recover fully from its previous use as a forestry plantation.

Its strategic location forms a bridge linking Hartland Moor and Middlebere Heath to the south with neighbouring land managed by other conservation bodies.

Wessex landscape

The result is a single protected landscape where wildlife can thrive and visitors can glimpse Thomas Hardy’s fictional Egdon Heath, setting for The Return of the Native.

Meanwhile, Hartland and Middlebere make up a prime example of lowland heath where a unique Y-shaped drainage system allows both acid and alkaline-loving plants to thrive.

Hides overlook the heathland and Middlebere Lake, part of Poole Harbour. Bird-watching highlights include migrating ospreys in spring and autumn, hen harriers, hobbies, woodlark, stonechats and meadow pipits, with large flocks of avocets and Brent geese resident throughout the winter.

Spot birds from hides overlooking the heathland and harbour
The Hart Hide on Hartland Moor, Dorset
Spot birds from hides overlooking the heathland and harbour

Rare plants range from marsh gentian and bog orchid to Dorset heath – a type of heather adopted as the county flower in 2002.

Industrial heritage

The Middlebere Plateway was the first railway in Dorset when it was built across Hartland Moor in 1805 to transport ball clay from workings near Corfe Castle to Poole Harbour.

Follow the route of the Middlebere Plateway
The route of the Middlebere Plateway in Purbeck, Dorset
Follow the route of the Middlebere Plateway

The horse-drawn plateway, Middlebere Quay where it terminated and the clay pits themselves are all disused now, but are visible reminders of Purbeck’s industrial past.

The Swanage Steam Railway still runs to nearby Norden via Corfe Castle and there are plans to reconnect it to the main line using existing tracks.

Hartland Moor is grazed by our own herd of Red Devon cattle, which helps prevent the delicate habitat from being taken over by scrub and allows heathland species to thrive.

Following the Slepe acquisition, which was made possible by a legacy for the purchase of unspoiled countryside or coastline in Dorset, there are plans to extend the grazing area to include neighbouring heaths.

Hartland and Middlebere are included in the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) as well as being a national nature reserve.