Cliffs, quarries and orchids

Strip lynchets in South Purbeck, Dorset

The distinctive natural community of south Purbeck is adapted to its limestone geology, while dry stone walls define a farming culture which still depends on traditional methods.

The Purbeck stone forms a distinctive landscape of towering sea cliffs topped by grassland rich in nature. This also provided the economic foundations of the area for centuries.

South Purbeck is easily explored via a network of rights of way including the South West Coast Path and the Priest’s Way, both of which offer spectacular sea views.

Limestone from South Purbeck has been prized by masons since Roman times. It was used in virtually all the great cathedrals of southern England, including Westminster Abbey, and closer to home in the construction of Corfe Castle.

A once thriving quarrying industry continues at a reduced scale today, while older workings have become cherished parts of the landscape.

Traditional grazing methods have preserved a landscape of typical limestone grassland criss-crossed by dry stone walls. The hillside terraces called strip lynchets near Winspit date from medieval times and were used to provide more farmland.


The area is rich in plantlife, including the rare early spider orchid. The field to the west of Dancing Ledge is the best site in Britain to spot this tiny jewel when it flowers in late April or early May.

Wildflowers including horseshoe vetch and cowslips provide splashes of colour in spring and summer, as well as attracting rare butterflies like the Adonis blue and Lulworth skipper. 

Puffins, guillemots and razorbills make their nests on the cliffs below.