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Ponies, pigs and cattle boost biodiversity on England’s first 'Super' National Nature Reserve

The coast of the super NNR at Purbeck during sunset, with a silhouetted black tree at the left hand side.
Purbeck Super NNR in Dorset at Little Sea | © National Trust Images / John Miller

Three years after declaring the Purbeck Heaths as England’s first ever 'Super' National Nature Reserve (or 'Super' NNR), we are taking next steps in making this important area for UK wildlife even more nature-rich by creating an open grazing ‘savannah’.

The new ‘savannah’ will span about half of the 'Super' NNR, opening up a 1,370-hectare area where ponies, pigs, cattle and even deer can roam and graze freely and naturally shape an even more diverse and thriving landscape.

Grazing like their extinct ancestors would have done thousands of years ago, the nifty animals will help a wide range of wildlife such as sand lizards, southern damselflies, heath tiger beetles and many other species to prosper in this precious heathland landscape.

What makes the Purbeck ‘Super’ NNR so special?

In March 2020, seven organisations - Natural England, RSPB, Forestry England, Rempstone Estate, Dorset Wildilfe Trust, Amphibian & Reptile Conservation and us – joined forces to ‘knit together’ 3,400 hectares of important habitats to help protect the area's delicate ecosystems, forming the Purbeck 'Super' NNR.

The Purbeck Heaths super reserve consists of a rich mosaic of lowland wet and dry heath, valley mires, acid grassland and woodland, along with coastal sand dunes, lakes and saltmarsh, making it one of the most biodiverse places in the UK. It is also home to thousands of species of wildlife, including all six native reptiles - adder, grass snake, slow worm, sand lizard, smooth snake and viviparous lizard.

A view over Purbeck Heaths with yellow flowers in the forefront and a big boulder in the middle of the image.
Purbeck Super NNR - Godlingston Heath in Dorset | © National Trust Images / John Miller

Purbeck’s hooved custodians

The ponies, pigs and cattle are curious animals that explore the landscape, browsing and turning over the soil in many different ways and thereby creating new and improved habitats for a variety of different species, much like their ancestors have done in the past.

Exmoor ponies roaming on the moorland of Holnicote Estate, Somerset in summer with green fields and a blue sky behind them
Exmoor ponies during the summer | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Exmoor Ponies

Ponies nibble tightly down to the ground, creating grassland lawns full of specialist flowers such as storksbill and waxcap fungi.

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We can’t bring back aurochs, the native ancestors of our domestic cattle, but we can use our 200 Red Devon cattle to graze and behave in equivalent ways. Similarly, Exmoor ponies mimic the actions of now-extinct tarpan horses, and the quirky, curly coated Mangalitsa pigs are rooting around like wild boars.

A quote by David BrownNational Trust Lead Ecologist for Purbeck

Successes of the ‘Super’ NNR

Since its declaration in 2020...

  • Ospreys have bred on the edge of the NNR for the first time in 200 years
  • The highest-ever number of silver-studded blue butterflies has been recorded after 45 years of monitoring
  • Rare plants, like marsh gentians, great sundews and pale dog violets are thriving
  • A white-tailed eagle now regularly soars over the reserve

View of a river running through a valley of mountains

Nature needs you more than ever

From peaceful woodlands to dramatic coastlines and rolling hills, nature has always been there for us when we've needed it. However, climate change is accelerating the decline of these places of calm. You can help give nature hope for tomorrow by donating today.

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