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WILDLIFE IN DORSET
England
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Map from Lycos @ 1:25,000
Map from Lycos @ 1:25,000

The natural climax vegetation of Dorset is, as is true for the rest of the British Isles, mixed woodland, even if the primeaval woodlands of much of the county were somewhat sparse on account of the sandy nature of the soils and their lack of nutrients. The activities of man and his domesticated animals have profoundly altered the landscape of Dorset since Neolithic man's arrival after the recession of the glaciers of the last ice age.

Having cleared the majority of Dorset's land of woodland, man continued to harvest the heathlands which were created on the poor soils and deplete them further of nutrients to favour the heathland vegetation which survived on such meagre fare as was available. At the mid-18thcentury, this heathland economy ensured that the huge swathes of Dorset's heaths covered about half of the county. Since that time, there has been a dramatic decrease in the extent of the heathland which has been matched by the fragmentation of the areas which are left.

During the last three decades of the 20th century saw a huge swing in attitude towards Dorset's habitats; they are now seen as something valuable and worth preserving for future generations rather than as wilderness to be tamed. Despite this, all types of habitat are threatened in Dorset, not least by the pressures of a growing population in this densely populated part of the world. This is particularly so in the east of the county where not only have the ancient towns of Christchurch and Poole grown rapidly but Bournemouth has mushroomed into a huge connurbation within a few centuries. Not only is there constant demand for land for housing, transport and industry, but the inhabitants of these centers of population seek their recreation in the Dorset countryside causing a threat by the shear pressure of their numbers.

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Conservation of Wildlife and Habitats

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Insects

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The natural climax vegetation of the British Isles is mixed woodland and if grasslands are not to be lost to the natural succession of scrub and woodland then they need to be grazed.

The National Trust owns large tracts of grassland in Dorset on the Purbeck Coast and at Godlingston Hill and Ballard Down. One of the biggest problems which the National Trust encounter in managing these grasslands is the encroachment of gorse or furze. The Trust has tackled this, initially, by cutting and burning the gorse, followed by grazing the grasslands with cattle specially released for the purpose.

Much of Ballard Down was arable agricultural land which the National Trust commenced restoring to grassland in 1976 by seeding grasses and encouraging other wild plants to colonise the area naturally.

The Trust also manages coastal limestone grasslands at Dancing Ledge, Seacombe and Spyway Farm. On these sites the problem is to control the spread of tor grass. This has been achieved with the introduction of Exmoor ponies which, by their grazing, not only maintain the traditional grassland landscapes here but also encourage such rare plants as the early spider orchid.

see also;   GRASSLANDS

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The natural climax vegetation of the British Isles is mixed woodland and if grasslands are not to be lost to the natural succession of scrub and woodland then they need to be grazed.

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HEATHLAND
Because of the variety of uses that Dorset's heathlands have been put to, there are abundant waters which amphibians require for breeding but the majority of them are unsuitable due to their high acidity. Only the palmate newt (Triturus helveticus) seems to favour such conditions and is Dorset's most common heathland amphibian.

HEATHLAND & SAND DUNES
The very rare natterjack toad (Bufo calamita), like the
sand lizard (Lacerta agilis), favours heathlands and coastal dunes. Although it still survives in such habitats in other counties and did breed in Dorset naturally, it has been successfully re-introduced at two sites in the county (one of which it was recorded at in the past).

PONDS
The food supply offered by ponds attracts frogs and newts.

see also:   REPTILES   (below)

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HEATHLANDS
Dorset's heathlands are rather poor in butterflies although they have fascinating species such as the
siler-studded blue. Despite the lack of butterflies, the heaths are very rich in moths.

THE GRAYLING   (Hipparchia semele)
This large grey-mottled butterfly is perfectly camouflaged as its sits on the bare heathland soil until it is disturbed when it will alight to settle again nearby.

THE GREEN HAIRSTREAK   (Callophrys rubi)
Britain's only green butterfly, the green hairstreak is encountered in Dorset's heathlands as its larvae feed on broom and gorse.

THE SILVER-STUDDED BLUE   (Plebejus argus)
Like the large blue (Maculinea arion), the silver-studded blue butterfly has a complex and fascinating life-cycle. After hatching, the larvae feed on young heather and gorse but are later taken down into the nests of black heathland ants of the species Lasius alienus or L. niger. Having pupated in the ant nest, the emerging adults fly over only short distances.

Colonies of the butterfly are localised on immature dry to wet heathland; an environment which suits both the butterflies and the ants. It is also found in similar conditions in Dorset's calcareous grasslands, especially the limestone grasslands of the Isle of Portland.

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All six native British reptiles may befound on Dorset's Heathlands and are attracted to sandy clearings in mature pine plantations.

HEATHLAND
All six native British reptiles can be found on Dorset's heathland and the county is estimated to hold some eighty per cent of our sand lizards (Lacerta agilis) and about ninety per cent of the smooth snake (Coronella austriaca) which is Britain's rarest reptile.

WOODLAND CLEARINGS
The comparative warmth of old stumps in woodland clearings attracts the adder (Vipera berus) and the grass snake (Natrix natrix). Toads are not unusual.

see also:   AMPHIBIANS   (above)

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1983Sand Smelt (Atherina presbyter) studied in Fleet Lagoon, Dorset
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