Natural England - Hartland Moor NNR

Hartland Moor NNR

This picturesque corner of Dorset is famous for its spectacular mosaic of open heathland and bogs which support some of England’s rarest wildlife.

Hartland Moor NNR © Natural England/Nick Squirrell

Where: Isle of Purbeck, Dorset. Hartland Moor forms part of the unique landscape of the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The reserve is adjacent to Stoborough Heath NNR and is managed as one contiguous unit.

Main habitats: Lowland heath made up of dry heath and valley mire.

Other designations: The majority of this National Nature Reserve is also designated as Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSI), Special Area of Conservation (SAC), Special Area of Conservation (SPA) and Ramsar.

Why visit: The only way to really experience this unique habitat is to see it in all its moods; from the height of summer when it is at its most colourful, carpeted with pink and purple heather, to the frosty winter mornings when all the spiders’ webs sit frozen on the gorse.

Walk its sheer openness, taking in the stunning views of the surrounding countryside, including Poole Harbour and the ruins of Corfe Castle; follow part of an old mineral tramway that takes you across the moor, past grazing cattle and hardy ponies, and watch for rare wildlife like visiting Hen harriers.

A visit to Hartland Moor can be special at any time of the year as every day is different in this extraordinary place, but to see the outstanding array of wildflowers and bird migrants, come for a visit between May and August.

Star species: Hartland Moor is a site of national and European importance for its lowland heathland which supports insects, reptiles and birds that are rarely found elsewhere and supports many specialised plants and animals.

Typical plants found on site are ling, cross-leaved heath, bell heather, bog asphodel, white beak sedge, western gorse, and rarities such as Dorset heath, marsh gentian and bog orchid. Heathland insects include rare heath and large marsh grasshoppers, and the site supports birds such as Dartford warbler, hobby, meadow pipit, stonechat, nightjar and hen-harrier.


Hartland Moor once belonged to the Bankes and Encombe Estate and is today part owned by the National Trust and managed together with Natural England as one unit. It was declared a National Nature Reserve in 1954.

The most distinctive feature of Hartland Moor and the highest point on the Reserve is the Great Knoll or Hartnoll Barrow at a height of 34 metres, which is a probable Bronze Age round barrow. An archaeological survey carried out by the National Trust some years ago also revealed a series of enclosure banks and ditches straddling Snag Valley, believed to be of Roman-British or Prehistoric origin.

There is a disused mineral tramway on the Reserve which now forms part of the Hartland Way. The tramway was constructed in the early 1800s to carry ball clay from nearby pits to Middlebere Quay on the shores of Poole Harbour.

In 1976 almost all Hartland Moor suffered a severe summer fire, which raged for three days and decimated the wildlife.


The Dorset Heaths occur in a geological formation usually called the Poole Basin. The edge and bottom of the Basin is formed by chalk, whilst within it lie gravels, sands, silts and subordinate clays, deposited approximately 60-40 million years ago.

These sands and gravels give rise to well-drained soils which are partly responsible for the development of the various habitats of the heath. The area is partly underlain by the Wytch Farm Oilfield, the largest onshore oilfield in the UK, producing oil from Triassic and Lower Jurassic reservoirs deep below.

For more information about Purbeck’s clay railways visit Purbeck Mineral and Mining Museumexternal link.

A mosaic of vegetation types

A visit to the National Nature Reserve reveals the complex wonder of lowland heath, its different habitats classified according to the dampness of the soils and the plants that grow on them.

Valley mire or bog: Mire or bog is the mixture of plants dominated by mosses that grow in the acidic water-logged peat of the valley bottoms. Typical mire plants such as bog asphodel, white and brown beak sedges and various sphagnum mosses occur in the mires on Stoborough Heath.

Dry heath: Dry heath has formed on the sandiest areas of the Reserve and bell heather, ling or common heather and dwarf gorse dominate.

Wet heath: Where the soils are more peaty and damp a wider variety of plants can survive. These areas are dominated by cross-leaved heath and the very rare and beautiful Dorset heath. Other plants you may see on wet heath are the unmistakeable bright blue trumpets of the nationally rare marsh gentian or the pink spikes of semi-parasitic lousewort.

Road verges and tracks: The verges of the heath are rich with wildflowers, such as marsh orchids, yellow rattle and marsh helleborines as well as the adders tongue fern, in spring and summer.

For more information about Dorset’s heathland visit the dorsetforyou websiteexternal link


Heathland of differing heights and ages is of value to different wildlife. Small numbers of cattle and ponies forage widely over the heath and are a suitable management tool. By grazing the vigorous tussocks of purple moor grass are kept in check, reducing the swamping effect on smaller plants. Patches of bare soil created by trampling provide the ideal habitat for various invertebrates and plants in a more widespread and local way than the best efforts of any Reserve Manager. Gorse and birch are kept in check by the grazing actions of the cattle and ponies, as well as by rotational clearance by Reserve Managers and volunteers.

Without continuing this management the heath would be invaded and the heathers shaded out by birch and gorse. Indeed, for a large part of the twentieth century there was no grazing on the heath and studies showed drastic declines in some rare heathland plants.

Other aspects of the heathland that require management are maintenance of firebreaks, the edges of which are rotavated. These areas of closely cropped vegetation and/or bare ground not only help arrest the spread of fire but, along with sandy banks and open tracks, also provide bare sand habitat. Such features are a particularly important feature of the Reserve, especially for rare burrowing bees and wasps, and green tiger beetles, which bask on the bare sand.

Looking after the heaths

We aim to care for wildlife − here’s how you can help:

  • Please do not light fires or discard spent matches or cigarettes.

  • Please take your litter home with you.

  • The cattle are docile but dogs can make them defensive. If the cattle crowd around you, let your dog off the lead.

  • Dogs can disturb wildlife and stock. Please keep your pets under effective control at all times. They must be kept on a short lead while on Open Access ground between March 1 and July 31 and all year-round when near farm animals. Please clean up after your dog.

  • Please leave all gates as you find them.

  • No camping.

  • To protect wildlife, cycling and horse riding are only allowed on marked routes.

How to get there

Hartland Moor is on the south side of Poole Harbour, two miles south east of Wareham.

On foot

There are a number of walks and trails that cross the NNR. The reserve is listed as part of the Fieldfare Trust's Millennium Milesexternal link project as having disabled access via the Hartland Way, a 410 metre track that follows Scotland Road - the path of a disused tramline. The path is accessed via a gate opposite the turning to Middlebere Farm, and includes a birdwatching hide.

By train

The nearest train station is in Warehamexternal link served by South West Trains. A seasonal steam locomotive service between Norden and Swanage (10 km to the south east) is provided by the Swanage Railwayexternal link.

By bus

Local bus services connecting Wareham and Swanage pass near the reserve on the A351. Contact the Wilts and Dorset Bus Companyexternal link for details. Bus services to Wareham are also provided by First Groupexternal link.

By car

The site is accessed via minor roads from the A351. Local villages include Arne, Stoborough Green, Ridge and Norden. The nearest car parks are in Norden (3 km to the south), Arne and Ridge.

Visiting the reserve

The nearest toilet and refreshment facilities are in local villages. There are signs to assist visitors and leaflets are available on-site.

Other nearby attractions

Among other spots worth a visit are the RSPB nature reserve at Arne, Studland Heath (National Trust) and Durlston National Nature Reserves (Dorset County Council) and the majestic ruins of Corfe Castle.

Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour is managed by the National Trust and Dorset Wildlife Trust, with regular ferries from Studland and Poole Quay. The eastern most edge of Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beautyexternal link (AONB) is nearby.

Further information

For more information contact Natural England Enquiries, tel. 0845 600 3078 or email