A vision in violet: Brownsea Island to restore prehistoric heathlands - National Trust

An ancient purple landscape that once carpeted swathes of the south coast of England is set to be restored on Brownsea Island to improve prospects for rare wildlife.

The Dorset island, famous for its red squirrel population, will undergo a five-year transformation to expand fragments of neolithic heathland in what will be one of the most ambitious conservation projects in the site’s history.

Heathlands were widespread in England for centuries, formed by farmers to graze their animals and kept alive by people cutting gorse and heather for fuel. The undulating purple hills provided inspiration for the likes of Thomas Hardy, who based the fictional Egdon Heath in Return of the Native on the untamed heaths of Dorset.

But a drive for productivity in the 20th century saw these wild landscapes lost in favour of dense forests and farmland. Today, only one sixth of the UK’s old lowland heath remains – and much of it exists in isolated pockets, surrounded by towns and cities.

Now, a project by the National Trust and Dorset Wildlife Trust aims to breathe new life into the ancient habitat on Brownsea Island, with funding from the Government’s Countryside Stewardship Scheme.

Tim Hartley, Lead Ranger for the National Trust, said: “Brownsea has a rich and fascinating past and our heathlands are an important part of that history. But over the centuries, the habitat has shrunk and become fragmented. Through this project we want to enlarge those pockets of heathland and knit them back together. Heathlands depend on human intervention for their survival and what we’re doing is mimicking the work of our ancestors to make sure that the landscape, and the wildlife that depends on it, is still here in centuries to come.”

The restoration involves cutting heather from existing patches and scattering the cuttings across bare soil – from which new heather will grow. Seed will also be collected from the mainland areas of Purbeck Heaths National Nature Reserve (NNR) – England’s first super NNR and the largest heathland nature reserve in England, of which Brownsea is part of.

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Posted On: 21/03/2022

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