How we care for our special habitats
Over a million visitors come to enjoy Hengistbury Head each year - that’s a lot of footsteps on a fragile landscape.
The rangers and volunteers manage a constant balancing act between providing access for people and protecting the landscape, wildlife and archaeology that make this place so special.
We have a fascinating range of habitats that need our protection:
Now an internationally rare habitat, our heathland is home to some of the most interesting species on the reserve. Adders can be found basking in areas of open ground, Nightjars can be heard “churring” over them at dusk, the emerald coloured Green Tiger Beetle can be seen scurrying around looking for prey and dragonflies, including Emperors patrol the air for insects. At ground level, flowering plants including heathers, gorse and the insectivorous sundew make for a fascinating and beautiful landscape.
Consisting mainly of English oak and downy birch, this ancient semi-natural woodland grows in the shelter of Warren Hill. Bird species seen through here include black-caps, gold crests, fire crests and tawny owls. Little egrets and herons nest at the top of the tall non-native conifer trees which can be found slightly to the west of the woodland. Purple hairstreak butterflies can be seen fluttering around the tops of some of the trees, and the edge of the woodland that leads onto the salt marsh holds some interesting moth species.
Salt marshes are part-terrestrial, part-marine, and as such they are important to a vast array of different specialist species and groups. Our salt marsh contains open pools, these are visited by great numbers of feeding waders and water-fowl, these include snipe, redshank, godwits, little egrets and shelduck. The assemblage of plant species here is really interesting too, with glasswort, thrift, sea lavender and sea aster providing food-plants for an interesting array of invertebrates. Wasp spiders have been found within this area in good number.
A priority habitat, reedbeds are important for nesting bird species including bearded tits, reed buntings, cetti’s warblers, as well as a food source for kingfishers and birds of prey, specifically the marsh harrier. Managed through rotational cutting and burning, the reedbed also provides important over wintering habitat for mixed flocks of birds including starlings and tits, here they can find shelter from the weather and cover from predators. Our reedbed is also home to water rails and a host of moth species, including members of the Wainscot group.
This type of grasslands is now considered scarce. Managed by livestock grazing to prevent scrub, such as bramble, from taking over, this grassland provides an important food source for waders during the winter, when groups of Curlew can be found here daily. Also, the centre of most otter sightings on the reserve, these fields benefit from a lack of access, which means that the wildlife can thrive here undisturbed.
Having been grassland for several centuries, Barn Field qualifies as ancient grassland and contains a very special mix of wildflower species, this supports a great deal of insects including the many ant mounds belonging to the yellow meadow ant. The introduction of the cattle here has helped to protect and manage this area much more sensitively and birds such as the Skylark, which are a ground nesting species, now nest here in good number.
We have two areas of dunes at Hengistbury Head, one close to the area of car park and the other close to the Long Groyne. These constantly shifting habitats are an important home to many fragile species. Within the last decade, sand lizards, captively bred at Marwell, were translocated here in a joint project with the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust, the aim was to return a population to Hengistbury Head after they had previously disappeared. Natterjack toads also use this habitat to burrow into and the plant populations include some rarities, such as sea holly, prickly saltwort and sea knotgrass.
Find out more about our wildlife conservation work.