Dorset’s World Heritage Coastline is renowned for its dramatic scenery and geological importance, attracting thousands of visitors each year. But the coast is also an important area for wildlife, supporting sea birds, wild flowers and even offering the chance of seeing dolphins!
Coastal habitats include cliffs, undercliffs, shingle bars, sand dunes, saltmarshes and estuaries. The cliffs are home to many wildflowers specially adapted to cope with the wind and salt spray, such as sea campion, thrift and sea lavender. On the less accessible cliff ledges, sea birds like puffins, guillemots, kittiwakes and fulmars nest.
Undercliffs, formed from land that has slipped down the cliff, are an important refuge for wildlife. The most famous undercliffs are near Lyme Regis, called the Spittles and Black Ven, but there are many others along the coast.
One of the best-known features of the Dorset Coast is Chesil Beach, a great bank of shingle which extends from West Bay near Bridport to Weymouth. The shingle supports a variety of colourful wildflowers, such as sea pea, yellow horned poppy and sea kale. The sand dunes of Studland are a National Nature Reserve, again supporting many species.
Poole Harbour supports over 28,000 birds and is an internationally important area for birds, supporting wintering populations of avocet, shelduck and black-tailed godwit. Brownsea Island, one of several islands in the harbour, is home to a huge variety of wildlife, including one of the few remaining colonies of red squirrels in England.
Top Coastal Sites to Visit
- Abbotsbury Swannery / Chesil Beach PRIVATE OWNER
- Arne RSPB
- Ballard Down and Old Harry NT
- Brownsea Island DWT / NT
- Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre
- Durlston Country Park DCC/NT
- Ferrybridge / Chesil Beach WPBC
- Golden Cap NT
- Lulworth Cove / Heritage Centre PRIVATE OWNER
- Purbeck Marine Nature Reserve DWT
- Studland NE / NT
- West Bexington DWT
Look out for special events – RSPB winter bird boats round Poole Harbour from Poole Quay, Dorset County Council summer boat trips from Swanage to see puffins and guillemots. Visit the i-coast website to find out more.
Threats to the Coast
- Recreation pressure is considerable and can damage wildlife habitats
- Pollution and litter can affect marine and coastal wildlife