Area: 411.25 hectares

Description and reasons for notification: 

Despite major reductions in size due to urban development in recent years, Canford Heath remains one of the largest heathland areas in Dorset. Development has consumed much of the lower-lying ground; the remaining heathland of Canford and Dunyeat’s Hill occupies more elevated land on the acidic sands of the Bagshot Beds, overlain in part with Plateau Gravel. The site supports a number of the rare and local species characteristic of Dorset heathland. 

Most of the heathland communities are of the dry or humid type with heather Calluna vulgaris, bell heather Erica cinerea, bristle bent Agrostis curtisii, purple moor-grass Molinia caerulea and cross-leaved heath Erica tetralix. As on other heathland fragments in this part of the Poole Basin, the principal gorse species is western gorse Ulex gallii, though all three species of gorse are resent. bracken Pteridium aquilinum occurs in association with peripheral stands of downy birch Betula pubescens, pedunculate oak Quercus robur and Scots and maritime pines Pinus sylvestris and P. maritime, and in the drier valleys with richer soils. 

Where drainage is impeded there are small areas of wet heath and bog in valley bottoms and along seepage features. Heather, cross-leaved heath and purple moor-grass are associated here with deergrass Trichophorum cespitosum, bog asphodel Narthecium ossifragum, common cottongrass Eriophorum angustifolium, white beak-sedge Rhyncospora alba and round-leaved and oblong-leaved sundews Drosera rotundifolia and D. intermedia. The rare Dorset heath Erica ciliaris occurs here in its most easterly recorded station and there is a range of bog mosses Sphagnum species, including the local S. magellanicum and very restricted S. pulchrum. There are several small bog pools and running water features. 

The diversity of heathland vegetation types supports a corresponding range of heathland fauna. In dry heathland the rare sand lizard Lacerta agilis occurs, as does the similarly rare smooth snake Coronella austriaca. Both are specially protected species.* The Dartford warbler Sylvia undata, a rare and restricted bird of southern heathland, breeds here in nationally significant numbers. Other scarce heathland breeding birds at this site include nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus, hobby Falco subbuteo and woodlarLullula arborea. Although wet heath and bog is limited in extent, the dragonfly fauna of Canford and Dunyeat’s Hill is typically rich and includes the local small red damselfly Ceriagrion tenellum and keeled skimmer Orthetrum caerulescens and the rare scarce ischnura Ischnura pumilio. Other invertebrates of this site include: heath grasshopper Chorthippus vagans, a nationally rare species confined to certain heaths in East Dorset/West Hampshire; bog bush-cricket Metrioptera brachyptera, a local species of wet heathland; woodland grasshopper Omocestus rufipes, a local species, here in wood/heath edge; and silver-studded blue butterfly Plebejus argus, a declining heathland species. 

*These species are listed in Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.