Area: 58.07 hectares.

Other Information:

A new site. Part adjoins Poole Harbour SSSI.
The site includes all of Luscombe Valley LNR which is managed by Poole Borough Council. 

Description and Reasons for Notification:

Luscombe Valley SSSI is part of the complex of heathland sites which together comprise the Dorset Heathlands. This is one of the major lowland heathland areas in Britain, with the sites showing a high degree of ecological cohesion and clear ecological trends and patterns. The heathlands are important in a European and international context for their plant and animal communities. 

The Luscombe Valley site lies in a narrow valley with an underlying geology of Branksome Sand, some river terrace deposits but mostly gravel head and alluvium. The site has been much altered, with its former heath and mire communities now fragmented and reduced in area. Such fragmentation has occurred throughout the Dorset heaths, with about 86% having been lost since the mid 18th century. Nonetheless this site still supports a range of important habitats with heath, acid grassland and mire communities within a matrix of pine woodland and the grassland of a close mown golf course. A small stream flows along the valley bottom and into Poole Harbour. Moving down the valley towards the harbour the habitats change from heathland and mire to freshwater reedbeds and finally to brackish habitats. 

At Evening Hill the site slopes down to the Poole Harbour shoreline. It is largely semi-natural and heathy in character. Here there is a mosaic of dry heath, acid grassland and scrub with some Scots pine Pinus sylvestris and maritime pine P. pinaster woodland. A fringe of grassland adjacent to Poole Harbour supports maritime species such as lyme grass Elymus arenarius, sea-purslane Halimione portulacoides, sea beet Beta vulgaris and the nationally rare Bermuda-grass Cynodon dactylon. 

Within Luscombe Valley there are extensive roughs and dry heath slopes on which heather Calluna vulgaris is widely dominant, with typical associated plants such as bell heather Erica cinerea, bristle bent Agrostis curtisii, common gorse Ulex europaeus. Western gorse U. gallii is also common, a distinctive feature of the Dorset heaths lying north of Poole Harbour. Much of the fairways are unimproved acid grassland with common bent Agrostis capillaris, bristle bent and heath-grass Danthonia decumbens which is locally frequent. Sheep’s bit Jasione montana, common cat’s ear Hypochaeris radicata and sheep’s sorrel Rumex acetosella are also present. Scots pine and maritime pine with birch Betula sp. and bracken Pteridium aquilinum are the dominant species of the surrounding woodland. 

On the valley floor there is an area of species rich mire vegetation. This is characterised by a variety of bog mosses including Sphagnum magellanicum and the nationally scarce S. pulchrum, and other plants such as bog asphodel Narthecium ossifragum, white beak-sedge Rhynchospora alba, common cotton grass Eriophorum angustifolium and oblong-leaved sundew Drosera intermedia. The mire vegetation grades into common reed Phragmites australis with stands of bog-myrtle Myrica gale

The lower part of the valley is varied with carr woodland and reedswamp. KingfisherAlcedo atthis is a resident on the several channels. The nationally scarce dotted sedge Carex punctata is present in one of its few locations in Dorset. 

The site supports a characteristic heathland fauna. Of particular note are several populations of the endangered and specially protected sand lizard Lacerta agilis2which occur mostly on the dry heathland slopes. The mire communities support two species of nationally scarce bush-crickets, long-winged conehead Conocephalus discolor and bog bush-cricket Metrioptera brachyptera. A notable variety of rare and scarce moth species have been recorded including the Scarlet Tiger Callimorpha dominula, cream-boardered Green Pea Earias chlorana, Maple Pug Eupithecia inturbata, Horse Chestnut Pachycnemia hippocastana, obscure Wainscot Mythimna obsoleta, twin-spotted Wainscot Archanara geminipunctata, silky Wainscot Chilodes maritimus, and dingy Mocha Cyclophora pendularia.

1Species listed in Annex 1 of the EC Birds Directive.
2European protected species listed in Schedule 2 of Habitats Regulations 1994.