Area: 215.8 hectares.
Site boundary amended by extension and deletion. The importance of this site is such that, although not included in ‘A Nature Conservation Review’ at the time of its publication in 1977, it has nevertheless since been recognised as an integral part of the national series of lowland heathlands.
Description and Reasons for Notification:
Although but a part of the previously more extensive Poole Heath, Upton remains one of the largest continuous tracts of heathland in Dorset. Its heathland communities have developed on acid soils derived from Bagshot Beds overlain locally with plateau gravels. The site supports many of the rare plants and animals typically associated with this internationally important habitat.
Much of the heathland is humid or wet with purple moor-grass Molinia caerulea and cross-leaved heath Erica tetralix the dominant species. Strong populations of the nationally scarce marsh gentian Gentiana pneumonanthe occur in some of the wetter areas and there is a small stand of the nationally rare Dorset heath Erica ciliaris in one of its most northern and eastern sites. An extensive valley bog forms the main feature of the central part of the site. Here bog moss Sphagnum spp. carpets are well-developed with a variety of species present including the restricted S. pulchrum. Common cotton-grass Eriophorum angustifolium and bog asphodel Narthecium ossifragum are frequent and black bog-rush Schoenus nigricans is locally common.
Higher land supports dry heathland of the western gorse Ulex gallii – bristle bent Agrostis curtisii type characteristic of heaths in this part of the Poole Basin. Heather Calluna vulgaris is dominant with bell heather Erica cinerea, western gorse and bristle bent frequent.
Woodland and grassland areas add diversity to the habitat. Scots pine Pinus sylvestris in stands of varying density occurs in the drier areas and in a few of the wetter parts woodland, dominated by grey willow Salix cinerea and birch Betula spp., has developed. A small area of grazed acidic grassland adjoins the heath. Strong populations of two restricted species, yellow bartsia Parentucellia viscosa and green-winged orchid Orchis morio, occur here.
The fauna of Upton Heath includes several of the rarer animals associated with heathland in southern Britain: sand lizard Lacerta agilis* and smooth snake Coronella austriaca* are present in good numbers in the drier heathland; Dartford warbler Sylvia undata+$, hobby Falco subbuteo+ and nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus$breed in the area; and the site has a number of uncommon heathland invertebrates including the nationally rare heath grasshopper Chorthippus vagans and the nationally scarce silver-studded blue butterfly Plebejus argus, small red damselfly Ceriagrion tenellum, hairy dragonfly Brachytron pratense and blue-tailed damselfly Ishnura pumilio. The site is outstanding for the range of dragonfly species present with a total of 19 breeding species recorded.
*Species listed in Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. +Species listed in Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. $Species listed in Annex 1 of the EC Bird Directive.