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Holt Heath

Much of the eastern part of the county was once covered with heathland, probably a result of forest clearing during the Bronze Ages. Most has since been turned over to agriculture or forestry, but positive efforts are being made to restore some areas back to their original open and wild condition. Holt Heath – a 488 hectare National Nature Reserve – is one of Dorset's largest remaining areas of lowland heathland. Owned by the National Trust, it is managed by English Nature.

058-01 Holt Heath 058-02 Holt Heath 058-03 Holt Heath 058-04 Holt Heath 058-05 Holt Heath
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During July and August the colours of the heath are at their most vivid – the striking yellow of the Bog Asphodel (Narthecium ossifragum) contrasting with the purples and pinks of the heather. Whilst close to the ground in wet areas lie the sticky, insect trapping leaves of Sundews (Drosera). Even in mid-summer large tracts remain waterlogged. In days past – i.e. before metalled roads – the heaths had a fearsome reputation for their impassibility.


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In the top row of pictures:

  • In hollows where an iron-pan has formed, water collects and can remain throughout the summer ... (picture)
  • ... this helps plants such as the Sundew (Drosera intermedia) which needs continual moisture for its insect trapping tendrils (picture)
  • Dodder (Cuscuta epithymum) a parasitic plant living off the heathers, also has hold here (picture)
  • Also moisture loving – the Bog Asphodel (Narthecium ossifragum) (picture)
  • Skating across the water surface, relying on surface tension, Pond Skaters (Gerris) are a common sight. Here the water surface is coated with a film of oils released from decaying plant matter (picture)

In the bottom row of pictures:

  • Late-July the heathlands become vibrant with colour, as heather, ling and heath come into flower (picture)
  • Amongst the delicate Ling (Calluna vulgaris) the sharp spines of Gorse (Ulex earopaeus) are ready to prick the unwary (picture)
  • Where vegetation and nutrients collect, shrubs and trees can get a toe-hold – the heath is being actively cleared of such scrub, in an attempt to maintain its open character (picture)
  • Criss-crossing the heath are many sandy tracks, making exploration of the area – especially on bike or horseback – somewhat easier (picture)
  • And when the light is right, heathland scenes can be full of atmosphere; a local artist – who wished only to be known as 'Peter' – painting such a late-afternoon scene (picture)

For views of heathland in winter try Canford Heath. See also: Middlebere Heath

Nearby locations that also feature in galleries on this site:

directionWimborne St Giles

directionMoors Valley Country Park

directionCanford Heath, Bournemouth

directionHolt Forest, Wimborne

More views of Dorset in July

Other sites on the web

The Countryside Management site of Surrey County Council has an introduction to lowland heath on their 'Heathland > Heathland Basics' page

The Dorset Page:   Holt – local information and links to further resources on the web

Maps of the area on streetmap.co.uk:   1:50,000 – detail, 1:250,000 – locality and route to get there

picture resolution
The pictures of Holt Heath in this gallery were captured at high resolution.
This is images of dorset stock photography gallery 058
All photographs copyright © 1998–2003 John Allen

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