Urban Heaths LIFE Project and the Urban Heaths Partnership

Project Summary

Burnt heath

Burnt heath

Photo: Courtesy English Nature

In 2001 the Urban Heath Partnership (UHP) was awarded £1.2 million by the European Union's LIFE - nature fund to help combat urban pressures on the internationally important heathlands in south east Dorset. This money was matched by the partnership to fund the Urban Heaths LIFE Project (UHLP), which ran until June 2005.

Activities conducted by the UHLP included wardening of heaths, 'incident' reporting, the provision of new fire fighting equipment for the Dorset Fire and Rescue Service, support of a Heathland and Wildlife Protection Officer in Dorset Police, and an education programme to improve understanding of the importance of the urban heathlands as an ecological and cultural asset.

Dorset Environmental Records Centre’s (DERC) role has been to collate and manage information on 'incidents' occurring on UHLP sites. These incidents comprise any activity that could have a detrimental effect on the heathland habitats and species, including any criminal behaviour, and range from dogs on the loose; vandalism of trees, fences and gates; motorcyclists and mountain bikers riding across out-of-bounds areas; to potentially the most damaging incident of all: heathland fires.

DFRS attending a heath fire

DFRS attending a heath fire

Photo: Courtesy English Nature

Details of incidents received by DERC have come from 2 sources: UHLP and partner organisation wardens, and Dorset Fire and Rescue Service (DFRS). This information is then collated into a database and Geographical Information System (GIS). These data are then available for a variety of uses including, for example, revealing trends and patterns in activity, allowing wardening to be targeted to the most affected places or times, and providing information on possible suspects to Dorset Police.

From the data collected over the duration of the LIFE project (between 2002 and 2005), the most frequently reported incidents were fires (the majority being maliciously rather than accidentally started), motorcyclists, fly tipping, cyclists and BMX ramp-building. In total 536 fires on UHLP sites were reported. Certain sites were targeted significantly more frequently than others with Bourne Bottom, Canford Heath, Kinson Common, Town Common, Turbary Common, and Upton Heath being the most vulnerable. Many of these fires, fortunately, were only quite small - they either did not spread or were discovered early on. But some, however, were not. One that did unfortunately spread was that on Upton Heath on 6th April 2002. This affected a total area of 60 hectares and involved 74 DFRS vehicles. It burnt areas of important habitats including 20 hectares of dry heath, 10 hectares of wet heath, 10 hectares of bog, and 10 hectares of scrub and trees.

Overall, the project was deemed a success. It has helped to raise people’s awareness of the need to protect this valuable habitat and provided the resources to actively mitigate the negative impacts that occur there. Although the EU LIFE funding came to an end in 2005 the Urban Heaths Partnership felt that the good work already begun with the LIFE project should continue. The Partnership does this through its own funding. DERC is proud to continue working with the Partnership.

Contact Details

For further details on the UHLP and UHP, please contact:
urbanheaths@dorsetcc.gov.uk
or visit the Dorset Heaths project website on the Dorset County Council website (www.dorsetforyou.com).

For further information on DERCs involvement in the project please contact:
Jon Corkill on 01305 228911.