Fear of Purbeck becoming ‘nature theme park’ revealed in new report

While improving Purbeck’s natural environment is widely supported, a new report shows many are concerned this could be at the expense of local jobs and the chance to live in affordable homes, creating a wildlife ‘theme park’ for tourists and second home owners.

The community group Planet Purbeck was commissioned by The Wild Purbeck Partnership (WPP), a group of non-governmental organisations, landowners, charities and governmental organisations, to consult with those living in Purbeck, on what they thought of plans to boost biodiversity across the region.

Ground nesting nightjars are attracted to areas like RSPB Arne with a large insect population

The number of ground nesting nightjars are increasing due to conservation efforts

Target to protect 30 percent of land by 2030

There’s a big government push for a major nature recovery programme across the UK, with a target to protect 30 percent of land by 2030. The policy in England is to work with landowners on a voluntary basis.

Purbeck, already ahead of the game when it comes to impressive biodiversity, is one of the identified areas where there’s a realistic chance of meeting the target.

The rare sand lizard can be found among the Studland sand dunes

Planet Purbeck achieved 7,000 responses

To get community feedback, Planet Purbeck launched a survey, ran polls on social media, handed out questionnaires and conducted face to face interviews with selected local people who they described as ‘sticky’ – those who are involved with lots of local groups and ‘stick’ the community together!

This included Swanage councillors Mike Bonfield and Debby Monkhouse, Swanage Scout group leader Linda Buckley, quarry family members Sue and Julliette Haysom, Swanage Carnival secretary Kevin Langdon, Swanage RNLI volunteer Becky Mack and retired farmer Nick Viney.

Overall there were an estimated 7,000 responses which were then grouped into themes and analysed.

RSPB arne nature reserve looking over Poole Harbour

From Arne looking out across Poole Harbour to the wildlife sanctury of Brownsea Island

Change is Coming report summary extract


“We found a huge desire for a prosperous, sustainable future for Purbeck.”

Hopes focused on…

  • More wild spaces and species – Conserving, rewilding and enhancing biodiversity for future generations
  • Community action and education awareness – Nature education that empowers youth and community action
  • Green, sustainable incomes – Year-round employment, local food production/farming and eco-tourism
  • Climate resilience – Combating climate change through natural solutions
  • Health and wellbeing – Seeing the link between thriving natural spaces and community health
Barbecues at Wareham fire
DW Fire and Rescue

Tourism can negatively affect Purbeck’s natural environment


“We found deep worries within the community about the balance and speed of change…”

  • Food Security – Concerns that nature conservation will drastically reduce local food production
  • Tourism – Fears that increasing tourism negatively impacts local services and livelihoods
  • Economic challenges – Cost of housing, lack of quality jobs, and tourist-driven seasonality
  • Sustainable development – Development plans impacting the area’s environment and character
  • Engagement and governance – Perceived lack of government action and need for more public engagement
Planet Purbeck stand at Swanage Carnival

Planet Purbeck held lots of events like this one in Swanage to get the views of local residents


We found a community energised about Purbeck’s future and full of proactive suggestions for how to improve it…

  • Focus on community-centric conservation, where nature and the community are treated as equal priorities
  • Adopt more green energy solutions and invest in nature-based projects that draw in year-round eco-tourism
  • Encourage community engagement and action through an exciting events calendar and enhanced environmental education in schools
  • Integrate nature into everyday life, encourage outdoor learning and engage people through innovative strategies and volunteer networks

“In short, our community is worried about Purbeck becoming some kind of “nature theme park” with a surge in litter, overcrowding, stretched local services, even more second/holiday homes, low-paid tourism jobs, soaring house and rental prices.

“But there’s also a clear, shared desire for sustainability, inclusivity and opportunity, too.”

A Purbeck where…

  • Local food thrives – washed down with a Purbeck cider (or apple juice), of course!
  • Young people can afford to (and importantly, want to) stay in Purbeck
  • Green energy powers every home and saves us some of our hard-earned money
  • New, meaningful job opportunities blossom, thanks to the wilder landscape
  • Everyone has a key to a home they can afford
  • Our community is well prepared for the inevitable impact of climate change
Weston Farm at Worth Matravers
National Trust

A programme of nature recovery is underway at Weston Farm in Worth Matravers

What’s next?

The Planet Purbeck team is keen to emphasise that the report is just the start – almost a benchmark against which future change and progress can be measured.

Projects are already underway including the creation of the Purbeck Heaths national nature reserve, the purchase by the National Trust of Weston Farm at Worth Matravers, and the rewilding scheme at Woodbury near Bere Regis by the Dorset Wildlife Trust.

Purbeck’s Children and Young People’s Partnership, launched September 2023, is aimed at nurturing a deeper understanding and connection to nature for all young people up to the age of 25. This will see new initiatives rolled out throughout local schools from September 2024.

The report says that in future the WWP could provide land for community food production projects, fund a sustainable tourism plan for Purbeck, and provide apprenticeships and scholarships for green economy careers.

Other issues it could influence include investing in green energy, support policy changes in relation to second homes, and influence measures to tackle housing affordability like innovative housing schemes.

Aerial view of Swanage from Townsend

A tourist tax in Purbeck could raise £250,000 a year to invest back into the local community

Purbeck tourist tax?

Planet Purbeck says, following the feedback, that it’s looking to hold a People’s Assembly to discuss all of these issues, as well as support affordable housing plans, alongside supporting a sustainable future for farming.

It also raises the controversial issue of a Purbeck tourism tax:

“This community-led initiative would add an optional fee to visitors’ stays e.g. £1 per night on a hotel bill. Nothing mandatory here – businesses would opt in – but could this idea raise £250k+ a year for community projects?”

The first tourism tax within a seaside area is set to be introduced across Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, with a vote on the issue scheduled for Tuesday 14th May 2024.

Flying Scotsman at Corfe on Swanage Railway

Every theme park needs a fairytale castle and Corfe Castle provides a magical setting

“It’s a question of balance”

Planet Purbeck’s Rob Waitt said:

“We wanted to give our community a voice to ensure these changes to our countryside and coast deliver tangible benefits to local residents.

“It’s a question of balance. People do want greater access to a healthy, nature-rich environment with clean rivers and seas but they want assurances this will not come at the cost of lower local food production, harm to farmers and more pressure from tourism.”

Some of the views expressed by those providing feedback revealed both extremes. Examples included:

“We have a huge opportunity for positive change – more abundant wildlife will support more rural employment and increased profit for businesses.”

Countered by:

“Purbeck is home to many who have lived, respected and worked here, not just a second homeowners’ Nature Park.”


The dramatic Purbeck coastline attracts climbers, walkers and watersport enthusiasts from across the world

“Informed decisions to benefit everyone in Purbeck”

Report co-author Luke M Luke said:

“Diverse viewpoints are a strength, guiding us towards more informed decisions to benefit everyone in Purbeck.

“Carrying out such a massive survey was a big challenge but we are proud to have given local residents an opportunity to have their say. Getting reactions from nearly 7,000 surpassed all expectations.

“We hope we have established Planet Purbeck as a credible representative of our community to ensure people are at the forefront of all Wild Purbeck Partnership projects.”

A Celebration of Purbeck event will be held at The Mowlem in September 2024

Planet Purbeck events

  • Rewilding our Seas 2 – 14th September 2024 at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Swanage
  • Celebration of Purbeck – 20th September 2024 at The Mowlem in Swanage
  • Future of Purbeck Festival – Summer 2025 at Wilkswood Farm, Langton Matravers, Weekend event with talks, workshops, films, food, drink and live music

Watch a Rewilding Britain film

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