Swanage open space gets local nature reserve status

Peveril Point and the Downs in Swanage has been officially designated as a local nature reserve (LNR), meaning it will get extra protection and enhancement as an open space for people and wildlife.

At a special launch day on Saturday 15th April 2023, there was an exhibition and guided walks around the large area of open grassland and woodland which juts out in the sea.

Swanage Downs local nature reserve launch
Swanage Downs local nature reserve launch

The launch event on the Downs with a mini exhibition about the area

Acquired by the local council in 1931

The land was once privately owned and formed part of the grounds of the Grosvenor Hotel, now demolished. It was acquired by the local authority in 1931 and is now managed by Swanage Town Council.

Cutting the official ribbon on the day’s celebrations was Swanage Town Mayor Tina Foster. She said:

“I think it’s wonderful and an asset to the town that everyone can enjoy. Achieving local nature reserve status ties in with our environmental plan.

“Something that I’m most proud of during my time on the council is increasing the influence of the environment working party and committee on the council, ensuring that we’re able to benefit nature more.”

Swanage Downs local nature reserve launch

Swanage Town Mayor Tina Foster cuts the ribbon to officially mark the new status as a local nature reserve

Swanage Downs local nature reserve launch

Speaking at the event, left to right: Swanage Town Mayor Tina Foster, Sarah Spurling from Sustainable Swanage, and councillor Avril Harris who chairs Swanage Town Council’s environment working party

Detailed management plan

Creating the Peveril Point and the Downs LNR has taken several years to achieve.

In spring 2020 Swanage Town Council supported by Sustainable Swanage started the process by carrying out public opinion surveys, habitat surveys and writing a detailed management plan.

There’s been guided walks and information days and more than 30 volunteers have become involved in wildlife surveys of the area.

It now joins Townsend nature reserve in Swanage, managaed by Dorset Wildlife Trust, as a local nature reserve. Durlston Country Park is designated as a national nature reserve.

Swanage Downs local nature reserve launch

Four new information boards tell the story of the area’s history, wildlife, and geology

Swanage Downs local nature reserve launch

The Downs, people and Swanage – the aim is to bring them all together

Allowing 50 percent of the grass to grow long over the summer

One of the most controversial issues has been the decision not to closely mow all of the grass and instead allow about 50 percent of it to grow long over the summer before being cut back in the autumn.

Historically much of the area used to be rough pasture but many residents had become used to all the area being regularly cut like a lawn.

It’s hoped by leaving some of the grass to grow, while mowing other places to enable people to walk, picnic and throw balls for dogs, more wild orchids, butterflies and other insects will repopulate the area, in the same way that nearby Durlston Country Park buzzes with rare species.

Swanage Downs local nature reserve launch
Swanage Downs local nature reserve launch

Plenty of hawthorn in flower at this coastal location

“Getting more people to take a closer look at what is here”

Sarah Spurling from Sustainable Swanage said:

“Encouraging more people to connect to the Downs is central to its future, whether it’s just by enjoying the area or by taking part in the wildlife surveys. We have been building up the numbers of volunteers who are out here surveying butterflies, insects, flowers and birds.

“One person said that they had never felt so closely connected to the local community by joining in the activities, which is exactly what we are trying to achieve. It’s certainly not about excluding people by making it a local nature reserve but rather getting more people to take a closer look at what is here.

“We have a management plan in place but it’s a living document that will be modified over time to suit both people and wildlife. We’ll be looking at the areas where there’s more species of one thing or another and look to enhance those areas but then change it, if we feel something isn’t working as well as it might.”

Swanage Downs local nature reserve launch
Swanage Downs local nature reserve launch

Supporting the launch was the team from Durlston Country Park, ranger Ali Tuckey (left) and ranger Ben Holley (right) who led a guided walk in the afternoon

“If you put people and nature together, good things happen!”

The launch event was supported by both Durlston Country Park and the National Trust. Durlston Country Park ranger and project leader of the Pleasure Grounds restoration, Ali Tuckey said:

“Where do we put nature? The question should be ‘where can’t we put nature?!’ It shouldn’t just be reserved for the beautiful remote parts but places like here, right next to the town, making it part of our everyday lives.

“It’s good for people and wildlife. At Durlston, we find that if you put people and nature together, good things happen!

“I’m excited to see what Sustainable Swanage will do next now that the area has become a local nature reserve. This is just the start.

“Purbeck grassland is internationally important. From Swanage to St Alban’s Head, it’s the most species rich limestone downland in Europe, which is quite a responsibility.

“It’s brilliant but scary, helping to protect species like the early spider orchid, the Adonis blue butterfly and many other rarities.”

Swanage Downs local nature reserve launch

Swanage Town Crier Andrew Fleming opened the proceedings

Swanage Downs local nature reserve launch

Project manager of Sustainable Swanage, Sarah Spurling (left) organised the event, pictured here with Swanage Town Council’s visitor services manager Culvin Milmer (right)

“It’s all about supporting each other and working together”

As part of the future plan, a new Friends group is being set up for the Peveril Point and the Downs local nature reserve. This will aim to create a whole community around the area and anyone who is keen to contribute is welcome to join.

Tom Clarke from the National Trust in Purbeck added:

“It can’t just be the large organisations like the National Trust, the RSPB or Dorset Council who run Durlston Country Park, that are left to look after nature, there also has to be a local response at a community level as well.

“So it’s up to local people to get involved and turn this area into their local nature reserve. No one can do the job on their own – it’s all about supporting each other and working together.”

Further information

  • More about the Peveril Point and the Downs local nature reserve is on the Sustainable Swanage website
  • To find out more about the Friends group contact Sarah Spurling at Sustainable Swanage or Gail Percival at Swanage Town Council

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