‘The greatest biodiversity in England’ – a wander through the Isle of Purbeck ‘super’ nature reserve

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Alongside rare birds, reptiles and insects, this corner of Dorset, poignantly depicted in Mike Leigh’s Nuts in May, serves up brilliant heathland walks, sea views and pints of local ale

Mike Leigh’s brilliant 1976 Dorset-based comedy Nuts in May begins with Keith and Candice-Marie taking the chain ferry from Sandbanks across the mouth of Poole harbour to the Isle of Purbeck, where they camp, visit Corfe Castle, walk along the mighty Jurassic coastline and end up in an altercation with a young Brummie couple called Finger and Honky. For me, watching Nuts in May is an annual tradition, as is visiting the peninsula where it was filmed. Most of us have places for which we feel a particularly strong pull; one of mine is Purbeck. And since this peninsula’s recent status as England’s first “super” nature reserve, I’m beginning to understand why.

Being a relatively remote peninsula, Purbeck has seen little major development over the past 70 years, despite its south coast location. On a human scale, the landscape is relatively unchanged since Keith and Candice-Marie’s ill-fated camping trip half a century ago. Behind the scenes, however, years of conservation work from seven organisations – including the National Trust, RSPB, Dorset Wildlife Trust and Natural England – has led to the creation of a near-continuous jigsaw of restored habitats, making it the UK’s first designated super nature reserve, running clockwise from Brownsea Island and the Studland peninsula to Arne, further west on Poole harbour.

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