Natural England - Natural England Board confirms Rampisham Down’s notification as a Site of Special Scientific Interest

Natural England Board confirms Rampisham Down’s notification as a Site of Special Scientific Interest

3 March 2014

Natural England has confirmed Rampisham Down in Dorset as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its special grassland and heathland habitats.

Grassland plants at Rampisham Down SSSI
Close up of acid grassland plants at Rampisham Down SSSI © Sean Cooch / Natural England

The decision, taken by the Natural England Board, marks the final step in the designation process after Rampisham Down was notified as a SSSI in August last year.

Speaking after the Board’s decision, Andrew Sells, Natural England’s Chairman, said: “The evidence clearly pointed to this site being one of the most important areas in England for this rare grassland habitat. Confirming Rampisham Down as a Site of Special Scientific Interest recognises the botanical importance of this area and will provide safeguards for its protection and management into the future.”

Natural England has a duty to notify SSSIs when it considers that an area of land is of special interest for its flora, fauna or geological or physiographical features.  Once notified, the special interest features of a SSSI are given protection against operations that are likely to damage them.

Located 11 miles North West of Dorchester, Rampisham Down, formerly a BBC World Service transmission station, supports the largest area of lowland acid grassland found in Dorset and is one of the largest areas of its type in the country. The site also supports small stands of lowland heathland and transitional grass and heath plant communities. The large size of this site, which has for the most part escaped any modern-day agricultural improvement, is particularly unusual.

The extensive acid grassland is typically dominated by fine grasses, such as common bent, sweet vernal-grass, red and sheep’s-fescue and, more locally, heath-grass; as well as frequent field wood-rush. Characteristic broad-leaved herbaceous plants typical of the unimproved acid grassland include tormentil, heath bedstraw, pignut and birds-foot-trefoil.  Less frequent, but still present in many areas, are heath milkwort, common dog-violet, mouse-ear-hawkweed and heath speedwell. Of special interest are stands of ‘chalk’ acid grassland with additional grasses, such as quaking and downy oat-grass and herbs of dwarf thistle and ladies bedstraw.

Based on the findings of an independent botanical survey of the site, Natural England’s Executive Board decided to notify the SSSI at its meeting on 19 August 2013. There then followed a four month consultation period during which time anyone could make representations to us about the notification. The Natural England Board considered the evidence and all representations received before making its decision on 26 February 2014, and agreed to confirm the designation.

Rampisham Down, which lies in the heart of the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beautyexternal link and has been a Site of Nature Conservation Importance for its lowland acid grassland since 1996, is the subject of a planning application to develop the land for solar power by British Solar Renewables. SSSI status does not determine whether or not development can go ahead at a site; this is a matter for the planning system. Natural England is committed to working closely with the developer and the local planning authority to ensure that, if planning permission is granted, the development will take place in ways that minimise any impact on the natural environment.