Studland Bay

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Studland Bay, Godlingstone Heath, Poole Harbour and Bournemouth from Ballard Down

Studland Bay is a bay and its long, sandy beaches, on the Dorset coast, beside Studland. The bay marks the eastern end of the Isle of Portland. Much of the land is a national nature reserve and belongs to the National Trust.

The beaches are popular for bathers.

Studland Bay and beach management

The beach at Studland

Studland Bay is protected from the prevailing southwesterly winds and storms by Ballard Down and Handfast Point, the chalk headland that separates Studland from Swanage Bay to the south. In the 17th century there began a process of sand accumulation in the bay and along the South Haven Peninsula stretching north, resulting in natural land reclamation[1] and the creation or expansion of the bay's beaches and its psammosere (sand dune system).

The beaches at Studland Bay are amongst the most popular in the country, and on hot summer weekends they fill up with thousands of people. The bay is on the south side of the mouth of Poole Harbour: the north end of the beach is the narrows at the harbour mouth, across which is Sandbanks, the beginning of the string of owns leading up to Poole. A frequent ferry crosses the narrows and so the beaches are accessible to a large population.

North of the visitor centre the beach and dunes are owned and managed by the National Trust, who have restricted parking provision at the site to prevent overcrowding. A short northern stretch of beach is reserved as a naturist beach.

Since the early 20th century the supply of sand to the bay has depleted and erosion is occurring so that, if natural processes are uninterrupted, the coastline may in time retreat back to its previous line, visible as a line of higher ground between Redend Point and the hill east of the Knoll House Hotel.[1]

In January 2004 the BBC television series The National Trust investigated the conflicts between different groups of people who use the beach and heath at Studland. The series particularly covered the debate about coastal management, with the Trust proposing to remove defensive walls to allow natural processes to shape the coastline, though this would result in loss of some land and property.

South West Coast Path sign near Studland

The final stage of the South West Coast Path (if walked in the conventional anti-clockwise direction, starting at Minehead, Somerset) follows Studland Bay and ends at South Haven Point, where a sculpture marks the end.

Heathland and nature reserve

Behind the sand dunes there is a large area of heathland, named Studland Heath to the north of the village and Godlingston Heath to the west. This area is also owned and managed by the National Trust. Within Studland Heath is an acidic freshwater lake called Little Sea, which was cut off from the sea by the development of the dunes, and is a haven for birds and other wildlife. Studland and Godlingston Heath NNR has been a national nature reserve since 1946, and the site is on English Nature's list of "Spotlight Reserves", the 31 most important reserves in England. The site is also a protected Site of Special Scientific Interest, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, part of the Purbeck Heritage Coast, and a gateway to the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site.

Standing on a mound on Godlingston Heath is the 17 feet high Agglestone Rock, estimated to weigh 400 tons.[2] The rock is also known as the Devil's Anvil, and local myth states that the devil threw it there from The Needles on the Isle of Wight, reputedly aiming for Corfe Castle, Bindon Abbey or Salisbury Cathedral.[3] In truth, it is more than likely part of a band of rocks that run across the whole of Godlingston Heath. The sandy earth was eroded around the firmer rock and left it standing proud. "Aggle" was taken into the old Dorset dialect as meaning "to wobble".[3] In September 1970 the rock fell to one side, resulting in it losing its distinctive inverted-cone 'anvil' appearance. Other lumps in the landscape can be seen across the heath, including the Puckstone which, in years to come, may be another standing rock similar to the Agglestone.

Second World War

In 1940, the coastline at Studland Bay was one of the two stretches of Dorset coast where a German invasion was considered most likely and it was fortified as a part of British anti-invasion preparations of Second World War.[4]

Fort Henry Bunker, Studland

The village and beach were used as a training area before the D-Day landing in the Second World War. On top of Redend Point, a small sandstone cliff which splits the beach in two at high tide, is Fort Henry. Built in 1943 by Canadian engineers, it is 90 feet long, with walls 3 feet thick walls and an observation slit 80 feet wide recessed.

On 18 April 1944, King George VI, General Sir Bernard Montgomery and General Dwight D. Eisenhower, met here to observe the training troops and discuss the plans for the coming battle.[5]


The Studland and Godlingston Heath National Nature Reserve has a variety of habitats including heathland, bogs, woodland, alder and willow carr, sand dunes, scrub and freshwater,[6][7] which support a variety of wildlife including large populations of wildfowl and insects. Studland Bay is particularly good for sighting rarer grebes and divers in winter, with up to 20 black-necked grebe and 5 great northern diver recorded. The Studland Peninsula is one of the best places to see Dartford warbler in the UK with around 130 pairs nesting on the heath; this is about 7% of the United Kingdom population. The nature reserve is one of only a few places (mostly in Dorset) in Britain which is home to all six native reptile species. Two species of seahorse (the spiny seahorse, Hippocampus guttulatus and the short-snouted seahorse, Hippocampus hippocampus) have been discovered in Studland Bay, specifically a seagrass meadow at the southern end of the beach.[8]

Anecdotal evidence from residents reported in the Studland Parish Magazine [9] indicates that both types of seahorse have been found in the bay since at least the 1970s, possibly encouraged by the reputed growth in the seagrass beds.

Embryo sand dunes are bound together by colonies of salt-resistant couch grass (Elymus repens) and lyme-grass (Leymus arenarius), which permit the gradual expansion of the dune until long-rooted marram grass (Ammophila (Poaceae)) can establish itself once the sand reaches approximately three feet in height.[10]

Moving away from the shoreline; beyond the embryo dunes are found a ridge of "mobile dunes" which have may been in situ for over 50 years; "semi-fixed" dunes bound with grasses, mosses and wild flowers; and "fixed dunes" capable of supporting bracken and saplings.[10]

Nutrient-poor acidic bogs occur within the vicinity of the Agglestone in particular, a result of a lack of carbonate in the rock strata and pockets of clay trapping surface water. These bogs support specialised plant species such as insectivorous sundews.[1]


Outside links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Dr Ian West (9 February 2012). "Studland - Tertiary Cliffs and the Agglestone. Geology of the Wessex Coast of Southern England". Southampton University. Retrieved 19 May 2013. 
  2. Reginald J W Hammond (1979). Dorset Coast. Ward Lock Ltd. p. 128. ISBN 0 7063 5494 X. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Maureen Hymas (1981). Dorset Folklore. Books of Wessex Ltd. p. 33. ISBN 0 90157550 X. 
  4. Foot, William (2006). Beaches, fields, streets, and hills ... the anti-invasion landscapes of England, 1940. Council for British Archaeology. pp. p65–72. ISBN 1-902771-53-2. 
  5. "Wartime relics at Studland (with photo of Fort Henry)". Retrieved 2 February 2007. 
  6. "Studland and Godlingston Heath NNR". Natural England. Retrieved 19 May 2013. 
  7. "Studland and Godlingston Heath". National Trust. Retrieved 26 March 2013. 
  8. Powered by Intergage "Studland Seahorses in Dorset". Retrieved 5 September 2012. 
  9. A. Ives. "News and Views - Studland Dorset". Retrieved 5 September 2012. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Changing Environments. Heinemann. 2001. p. 125. ISBN 0435352466.