Bokerley Ditch image courtesy of Jim Champion via Flickr Creative Commons.
The Cranborne Chase AONB is home to five charming nature reserves.
Not far from Shaftesbury, Oysters Coppice Nature Reserve is tucked away on a gentle slope and is home to an ancient woodland that features a mixture of oak, alder, ash and birch trees. The forest is also known for its array of wild flowers, including daffodils, ransoms and wood sorrel. Boggy areas, streams and swampy ponds offer a haven for wildlife, and bird watchers might want to keep an eye out for the bullfinch, song thrush and tawny owls that occupy the wood.
The Martin Down Nature Reserve might not offer up a dramatic landscape and challenging hikes, but what it does provide is a peaceful, gentle vista of open meadows, scrub and ancient hedge-lines. Ideal for a casual walk amongst nature and the perfect spot for a picnic, you can also take in the vast Bokerley Ditch (pictured). This big dyke winds its way down the western edge of Martin Down and historians believe it may have been built as a boundary in the Iron Age and fortified in the 5th or 6th centuries AD against the invading Saxons.
The remaining three nature reserves include Prescombe Down, which is tucked away far from the road and offers a peaceful, short walk across the chalk downland; Middleton Down, which curves and dips its way through a secluded reserve in the Chalke Valley and offers stunning views across the countryside; and Coombe Bissett Down, which encloses a 0.9 mile-long section of narrow, dry valley that’s home to grazing livestock and some delightful wild flowers.