RURAL communities in West Dorset could be left without a shop if plans to axe post offices are carried out, council leaders today warned.

Around half of West Dorset post offices are expected to close in 2008 under plans being considered by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

And officials from the district council warned that many West Dorset communities would lose their shops if village post offices are closed as part of the review. The findings are revealed as part of the results of a survey carried out by West Dorset District Council.

Councillors and officers went on a fact-finding tour of West Dorset's 50 post offices in February and March. Among their findings were: n 37 are full-time, 13 part-time.

n 40 post offices in West Dorset are part of a shop.

n Only 12 anticipate that the shop will continue if the post office is closed.

n Additional shop services include a cash dispenser home delivery, prescription service and newspaper delivery.

The district council has already written to the DTI accepting that changes to the network are inevitable but expressing concern about the impact on local communities of closing post offices.

West Dorset District Council Leader Robert Gould said he hoped this new research would help the council in its desire to shape the future of the local network and reduce the negative impact on local people.

"For many West Dorset communities the village shop and post office go hand in hand. Our research shows that closing one means closing both. For those who have lost their pub or petrol station the post office is often the last remaining outlet and closing them will have a significant impact," he said.

"This research means the council is better placed to work with national and local partners and ensure that it can work with the DTI and Post Office Ltd to minimise the local impact of the proposed changes on West Dorset's rural communities in particular."

West Dorset is a 'super sparse' area, with its 95,000 residents living across 400 square miles. Around half of local people live in villages and rural areas. Public transport is poor and 17 per cent of households have no car.

Some 19 rural post offices in West Dorset have closed since 1991.

That is one finding from a survey carried out by West Dorset District Council as it awaits an announcement on the future of the national post office network.