A NEW visitor area has opened at a wildlife-rich beauty spot which boasts fantastic views of the Jurassic Coast.

A new car park and picnic area have been officially opened at Black Down, close to the Hardy Monument, thanks to National Lottery funding.

Black Down is the highest point on the South Dorset Ridgeway which is a haven for wildlife including the nightjar and raven.

It has a network of walking trails across open heath and through woodland so is a favourite with dog walkers and ramblers.

Dorset County Council, which owns the land, and the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) team have created a new visitor area, including parking, new paths and sculpture – including a stone circle – with the help of grants from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and Arts Council England.

HLF has invested more than £1.8m in the South Dorset Ridgeway Landscape Partnership.

Chairman of the HLF South West Regional Committee Stephen Boyce said: “This new visitor area is a great example of the difference National Lottery players can make. I am very pleased to see the approach taken by the South Dorset Ridgeway Landscape Partnership in bringing better access to this remarkable landscape together with opportunities for art (sculpture) and traditional skills.”

Alongside free parking for 30 cars, there are picnic areas and new surfaced trails that link to existing paths including up to the Hardy Monument. New landscape-inspired sculptures have also been added to this area.

Chairman of Dorset County Council Cllr Hilary Cox said: “A few years ago I championed the project to obtain Black Down for the benefit of the people of Dorset, as well as the important wildlife that thrives on such rare heathland sites. I am delighted by what we have achieved in partnership with others and that many more people can enjoy Dorset’s heritage and the wellbeing associated with time outdoors in nature.”

The council's countryside ranger service is continuing to improve the heathland habitat for wildlife. One way to do this is to use Belted Galloway cattle to graze the land.

For information about South Dorset Ridgeway visit dorsetaonb.org.uk