The National Trust has acquired another 240 acres of Purbeck heathland, the largest area of lowland heath it has purchased for more than a decade.

This acquisition of Slepe Heath, costing £650,000, will connect the trust’s existing Hartland Moor to the RSPB’s nature reserve at Arne.

Trust bosses say the purchase is part of a ‘conservation vision inspired by the landscapes featured in the novels of Thomas Hardy’.

National Trust Purbeck General Manager Laurie Clark said: “Slepe Heath is somewhere you can get that little bit closer to a true wilderness. It is a magical and wonderfully atmospheric place where visitors can experience Hardy’s fictional Egdon Heath, the setting for the Return of the Native.”

This former forestry plantation attracts rare birds such as Dartford warblers, nightjars and woodlark.

Mr Clark said: “Dorset’s heathland is among its crown jewels in terms of both wildlife and landscape.

“By looking after Slepe Heath we can ensure that this heathland remains open and is protected for everyone to continue to enjoy.”

Cattle have been grazing on Hartland Moor and RSPB Arne, and this latest acquisition means the two sites can be combined into a single, large grazing area.

A National Trust spokesman explained that this was envisaged under the Wild Purbeck Nature Improvement Area, that was announced by the government two years ago.

Nearby Studland and Godlingston Heaths are also managed by the National Trust.

The spokesman said: “Along with rare wildlife, visitors to Slepe Heath, which rises 30 meters above its low-lying surroundings, are treated to breathtakingly panoramic views taking in Corfe Castle, Poole Harbour and the Purbeck Hills.”