The Dorset catchment has been further divided into three sub catchments- West Dorset rivers, Poole Harbour rivers and Stour. The Poole Harbour Catchment Initiative is hosted by Wessex Water, the Stour Catchment is co-hosted by Wessex Water and Dorset Wildlife Trust and the West Dorset Catchment is under formation.
Tourism plays a large part in Dorset’s economy, largely due to the beautiful landscape and the unique geology of the area. 38 bathing water locations on the Dorset coastline are designated as Protected Areas due to the economic importance they hold for the area. Dorset’s Jurassic coast is internationally recognised for its geological importance and has been designated as Britain’s only UNESCO world heritage site.
Dorset’s landscape is regarded as ecologically important, with 139 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) in place to preserve rare species. There are wetlands at Radipole, Lodmoor and around Poole harbour that are regarded as important habitats for birds, there is also several Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) situated off the Dorset coastline.
The county of Dorset covers 2653 sq km and sits largely on a band of chalk. This chalk acts as a groundwater aquifer and greatly influences the over lying rivers. The porous nature of chalk allows for the storage of groundwater and gradually feed the rivers. This results in Chalk Rivers being notoriously stable in regards to flow and temperature. This unique feature of chalk streams supports a wealth of freshwater life, including rare species such as the white clawed crayfish. Chalk rivers are well known for their Salmon and Brown Trout stocks, with angling being a popular sport on these rivers. Dorset’s longest river is the River Stour at 97km. The Rivers Frome and Piddle are two of the main rivers in Dorset and both discharge into Poole Harbour. Dorset contains 102 river water bodies, 1 lake, 7 estuaries and coastal water and 9 groundwater bodies. In 2009, 43% of the water bodies were classified at Good Ecological Status or better under the Water Framework Directive.
The current population for Dorset is 413 800, the Dorset catchment is predominantly agricultural with significant urbanisation along the coast. This urbanisation has resulted in the modification of the river channels for flood defence or water level management. Some of these modifications are now regarded as historical features. The main towns in Dorset are Poole, Bournemouth and Weymouth. Approximately 75% of Dorset’s land area is used for agriculture and woodland occupies 11%. Woodland is increasing in the catchment and is providing the possibility for the production of bio-fuels in the area, this is featured in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) management plan that encompasses 53% of Dorset’s land area.