The Isle of Portland (in reality connected to the mainland by Chesil beach and a road bridge) has been a popular place to live since prehistoric times. Mesolithic remains have been uncovered as have 300 Roman stone coffins. Portland castle was constructed in 1540 by Henry VIII to defend Weymouth. In the area are the remains of the strip field agricultural management system as practiced in medieval times.
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Portlandís geology is that of a table of tilted limestone 4.5 miles long and only 1.34 mile wide. It slopes toward its end point, Portland Bill, where a lighthouse is located. Parts of the island and the coast are SSSI (Sites of Special Scientific Interest). 300 species of migrating birds frequent the island. They include auks, kittiwakes, fulmes, puffins, and peregrines. A bird observatory is located at Portland Bill.
In addition to the birds there are at least 25 different types of butterflies. Red admiral, painted lady, and clouded yellow, common blue, small blue, adonis blue, chalkhill blue, marbled white, and Cretaceous silver studded blue are among the many species. The latter is found only on Portland. There are two reserves where many can be seen.
Chesil beach, a shingle bank connecting Portland to the mainland, rises from sea level to 40 feet in height and extends for 18 miles. Behind it and between it and the mainland is The Fleet, a lagoon and a Site of Special Scientific Interest. There is a nature reserve information centre located here.
Itís a favourite area for migrating birds. Over 300 species have been spotted at the lagoon. Reed beds are home to breeding reed and sedge warblers. In the autumn among the birds on view are swalls, yellow wagtails, and starlings. In the Fleet is a created island where common terns breed. Dabbling ducks, pintail, shoveler, tea, mallard, and gadwall like the meadows by the reed beds.
The lagoon is favoured by pochard and tufted ducks as well as goldeneye and long-tailed ducks. Other birds seen here are heron, Canada geese, coot, moorhen, kingfisher, and snipe. Lapwings and ringed plover use the vegetation as breeding ground. A gannet is the most frequently spotted seabird.
Other birds seen along the beach in various seasons of the year are the fulmars, shearwaters, storm petrels, curlew, and whimbrel. Land birds like the sea campion and turf for nesting. Linnet, skylar, and meadow pipit abound along with reedbed birds. Abbotsbury Swannery is located here.
A number of rare plants grow on Portland island. Wildflowers and grasses are prevalent and the climate is amenable to Mediterranean species in particular. Disused limestone quarries have allowed wildflowers to flourish. Particular plants are the kidney and horseshoe vetch, birdís foot trefoil, and wild thyme.
Others include the eyebright, bee orchids, pyramidal orchids, and early gentian. Burnet roses, weld, and vipers bugloss thrive in some areas. In the early spring the beach is alive with thrift and white sea campion. Sea holly, yellow horn poppy, and saltmarsh plants also thrive here.
Divers flock to Portlandís harbour for its shallow and sheltered waters that harbour wrecked ships.
Jurassic Coast Official Website
Dorset Wildlife Trust
South-west Coast Path
Chesil Beach Centre
On road to Portland A354 just past Ferrybridge
Car park, facilities; refreshments in season
Photos of red admiral, marbled white, mallard, lapwing, curlew, and bee orchid copyright and courtesy of Hampshire Cam
Photo of sea campion copyright and courtesy of Cornwall Cam