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Dorset

Dorset is a county in South West England on the English Channel coast. The county town has been Dorchester since at least 1305,[1] situated in the south of the county at 50 43'00"N 02 26'00"W Coordinates: 50 43'00"N 02 26'00"W.

Between its extreme points Dorset measures 80 kilometres (50 mi) from east to west and 64 km (40 miles) north to south, and has an area of 2,653 square kilometres (1,024 square miles). Dorset borders Devon to the west, Somerset to the north-west, Wiltshire to the north-east, and Hampshire to the east. Around half of Dorset's population lives in the South East Dorset conurbation. The rest of the county is largely rural with a low population density. Dorset's motto is 'Who's Afear'd'.

Dorset is famous for the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, which features landforms such as Lulworth Cove, the Isle of Portland, Chesil Beach and Durdle Door, as well as the holiday resorts of Bournemouth, Poole, Weymouth, Swanage, and Lyme Regis. Dorset is the principal setting of the novels of Thomas Hardy, who was born near Dorchester. The county has a long history of human settlement and some notable archaeology, including the hill forts of Maiden Castle and Hod Hill.

Physical Geography

Most of Dorset's landscape falls into two categories, determined by the underlying geology. There are a number of large ridges of limestone downland, much of which have been cleared of the native forest and are mostly grassland and some arable agriculture. These limestone areas include a band of chalk which crosses the county from south-west to north-east incorporating Cranborne Chase, the Dorset Downs and Purbeck Hills.

Between the areas of downland are large, wide clay vales (primarily Oxford Clay with some Weald Clay and London Clay) with wide flood plains. These vales are primarily used for dairy agriculture, dotted with small villages, farms and coppices. They include the Blackmore Vale (Stour valley) and Frome valley.

South-east Dorset, around Poole and Bournemouth, lies on very non-resistant Eocene clays (mainly London Clay and Gault Clay), sands and gravels. These thin soils support a heathland habitat which supports all seven native British reptile species. The River Frome estuary runs through this weak rock, and its many tributaries have carved out a wide estuary.

At the mouth of the estuary sand spits have been deposited turning the estuary into Poole Harbour, one of several worldwide which claim to be the second largest natural harbour in the world (after Sydney Harbour, though Sydney's claim is disputed). The harbour is very shallow in places and contains a number of islands, notably Brownsea Island, famous for its Red Squirrel sanctuary and as the birthplace of the Scouting movement.

The harbour, and the chalk and limestone hills of the Purbecks to the south, lie atop Europe's largest onshore oil field. The field, operated by BP from Wytch Farm has the world's oldest continuously pumping well (Kimmeridge, since the early 1960s) and longest horizontal drill (8 km/5 mi, ending underneath Bournemouth pier). Pottery is produced by Poole Pottery from the local clays.

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