West Dorset put in a strong performance at the Dorset Best Village Awards amid a focus on community projects and protecting wildlife.

With 19 out of the 39 entries all coming from villages in the west of the county, the west was ahead of the rest at the awards ceremony on Tuesday evening - despite missing out on the title awards of Best Large Village and Best Small Village - which went to Pimperne and Studland respectively.

North Dorset brought seven entries to the table, with seven coming from Purbeck and four from the east of the county.

Rita Burden, volunteer event coordinator said: "The main aim is to encourage villages to share their community spirit and receive awards for their sterling efforts.

"This I am happy to say has been achieved again this year."

Shipton Gorge was judged to be the village with the best green initiative, scooping the Environment Award after being designated an official Hedgehog Friendly village.

"One of our activities involves working with hedgehog hospitals, taking in rescues from around the county," said Chris Griffiths-Hardman coordinator of the Shipton Gorge Hedgehog Group.

"There's been quite a benefit to the community which has enjoyed a shared objective of saving what is quintessentially an English animal.

"We even had a situation where someone with limited mobility fostered an injured hedgehog over the winter in their front room."

Winner of the Community Heritage Award was the new West Bay Discovery Centre, based in a former methodist chapel dating back to 1849.

John West of Bridport Area Development Trust said: "Our mission is to be a treasure trove of activities, information and stories.

"One visitor recently commented; "we came in as a group of people aged between eight and 74 and there was something to entertain everybody" - that's what we try to achieve - we want more people to spend time in the local area having visited the centre."

The Best Village Shop category was won jointly by Thorncombe Village Shop and Chapel Lane Stores in Abbotsbury.

Presenting the award, Rupert Hardy of the Dorset Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) urged Dorset Council to protect local shops. It is the first year the awards have been held since district councils disbanded amid a shake-up of local government.

Mr Hardy said: "We have a new unitary authority and we do make a plea to the councillors.

"Village shops are the beating hearts of village communities and will only survive if they are offered substantial relief on business rates."

Cllr Pauline Batstone, chairman of Dorset Council reiterated their support for the competition. "On behalf of Dorset Council I would like to express our thanks to you all for organising such a splendid event," she said.

"I'm really pleased to see that the award has continued and is thriving. We want to encourage people to love and enjoy our beautiful county."

Commenting on the competitions' emphasis on conservation, Rita Burden said: "We are very aware that villages are becoming more environmentally friendly, leaving areas for grass and wild flowers to grow.

"We don't look for a chocolate box village with perfectly manicured lawns. We have seen an abundance of ox-eye daisies this year and Valerian has been very common - it's been a lovely picture."

Selina White, chief executive at Magna Housing said: "I am delighted that we have had the opportunity to sponsor and host the event again this year. The competition is a great way for communities to showcase their work and demonstrate the benefits to local people."

The winners are:

Best Large Village: Pimperne

Best Small Village: Studland

Best Hamlet: Beer Hackett

Best Previous Winner - Large Village: Portesham

Best Previous Winner - Small Village: Briantspuddle

Best Village Shop: joint winners - Thorncombe Stores and Chapel Lane Stores, Abbotsbury.

Peoples Project - Charlton Marshall Village Hall

Environment Award - Shipton Gorge Hedgehog Group

Community Heritage Award - West Bay Discovery Centre

First Time Entrant Award - Stourpaine