I am often asked by people intending to visit Dorset where they should go whilst they are here for the best wildlife experience. It is, of course, an impossible question to answer as it will depend very much on what an individual particularly wants to see as well as the time of year of the visit (not everyone comes in high summer!). In this article I try to pick out my top ten favourites to share with you in the hope that you will find some to suit your interests.
The top ten is presented in ALPHABETICAL order and not in an order of preference. A link to my details of each of the sites can be made by clicking on the site name.
A Dorset Butterfly Conservation reserve so a top place to go in mid-summer for butterflies but Alners Gorse is much more than that. It has a wonderful display of flora and, as a result, insects that buzz around them. Alners Gorse is a totally 'natural' environment that is a tiny remnant of what this area of Dorset was once like.
Arne is a premier RSPB reserve and no visit to Dorset would be complete without a visit. It may be the RSPB but there is more to Arne than birds, especially in summer. The reserve is mainly heath inland and tidal mud-flats on the shore line with Poole Harbour. The central accessible area of the reserve is a matrix of habitats and there is always something to interest the amateur naturalist. Arne us just a lovely place to be.
With no cars and access only by boat Brownsea is a must for all lovers of peace and tranquillity. It can be bit of an expensive day out for a family by the time you have paid to park, paid for the ferry, paid the National Trust entrance fee and then the Dorset Wildlife Trust entrance fee (and that is before you visit the cafe and the shop!). However, it really is worth a visit, even if it only to see the red squirrels. There is much more to Brownsea though including the wonderful saline lagoon which is a nesting place for terns and other waterfowl and waders.
If I was leaving Dorset and had time to visit one place before having to depart I would head for Durlston, near Swanage. As much as I love Arne, Durlston gives you such wonderful views of the Purbeck coastline as well as an abundance of wildlife and plants. It is a truly stunning place on a warm summers day with view to the Isle of Wight to the east and to Portland to the west. The flower meadows are unbelievable and the cliffs home to nesting sea birds. Yes, its Durlston for me!
The RSPB has four reserves in Dorset and Garston Wood is the least well known but, although smaller than the others, it is just as special. In spring the wild flowers are a sight to behold and the bird song a real joy. In summer, whilst flowers remain a major attraction it is butterflies and other insects that come to the fore. Right on the edge of the county border with Wiltshire it is, perhaps, a but out on a limb but well worth the journey.
My inclusion of Hog Cliff might surprise a few locals but I wanted to give a variety of habitats in jmy top ten selection and I had to include a chalk grrassland site. A national nature reserve Hog Cliff is actually little known and rather neglected by visitors although that, of course, counts in its favour if, like me , you oprefer peace and quiet. A superb array of flowers and butterflies Hog Cliff is an ideal place to spend a summer afternoon.
I can say with some confidence that Kingcombe Meadows is truly unique. Once a farm it was never affected by intensification and so, when it became available for purchase back in the 1980's the Dorset Wildlife Trust were able to raise the funds to buy it and so maintain in its original condition. West Dorset is a beautiful area and at Kingcombe you see this at its best and just as it was before the second world war. Yes, it is unique!
No visit to Dorset would be complete without a visit to Portland. As you cross the causeway from Weymouth onto the island you enter a totally different world; a world of stone. Several of the redundant stone quarries are nature reserves and worth a visit but going down to the 'Bill' is a must. With the sea on both sides, high cliffs and limestone grassland in between there is something for everyone. Portland is, of course, famous for migrationg birds and the Portalnd Observaotory is one of the foremost bird observatories in the country. If you are here in winter and get the chance, go down on a wild, windy day and just take a look at the sea!
I find it difficult to describe Powerstock Common, it is best you go and see it for yourself. The 'common' was once crossed by a railway that has long since gone and the track of the old railway is pure delight for flowers and insects. The rough, damp pasture of the common is home to countless grasshoppers as well as the marsh fritilary butterfly and that is before you reach the woodland. Powerstock is certainly worthy of its place in my top ten!
Although in the middle of Weymouth these two RSPB reserves are a must, certainly in winter for birds but Radipole is also a delight in summer too. Radipole is one enormous reed bed and has several interesting nesting bird species along with a lot of flowers ans some rare insects. Although a reed bed the site is fully accessible as the RSPB have done some wonderful work to make it so.
I must stress again, these are my personal choice and there are many other places I could have included but, as I restricted myself to ten, then that is it!