“ RSPB heathland and coastal reserve in Dorset. Tel: 01929 553360 Nearest town: Wareham, Dorset „
As the biggest conservation charity in Europe, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a well known name to anyone with an interest with wildlife. An important aspect of their work in this country is to own and manage a series of reserves up and down the UK, protecting a huge range of habitats and animals. One of these reserves is RSPB Arne.
What and where?
Recently featured on the BBC series Springwatch, RSPB Arne is located near the Purbeck region of Dorset, just on the edge of Poole harbour, and for a small area is staggeringly diverse in species. This diversity is attributable to the fact that the reserve covers a set of vastly different habitats - broadleaf woodland, heathland and coastal systems.
Compared to some of the larger and more accessible RSPB reserves such as Titchwell or Old Moor, Arne is not over endowed with facilities. But there are toilets near the car park, and 2009 saw the opening of a new visitor centre with hot drinks and information about the reserve. I'm afraid I can't comment on the visitor centre as I've somehow managed to avoid its opening hours in recent visits, but I'll be going back this summer and will amend the review then. There are also two nature trails, Coombes and Shipstal, which can be used to explore the reserve and lead to hides and viewpoints. The RSPB also runs a range of events such as Wildflower Walks or Heathland Ambles, details of which can be found on the RSPB website.
For those with a pre-existing interest in birdwatching, Arne is a minor slice of heaven. Summer on the heath land is heat hazed and flickering with tiny birds, star among which is the charismatic Dartford Warbler. But my preferred season is the winter, when the marshy fringes of Poole Harbour are taken over by waders, ducks and geese such as Brent Geese. My favourite winter resident has to be the slightly ridiculous Spoonbills, which are what you might christen Ronseal birds as they live entirely up to their names.
Although the original remit of the RSPB may have been bird-based, this is far from all the reserve at Arne has to offer. For one thing it is bursting with other wild and semi-wild animals. It is easy to get a view of the herds of Sika Deer that roam the area, or of the 22 beautiful dragonfly species that dart over the heath. Harder to see but hugely interesting are the reptiles, including all three of the UK's snake species.
Even if you couldn't care less about anything that jumps, flies, squawks or swims, that doesn't stop Arne being a lovely place to be. You can bring a picnic and bask on the heath in the summer sun, or come out walking in winter and stare out over the frosty grey expanse of Poole Harbour. It is a really beautiful reserve.
Access and accessibility
Arne is not one of the easiest reserves in the world in terms of access. Unless you are willing to walk a good three miles then public transport is a no, although it is possible to cycle and Purbeck Cycle Hire in Wareham offers a 10% discount to RSPB members. The trip by road is quite straightforward (see RSPB website for instructions as I'm next to useless) but I would warn that it does involve a few skinny little country roads, so take a little bit of care.
Because of the nature of the site, accessibility is also not at its best. The paths are often bumpy and sandy and many are probably unsuitable for wheelchairs.
Arne does not actually charge entry fees, although there is a £2 charge for parking rising to £4 after two hours. RSPB members can leave the card in the front of the car and so won't be charged. In a nice touch, when we visited over the Christmas/New Year period all car parking charges were suspended, which was a good dose of Christmas spirit!
RSPB Arne is a place absolutely bursting with good points. Firstly there is the actual landscape - I love the feel of summer on the heath, bursting with bees and butterflies and everything gorgeous deep purple. It's also a joy to wander along the strip of beach, looking out to the islands in Poole Harbour, or to linger in the woods looking for the deer that hide between the trees. It also has some of the best birding I've ever seen, but also manages to be a great place to introduce kids to wildlife and offers a range of events to suit.
As an impoverished student who goes everywhere by public transport, getting to Arne is the primary problem. Otherwise, I have very few criticisms to make!
I would definitely recommend that you visit Arne. It isn't a big commercial attraction like many places on the South Coast - it's more the sort of place where you can dawdle away a few sunny hours, do a bit of birdwatching and take a walk in a lovely patch of countryside. Even with the proximity of Bournemouth and other tourist havens, it remains remarkably quiet. So if you are in Dorset and have a few hours to spare, or you fancy a wander after your Sunday lunch, then I can give RSPB Arne five big fat Dooyoo stars.