Arne Nature Reserve...
Find Arne on a map and you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s nothing there.
But that’s precisely why you should go.
Arne is a tiny hamlet between Wareham and Poole, that gives its name to both the Parish of Arne and the Arne Nature Reserve. The latter is owned and managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and is amazing, because all that “nothing” on the map is exactly what wildlife needs.
The Arne Nature Reserve sticks out into Poole Harbour and is a mix of ancient heath and woodland surrounded by marshes and mud-flats. The result is some unique habitat for all sorts of animals and plants and some amazing countryside walks with great scenery for the rest of us.
But although the Arne Reserve is rich in all things natural, it isn’t, strictly speaking, a natural habitat. Like many landscape’s in Britain, Arne and other Dorset Heaths are man-made - even if the men and women who made them lived thousands of years ago.
During the Stone and Bronze Ages people chopped down trees for fuel and to clear space for farming and grazing. On poor and acidic soils the resulting shrub and scrub covered landscape became heaths, where coarse plants like gorse and heather took over.
Fans of Thomas Hardy will know that even comparatively recently, people scraped a living on the heaths of Dorset, using gorse for their fires and grazing animals extensively on the rough vegetation.
Today, Dorset’s diminishing heath-land has to compete with farm-land, housing, gravel extraction and even military training areas for space, but at Arne, the heath and many of those around it, are managed almost exclusively to benefit the birds and other wildlife that live in and around them - even if that management also includes farming and grazing, just as it has done for millennia.
There are two major results of this for the visitor to Arne. The first is that there’s plenty of walking to be had in wonderful rural surroundings. The second is that you are almost guaranteed to see a wealth of birds and animals at any time of year - some will be familiar, but others you may never have seen before. Dartford Warblers, Little Egrets and Stonechats are among the species to be found.
The greatest rewards when it comes to wildlife watching will always go to those who are sharp-eyed and able to move quietly through the environment or to sit and wait for wildlife to come to them. And there are opportunities for both at Arne.
There’s a variety of clearly way-marked routes through the reserve giving circular walks from 30 minutes to a couple of hours, but factor in plenty of time to stop and stare, because you’ll be doing plenty of that.
There is also a well-appointed hide for serious birders and total novices to look out over the mudflats at waders and waterfowl.
There are woodland walks and heath walks, beach walks and marshland walks. Each has its own particular character and supports a whole range of different species of plants, birds and animals large and small. For whilst Arne is an RSPB reserve, what’s good for the birds is also good for other species too.
You can expect to see Sika deer at any time of year, but you may also see lizards, newts and at the right time of year hills of wood ants erupting from the ground like insect volcanoes!
You’ll probably also see squirrels, but sadly these will most likely be grey ones rather than the red ones which still thrive just across the water from Arne on the National Trust’s Brownsea Island.
Other than the Red Squirrels, Arne has much of the same ecology as Brownsea and both are a great day out. But of the two, Arne is cheaper, as you don’t have the cost of the boat fare to reach it.
If you go by car to Arne, you will have to pay a small fee to park, but it won’t break the bank and there’s not much else you can pay for whilst you’re there, unless you decide to join up to the RSPB.
There is a Toy Museum next to the RSPB car park, and this might provide and interesting diversion for some. But if you really want to get the kids engaged and active, get them out on the heath or rambling through the woods. They’ll love it.
Dogs are allowed on the reserve, but like many places in the countryside, you’ll be expected to have them on a lead of 2 metres maximum. You’ll also be expected to bag and remove poop and take it home for disposal. Toilets for people are provided by the car park.
If finding Arne on the map is slightly tricky (see Google map above and right), finding Arne on the ground is equally tricky. It can be reached from Corfe via the turn-off to Norden Park and Ride, or you can turn-off the road through Stoborough, a village due South of Wareham and just over the River Frome.
In good weather there is nothing not to like about Arne. It is peaceful, scenic and full of interesting things to see and hear. Listen out for woodpeckers especially.
And if the weather is less good, well, there’ll still be interesting stuff to see, but you’re more likely to have an even more peaceful walk as there’ll be fewer other people to share it with. But with a reserve this big it’s hard to imagine it could ever feel crowded.
There are guided walks and events around the reserve. Details of which can be found at the Visitor Centre at the entrance. And if a visit to Arne has whetted your appetite for nature reserves, don’t forget the RSPB reserve at Radipole in Weymouth. You’ll also find some the species at Arne along the shores of the Fleet Lagoon.
The Arne Nature Reserve sticks out into Poole Harbour and is a mix of ancient heath and woodland surrounded by marshes and mud-flats. The result is some unique habitat for all sorts of animals and plants and some amazing countryside walks with great scenery for the rest of us..."