Birdlife, deer and heathland have a home on the Harbour

July 3, 2013

Harbour View 1

HARBOUR VIEW: The view of Poole Harbour from the two-storey bird hide at the RSPB’s reserve at Arne.

Sika Deer 2

HEALTHY HERD: Some of the herd of Sika deer at RSPB graze in the heathland at Arne Reserve. There is also some footage of the deer and their woodland by amateur photogapher Kevin Jakeman and it can be viewed at the bottom of this article.

 

Orchids

NATURAL WONDER: Some of the orchids that can be found at the reserve.

 

Arne route

PRECIOUS HABITAT: Looking out across at the heathland from the red walking route at Arne.

Sika Deer 1

STILL NO I DEER: This couple of Sika deer were caught unawares second time around.

ONE of the South West’s most important bits of heathland looks out onto the world’s second biggest harbour

The most important habitat at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds reserve at Arne, on the Purbeck Peninsula is lowland heath. It is home to all six species of indigenous UK reptile – the adder, sand snake, smooth snake, common lizard, sand lizard and slow-worm – and also supports salt marsh, oak woodland and reed beds.

The reserve’s mudflats and salt marsh border Poole Harbour and provide food for the UK’s second largest population of avocets and other wintering waders. Ospreys make a pit stop on Arne to feed on their migration routes.

In winter, thousands of migrating birds visit the mud flats including waders and wintering ducks and geese, particularly Brent geese. Little egrets are regular visitors to the reserve.

Despite the RSPB’s passion for its birdlife and their management of Arne for it, it should not go unnoticed that their work also benefits the snakes, lizards and dragonflies and the resident population of Sika deer.

The management of the heathland is integral for the benefit of species such as the nightjar, woodlarks and Dartford warblers. Measures they have to take include selective grazing, removing bracken, eradicating the invasive rhododendron and maintaining a mixed age balance of heather and gorse.

There are longer term plans to introduce habitats such as freshwater and tidal reed beds to help species such as bitterns.

The reserve also has a small farm where hedgerows are planted for the benefit of wildlife, providing winter bird fuel crops and providing rough pasture. The farming benefits sparrows and wintering finches.

Speaking on a video clip, the RSPB’s Mark Singleton, said: “Essentially we are on a peninsula, sticking out into the middle of Poole Harbour, so as the crow flies two miles this way; we have the massive conurbations of Poole and Bournemouth.”

Mark’s colleague Michael Wilson also said that there are 100,000 visitors who come annually out the Arne Reserve, half of whom are keen bird watchers and the rest are visitors coming out for a walk in the countryside and learn about the conservation going on there.

“The RSPB is the biggest conservation organisation in Europe with over 1,000,000 members and people think of the bird part of our name, but landscape management is the biggest part of our remit and we do the research, planning and campaigning to influence what happens in our countryside.

“Fifty per cent of our visitors are RSPB members coming to watch the birds and the rest come to see the landscape. We have guided walks on Wednesdays.

“The reserve covers 550 hectares and we are surrounded by coast, salt marsh and mud flats. Our lowland heathland is extremely important. It supports all six species of reptile.

“We’ve lost 80 per cent of our lowland heath over the last 50 years due to increasing urbanisation and this is a reason in itself to support the heathland. We are preserving heathland and we are developing more areas of it. It is home to some important species, such as the Sika deer – a great spectacle.

“The ponds are home to raft spiders and 20 species of dragon files and we also have the green tiger beetle. If we didn’t look after it, it is debatable whether it would be here.”

RSPB staff are trying to encourage ospreys to breed along the coastline between Arne and Chichester in West Sussex and two decoy birds have been installed to give visiting birds the impression that is the case.

Mark said: “This is the final part of the project we kicked off last year with the building of artificial osprey nests to encourage ospreys to stop and breed in Poole Harbour and the south coast of England.”

Coming down from Scotland for the day to help them install the “nests” was osprey expert Roy Dennis.

Mr Dennis said: “The hope is we can get ospreys breeding again along the south coast of England and we are concentrating between Arne in Poole Harbour, rlght along the coast through Hampshire to West Sussex at Chichester Harbour.

“Here we are trying a technique of putting some dummy or decoy ospreys at one of the nests so young bird and perspective ospreys that are flying through here from West Africa in the spring on their way north and coming back down in the autumn will see a pair of ‘ospreys’ at a nest and have a look at it and see the other nests that have been built .

“In this area there are seven nests at the present time and those nests are there as if ospreys had reared young in them last year so a young pair of ospreys will say ‘ah’, ospreys have been breeding here before and that may get them to stop.”

“Those decoys are from a single decoy given to me by a French osprey worker where they tried to get them to move from one side of Corsica to the other and it worked there.

“Decoys have been used in other parts of the world to encourage a variety of birds such as puffins and terns and the like, and I’m sure it will work with ospreys. A craftsman made me a mold and made these out of cavity foam insulation and then they are painted up to highlight certain things, like the flashes on the wings.

“As we were trying them out, a herring gull got confused and started to mob the decoy in the tree. What I’m quite sure of is that you will have ospreys breeding again on the south coast of Britain within 10 years.”

  • BY car, the reserve is posted three miles from Stoborough and there are parking facilities on site. If on bike, you can cycle there from Wareham railway station with a 10 per cent discount from Purbeck Cycle Hire.
  • There are toilet facilities on site; self-service hot drinks in the visitor’s hut and two bird hides with viewing facilities. Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a lead at all times. Visitors by car are charged for £2 or two hours parking or £4 or more than two.
  • FOR more information, call the RSPB team on 01929 553360 or e-mail arne@rspb.org.uk
  • FIVE years on from this article, I have added a piece of film footage of RSPB Arne by amateur photographer Kevin Jakeman made in 2010 that brings the unique character of this reserve and shows the conservation work in its magnificence and hopefully is complimented by the words in this article.

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