A visit to RSPB Arne, Dorset

by Jan

RSPB Arne is a nature reserve near Wareham in Dorset, on the south coast of England.  With a diverse range of habitats, Arne is a haven for wildlife and makes a fantastic day out for nature-lovers in Dorset.

We took a visit to RSPB Arne at the end of our holiday on the Jurassic Coast.  Its location near Wareham was ideal for a stop on the return drive to Surrey.

Although the RSPB manage the nature reserve, you really don’t have to be a bird enthusiast to enjoy a visit here.  The rich biodiversity and varied landscape make it a must-see destination for anyone interested in nature or wildlife conservation.  It’s also a beautiful place to visit for family-friendly nature walks.

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Arrival at RSPB Arne

Sign posts Arne, RSPB, Dorset

On arrival at the nature reserve, head to the Welcome Hut, where you’ll meet a bunch of enthusiastic volunteers.  They can talk you through the different trails, and what you’re likely to see.  There’s a bird feed table at the entrance, attracting a few confident birds.

Walks at RSPB Arne

Woodland path at RSPB Arne, Dorset, UK

RSPB Arne covers two areas, Shipstal and Coombe Heath, each with a choice of waymarked trails.  There are 7 trails in total, of different lengths and accessibility.  You can see a map of the trail here:  RSPB Arne Trail Guide

If you’re a first-time visitor at RSPB Arne, the Shipstal Trail is a good place to start.  It is one of the longest trails and covers the most diverse landscape.  The walk starts in the woods, but follows through heathland, farmland, saltmarsh, acidic ponds, and a stop at the beach.  What more could you want from a walk?!

Most of the walks are fairly flat and easy, though you may encounter some uneven ground in parts.  The red trail starts with a walk through some old oak woodland.  Keep your ears peeled for birds, but also your eyes, as we spotted some enormous ants’ nests.

Hairy pigs at RSPB Arne

Wild Pigs rooting in mud on sea shore at RSPB Arne, Dorset, UK

The woodland path leads to the marshland area, where you’ll find an unusual herd of gorgeous, furry pigs grazing.  These hairy swine are an overseas breed, Mangalitza, descended from wild boar.

The RSPB introduced the pigs to the nature reserve to help improve the habitat for endangered bird species, lizards, and snakes.  The intention is for the pigs to eat all the pine needles and bracken, and improve the environment for the other birds and reptiles.

Shipstal Beach

Shipstal Beach,Arne, RSPB

At the far end of this path, you’ll arrive at Shipstal beach.  This is a secluded, sandy beach, with gentle clear waters.  The water in Arne Bay is shallow, so ideal for paddling or stone skimming.

With is soft, sandy beach Arne Bay is perfect for a picnic.  In addition, for bird-lovers, it’s a good place to spot waders and other sea birds.

Shipstal Beach, Arne

The Arne beach has breathtaking views across Poole Harbour and several small islands. If you’re lucky you might spot a seal off the coastline.  Arne Beach is a stunning location and on a sunny day in April, we could have easily mistaken it for a tropical island.

Reptiles at RSPB Arne

As you leave the beach area keep an eye on the rocks, as this is a popular place for sand lizards to sun themselves.  Arne provides an important habitat for reptiles and is one of the few places where you can find all six native UK reptiles.  However, we were not in luck, as although the sun was out, it wasn’t warm enough.

The 6 native reptiles to look out for at Arne are:

  • Adder
  • Grass snake
  • Smooth snake
  • Common lizard
  • Sand lizard
  • Slow worm

Bird hides at RSPB Arne

View from the Bird Hide, Arne, RSPB, Dorset, UK

From here, the route took us through open heathland, past the ponds.  We stopped at one of the bird hides, looking out for waterbirds such as spoonbills and curlews (unsuccessfully).  There are several bird hides at Arne, where you can observe the birds without disturbing them.

The final stretch of our walk led across farmland and past some very friendly cows.  In autumn, you can spot herds of Sika deer at the reserve, but we didn’t see them.

Eventually, we completed the walk and ended up at the Visitor Centre.  The red trail takes about 2 hours, depending on how long you spend at the bird hides and beach.

The Visitor Centre at RSPB Arne

We stopped for lunch at the visitor centre.  The Arne Café offers a choice of light lunches such as pasties, soup, sandwiches, or cake.  The outside area is very pleasant with several bird feeders, attracting quite a lot of small birds.

Afterwards, we had a quick visit to the gift shop.  They have a range of gifts, but the highlight were the plush bird toys, which make an authentic bird call when you squeeze their middle.

Know before you go

How to get to RSPB Arne

Panorama view of Arne coastline, Dorset, UK

RSPB Arne is near Wareham in Dorset on the south coast of England.  From Wareham, head south towards Stoborough and turn left onto New Road.  It is well-signposted and easy to find.

The address is Arne Road, Wareham, BH20 5BJ.

If you are using public transport, the nearest train station is Wareham.  You can then take the number 40 bus.

Opening times and admission prices

The Welcome Hut is open daily from 9.30am to 4.30pm.  However, the car park is open longer from 8.30am until dusk.

Admission is £5 per person, but children are half price and the second one goes free.  We paid £12.50 for a family of four.

Things to take

I recommend wearing a comfortable pair of walking shoes or boots and taking a waterproof.  There are no refreshments on the trails, so a water bottle and a snack would also be useful.

If you want to see the birds close up, take a pair of binoculars. Alternatively, you can hire some from the Welcome Hut.  If you don’t know your birds well, What’s that Bird?  is a simple ID guide by the RSPB.

Things to do near RSPB Arne

Picture full of swans feeding

RSPB Arne is just outside the spectacular Jurassic Coast, a Unesco Heritage Site, where you’ll find plenty of amazing places to visit.

It is short drive from the beautiful beaches at Studland Bay, from where you can do the short walk to Old Harry Rocks.  Or you could pay a visit to the iconic Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove.  Animal lovers could visit Monkey World or the Abbotsbury Swannery.

We'd love to hear from you

Have you been to RSPB Arne?  We’d love to hear your questions or comments below.

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