Dartford warbler, Arne nature reserve and firecrest © Terry Bagley
Arne is a special landscape with a vast expanse of open heathland and old oak woodland. Host to BBC Two’s Autumnwatch in 2016 and Winterwatch in 2017, Arne is known for its variety of wildlife, which includes Dartford warblers, nightjars and up to 22 species of dragonfly. The reserve overlooks Poole Harbour, allowing views of thousands of waders and waterbirds birds such as avocets, black-tailed godwits and brent geese.
Best time to visit for nightjars: summer (May – August)
Arne is owned and managed by the RSPB.
2. Brownsea Island
Red squirrel © National Trust Images/John Miller, Brownsea Island beach © National Trust Images/John Miller, avocet © Stewart Cansham
Winner of BBC Countryfile Magazine‘s Nature Reserve of the Year in 2013-2014, this idyllic island is a destination for holidaymakers and nature enthusiasts alike. Alongside the picturesque beaches, the island has a lagoon of international importance for birds. Brownsea also has about 200 red squirrels, one of only two populations of this species in southern England.
Best time to visit for wading birds: winter
Brownsea Island is owned by the National Trust, with around half of the island managed by the Dorset Wildlife Trust.
3. Alners Gorse
Silver-washed fritillary butterfly (valezina form) © Martin Warren; brown hairstreak butterfly © Megan Shersby; wildflowers at Alners Gorse © Martin Warren
Having undergone years of neglect, this 0.144 km2 nature reserve is now undergoing habitat restoration and boasts a rich mixture of fauna and flora, including a wide range of wildflowers, white admiral butterfly, three species of hairstreak butterfly (white-letter, purple and brown) and a rare form of silver-washed fritillary known as valezina (exhibited in a small number of female silver-washed fritillaries).
Best time to visit for butterflies: spring and summer (check for specific species)
Alners Gorse is owned and managed by Butterfly Conservation.
4. Chesil Beach and the Fleet Lagoon
Hare on Chesil Beach © Martin Cade, Chesil Beach © Mark Heighes, little tern © Debbie Saunders
Chesil Beach, at the heart of the Jurassic Coast is a natural wonder to behold with 180 billion pebbles, stretching 18 29km along the coast. Trapped behind this pebble bank is the Fleet Lagoon, one of the most wildlife-rich stretches of saltwater in the country. Both the beach and the lagoon are home to a wide variety of wildlife, such as little terns, brown hares, rare invertebrates, wading birds and wildflowers.
Best time to visit for little terns: summer (May – July)
Chesil Beach is managed by a partnership of organisations (including Natural England, the Crown Estates and the Environment Agency), with the Chesil Bank and Fleet Nature Reserve managed by Ilchester Estates, and the visitor centre managed by Dorset Wildlife Trust.
Ammonite fossil in rock, Charmouth Beach and ammonites in the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre © The Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre
Nominated as Beach of the Year in BBC Countryfile Magazine‘s Awards 2017, Charmouth is part of the Jurassic Coast and is famous for its fossils. These remains of ancient life tell us what Dorset was like 200 million years ago in the Jurassic period when the dinosaurs ruled the Earth.
Best time to visit for fossils: year-round
Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre provides information and events on Charmouth Beach.