It seems like a long time ago now, but mid-March we headed with our Young Naturalists to the Purbecks, to hopefully explore and discover some different habitats and visit some new places. Unfortunately the weather was partly against us, and whilst I had hoped the snow from the start of the month would not return, it unfortunately did and cut our weekend short. A weekend away at the start of the year before many of the group became focussed on exams and revision had seemed a good idea at the time!
After meeting at Blashford on the Friday night, we headed over to Brenscombe Outdoor Centre just outside Corfe Castle which was to be our base for the weekend. On Saturday morning we were up bright and early and drove the short distance from the centre to the chain ferry, crossing the entrance to Poole Harbour for the ferry to Brownsea Island.
A short boat trip later and we had arrived, meeting up with Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Poole Harbour Reserves Officer Luke Johns. Whist the island is owned by the National Trust, the northern section is managed by Dorset Wildlife Trust and Luke took us on a guided walk around this part of Brownsea.
It was bitterly cold and the group did brilliantly to keep focussed and answer Luke’s questions. There were also a number of bird hides for us to visit and shelter in, which gave us excellent views of wetland birds in the lagoon including avocet.
We had planned on taking part in a beach clean with Luke, but by midday the snow was falling fairly heavily, most of us had lost all feeling in our fingers and toes and the beach in question was fully exposed to the elements, so we abandoned that plan. Luke very kindly let us warm up and have lunch in The Villa Wildlife Centre, where the group were delighted to be able to red squirrel watch from the window – we had thought our chances of seeing any were now incredibly slim, given the inclement weather.
After lunch we headed to the Church, in search of more red squirrels – we had been advised this was the best place to try and weren’t disappointed. Distracted by the peahens which were too busy sheltering to worry about our group, we soon spotted two red squirrels, one of which came incredibly close to the group, in fact too close for most cameras!
Thomas was very pleased to find a peacock feather in the woodland, a fitting souvenir for our visit to the island.
Deflecting questions along the lines of ‘which boat are we getting back’ we headed across the island and managed to get down onto the beach on the southern side of Brownsea. It was a lot more sheltered down here and you could feel the change in temperature. We followed the shoreline watching oystercatcher and brent geese and looking for other things of interest, warming up in the process.
Whilst on Brownsea we had noted 27 different species of bird: avocet, shelduck, redshank, black-tailed godwit, black-headed gull, cormorant, gadwall, oystercatcher, wigeon, great black-backed gull, pintail, dunlin, curlew, mallard, moorhen, bar-tailed godwit, brent goose, great tit, chaffinch, tufted duck, great spotted woodpecker, great crested grebe, robin, blackbird and crow, as well as of course peacock and peahen.
We then headed to the site of Lord Baden-Powell’s experimental camp which was held on 1st August 1907 and set the foundation of the Scouting and Guiding movements today.
Whilst there we spotted a small number of Sika deer, which on spotting us headed off rather quickly, leaving good tracks in the soft mud. Britain’s second largest breed of deer, they were introduced to the island from Japan in 1896. They soon discovered they could swim across the water to the Isle of Purbeck and once here established new herds.
Finally, after exploring most of the island we headed back to the church to see if we could catch another glimpse of the red squirrels, which we managed, then headed back to the ferry. We’d had a brilliant day on Brownsea and, despite the freezing cold the group thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Unfortunately after waking on Sunday morning to spectacularly snowy scenes, the group enjoyed a snowball fight then we packed up and slowly headed back to Blashford for some snowy bird photography at the woodland hide instead. We didn’t want to get stranded anywhere in the minibus and equally weren’t entirely sure how easy it would be for all the parents to get to Blashford to pick the group up.
Although cut short, it was a great weekend and one we will hopefully repeat properly at a more sensible time of year! Thank you to Luke for our guided walk around Dorset Wildlife Trust’s reserve on Brownsea and to volunteers Kate and Geoff for giving up their weekend to join us.
Our Young Naturalists group is kindly sponsored by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.