National Trust Purbeck Wildlife

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Seal Spotting

Grey seal

Common seals, also known as harbour seals, are seen fairly often within Poole Harbour and a survey by Dorset Wildlife Trust recorded up to five present during this year.  One individual, originally tagged in France, has been resident since 2008.

Seals seen at sea off the Purbeck Coast are more likely to be the larger Atlantic grey seal.  Sightings increase in the autumn as pups move away from their breeding sites in Devon and Cornwall.

Both species can be very friendly and approachable and the local press featured several stories this summer about seals in the harbour nosing around small fishing boats and even swimming alongside children in a little rubber dinghy.

In the winter of 2014/15, a cheeky female grey seal, which was christened Smiley, seemed to enjoy swimming around rowers and kayakers off Studland Beach, even attempting to clamber aboard.

DWT is monitoring them through the Dorset Seal Project.  Please report sightings and photos if possible to ‘’.



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Is it a bird…?

The brilliant late August sunshine brought a reasonably good showing of our most colourful butterflies – red admirals, peacocks, commas and an occasional painted lady (though hardly any small tortoiseshells). But these were eclipsed in my view by seeing one of our most unusual moths.


Hummingbird hawk-moths look and behave just like tiny hummingbirds. Not only do they hover over flowers and flit about like hummingbirds, but they also appear to have ‘feathers’ and a ‘tail’, which are actually elongated hairs.  The moths feed from flowers using a proboscis which, at one inch long, is almost the same length as its body.


They are migrants from Southern Europe and are one of the species currently being studied by Butterfly Conservation to map the arrival, spread and departure of migrant insects.  You can report your sightings through their website (search for ‘migrant watch’)


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Pond Life

new pond at Middle Beach

In the long term, landscape-scale conservation projects, such as acquiring new land, advising farmers and landowners, working with business and influencing national policy are essential to maintaining a healthy natural environment.  This is exactly what our Land, Outdoors and Nature strategy is all about.  But there is still room for small projects that can make a difference to wildlife diversity.  So check out the little pond recently made by the Studland Beach Rangers behind the huts at Middle Beach.  Already it is surrounded by lush vegetation with impressive spikes of purple loose-strife and colonised by whirligig beetles, water boatmen, pond skaters and three types of damselfly – large red, azure and blue-tailed.


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Six of the Best

Heath tiger beetle by Bryan Edwards

Head for the heath this month for a chance of seeing hobbies, a small falcon that looks like a giant swift hunting dragonflies and swallows in high speed chases.  Stay on to dusk and you’ll hear nightjars churring and with luck, see one in its strange, mechanical flight, silhouetted against the darkening sky.

In damp, boggy areas, cross-leaved heath, the prettiest of the common heathers, is showing clusters of pale pink flowers and where there are areas of bare ground or very short heather, look out for the lovely silver-studded blue butterfly.

Sand lizards are widespread on the dry, sandy parts of the heathland and this is also the place to look for heath tiger beetles, a charcoal-black beetle with distinctive yellow markings.  This is a nationally scarce and endangered species so please let us know the date and location of any sightings.


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Warbler Explorer

Grasshopper warbler (

Affectionately known as LBJ’s or ‘little brown jobs’, warblers can be tricky to identify.  Some do what it says on the tin, so a whitethroat has a white throat and a male blackcap has a black cap, but try picking out willow warbler from wood warbler or chiffchaff in a leafy tree.  The answer of course is to listen – they all sound very different.  Learning the song makes identification so much easier.

This is most useful with the ‘skulkers’, secretive birds like Dartford warblers that creep amongst the thick heather or reed warblers that stay low down in the midst of a dense reedbed.  I was lucky enough to come across a grasshopper warbler earlier this week.  These are champion skulkers so I didn’t get a sight of it, but still enjoyed hearing its distinctive reel, rising and falling as the bird turned its head.

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A Murmuration of Starlings

If you happened to be using the chain ferry recently as the daylight was beginning to fade, you would have been taken aback to see the Shell Bay car park overflowing and hundreds of people lining the high points of the dunes.

Word spreads fast when nature hands us a great wildlife spectacle.  For swirling around above the watchers, in ever changing patterns of synchronised twists, turns and spirals, is a great mass of starlings, perhaps as many as fifteen thousand.

They have chosen the reedbed there as an ideal winter roost and this mass aerial display is a prelude to their sudden disappearance as they funnel into the reeds and surrounding trees.

It is a mesmerising thing to see and the grand finale often brings a hushed round of applause as the spectators show their appreciation, respectful not to cause any disturbance to the birds.

It is difficult to say how long the murmuration will continue, so take the opportunity to see it now.  If you can’t visit, there are some brilliant film clips on youtube – just search for ‘starlings at Studland’.


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A Happy New Wildlife Year

Adonis Blue - David Lonsdale

Adonis Blue – David Lonsdale

Another year of wildlife watching on Purbeck lies ahead bringing enjoyment, wonder and great moments to cherish.  What will be your nature highlights in 2017?

Could it be seeing puffins off Dancing Ledge or a bright green sand lizard on the way to Agglestone Rock?  How about finding a brilliant Adonis blue butterfly on the slopes of Ballard Down or an early spider orchid on the coast path?

Can you identify a Lulworth skipper at Seacombe Bottom or discover a clump of the rare Dorset heath (Erica ciliaris) on Godlingston?  Have you heard the churring of nightjars across Hartland Moor on summer nights or the cry of a peregrine over Old Harry Rocks?

Set yourself some targets, get helpful advice from knowledgeable Purbeck National Trust staff and head for the great outdoors!