Discover Autumnwatch’s new home: RSPB Arne in Dorset

Japanese deer, red squirrels and the strange-looking spoonbill will have cameos this year

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For the first time, Autumnwatch is setting up home at the RSPB Reserve of Arne in Poole Harbour, Dorset.

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Situated on Poole Harbour, this is officially the most biodiverse region in the UK. Within ten miles of Wareham, there are more species of animals and plants than anywhere else in the country.

There are three reasons this area is so good for wildlife:

  1. There are an incredible variety of different habitats: lowland heath and woodland; rivers and estuaries; marshes and coastal scenery.
  2. Poole harbour acts as a micro-climate, creating one of the warmest places in the UK and real refuge for animals and plants against harsh weather. Dorset gets 364 more hours of sunshine than the UK average.
  3. And, crucially, much of this area is managed and protected superbly by a network of conservation organisations.

Over the next four evenings, the team will be visiting many of the sites on the Isle of Purbeck (of which Arne is part) which is an AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty). They will also visit Brownsea Island which was voted Britain’s favourite nature reserve in 2013, and is looked after by the National Trust and the Dorset Wildlife Trust.

Here are just a few of the species starring in this year’s Autumnwatch…


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Sika deer

One of the animals that Arne is best known for is the herds of sika deer. At this time of year they will be in the middle of their rutting season, when hinds (female deer) choose their stag as they in turn fight it out to win the best territories. Stags don’t just use antlers, they get dressed up with mud coats and make an astonishing array of noises and calls.

Native to Asia, they were introduced to parks in the UK in 1860, but escapees have established themselves in our countryside. Sika deer are considered to be sacred in Japanese culture. The Autumnwatch team will be following all the action during the day, and live at night with special night-time thermal cameras. The ambition is to film one of the famous white harts (stags).

Red squirrels

Brownsea Island is one of the last refuges of the red squirrel in England. Yet its 200 tufted residents are under threat from leprosy. Autumnwatch’s Gillian Burke joined a team of scientists from the University of Edinburgh urgently trying to understand the impact of this much-misunderstood disease.

Spoonbills

Arne and Poole are home to one the UK’s strangest creatures, the spoonbill. The size of a heron, pure white and with an extraordinary long spoon shaped bill. They look utterly exotic, and indeed they were until a few years ago. Arne and Brownsea have the largest flock of spoonbills found anywhere in the country. The team will be tracking them down and – with the aid of a decoy spoonbill equipped with a camera – attempt to get intimate live footage of them close up.

Bats 

Five years ago, a team of chiropterologists (bat researchers) discovered a mysterious seasonal gathering in a disused quarry on the Isle of Purbeck. Every autumn, 15 of Britain’s 17 bat species come together for a few nights in this spectacular coastal location. The motivation for their “swarming” behaviour is unclear – is it to feed, to breed, or to prepare for hibernation? With mist nets, a bat detector and state-of-the-art thermal imaging, Autumnwatch will investigate.

Reptiles 

The mosaic of different habitats at Arne make it a stronghold for reptiles. Gillian Burke joined RSPB expert Rob Farrington on his autumn survey around the reserve. Peering under felts and tins from the heathland to the farm, this year’s results were surprising – with one species reining supreme: the smooth snake, a specialist reptile-hunter.

Autumnwatch begins on Monday 24 October at 8pm


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