The annual coach trip was to the RSPB reserve at Arne in Dorset. The reserve opened in 1966 and is chiefly lowland heath, noted for the rare heather known as Dorset Heath (Erica ciliaris), and for its breeding Dartford Warblers. It also has acid grassland, salt marsh and woodland, with reedbeds adjoining the mudflats of the harbour. Other important species include Nightjar, Woodlark and, on the mudflats, Spoonbill. It extends over 563.4 hectares (1,392 acres) and was notified as an SSSI in 1986. The reserve has a substantial herd of Sika Deer. Originating in East Asia, these animals escaped from deer parks during the 1860s and have now become naturalised, living on the heath and oak woodland of the site.
On arrival (at around midday) we split into two groups, with one group following the Coombe Heath trail to the south and the other group following the Shipstal trails to the north.
The Coombe Heath walk initially took us past a pond and marshy area where we saw Lesser Skullcap, Oblong-leaved Sundew (all three UK species are present), Marsh Pennywort and Tormentil. Proceeding out onto the heath we saw Cross Leaved Heath, Centaury, Vervain, Selfheal, Ragwort, Greater Mullein, Dwarf Gorse and Common Dodder: indicating a mixture of soil types. Tree Pipits were collecting caterpillars and feeding their young hidden in the Heather. At the bird hides we could see distant Spoonbills, Shelduck (one pair with 15 chicks), Curlew, Black Headed Gulls, Swifts and a Black Tailed Godwit. We later saw a Hobby and Silver-studded Blue butterflies.
The Shipstal trails led to the beach where there were hundreds of Barrel Jellyfish (30cm diameter and 1.2m long with a mild sting) washed up and dying. After a picnic lunch on the beach, a wander across the salt marsh revealed the small pink flowers of Greater Sea-spurrey, drifts of Common Sea-lavender, fleshy green and red spikes of Glasswort and white-flowered Common Scurvy-grass, Sea Sandwort, Arrow Grass and Sea Couch Grass. On the beach were mats of Sea Campion. There was a small group of Sika Deer grazing in the marsh close to Black-headed Gulls, Oystercatchers and a Little Egret. After a steep climb up to the viewpoint above the beach, the group were rewarded with wide-ranging views over Poole Harbour and across to the Purbeck Hills. The path descended through heathland to a sheltered area of low Bell Heather, where blue male and brown female Silver-studded Blue butterflies were flying. The path continued between heathland pools with patrolling dragonflies, across bracken-covered heathland and on through oak woodland with cushions of moss. Butterflies added to the tally included Small Heath, Large Skipper, Speckled Wood, Red Admiral and Meadow Brown. Two Treecreepers were watched for some time as they worked their way up a tall Birch tree.