Dorset is home to a variety of coastal and countryside landscapes, which create the perfect habitats for wildlife to thrive. As such, this beautiful part of the country is becoming increasingly popular with wildlife enthusiasts, hoping to see wildlife up close during a trip to the South West Coast.
Here we share some of the best places to go wildlife watching in Dorset and outline the various species you may be lucky enough to see.
Dorset is one of the best places in the UK to indulge in a spot of bird watching. Native and migrating species can be spotted throughout the county, enabling even the most avid birder, to tick a couple off the must-see list.
Where to go completely depends on what you’d like to see during your travels. Below we list some of our favourite places to go bird watching in Dorset, including popular nature reserves and lesser-known spots.
Arne Nature Reserve is situated on the shores of Poole Harbour within the Dorset Area of Natural Beauty. The 500 acre site comprises of a mix of ancient oak woodland and heathland, which is often carpeted with wild flowers during the spring and summer months. Of course, sightings vary with the seasons, but the stand out species inlclude spoonbills, Dartford warblers and nightjars.
There are bird watching hides hidden amongst the trees in key locations around the site. Binoculars are available to hire from the visitor centre and refreshments can be purchased at the excellent café.
If sea birds are your thing then a trip to Dancing Ledge is an absolute must. Park at Worth Matravers on the Isle of Purbeck and enjoy a scenic walk along the South West Coast Path with binoculars in hand. This portion of the Jurassic Coast is a hot spot for nesting sea birds, so it’s common to sea razor bills, fulmars and guillemots nestled within the cliffs. If you’re extremely lucky, you might be able to spot the small colony of puffins that calls Dancing Ledge home.
The Fleet Lagoon occupies a scenic location in between Portland Harbour and Chesil Beach. It is the largest tidal lagoon in the UK and an important habitat for thousands of birds and fish. The Marine Protected Area has a thriving population of dunlin, oyster catchers and brent geese. There is a colony of little terns, which breed in the safety of a fenced area of shingle beach.
Hop on one of the Birds of Poole Harbour boat trips for unbeatable bird watching experience. There are regular cruises throughout the spring and summer months, offering a glimpse of the harbours varied birdlife that can be found within a couple of miles of our holiday park in Poole. You’ll be joined by a birding enthusiast, who will help you spot and identify birds along the way.
If you’re feeling adventurous, consider taking part in the Kimmeridge Snorkelling Trail. The Dorset Wildlife Trust team have set up an underwater trail in the sheltered waters of Kimmeridge Bay, offering a glimpse of the impressive marine life that lives beneath the sea. This unique wildlife watching experience is suitable for children and adults. The route is marked by inflatable buoys and masks and snorkels are available to hire for a small fee. Open May to September.
Head to the visitor centre to buy a laminated guide, which will help you identify the various species you can expect to see. Depending on time of year and conditions you are likely to see wrasse, jelly fish, lobsters and bass. It goes without saying, you should exercise caution when in the water and follow the snorkellers code of conduct at all times.
Wildlife enthusiasts wishing to stay on terra firma should head to Kimmeridge at low water to explore the rockpools that are exposed when the tide goes out. Kimmeridge is undoubtedly one of the best places to go rockpooling in Dorset and a must visit during your camping or caravan holiday at South Lytchett.
Believe it or not, Dorset is one of the only places in the UK where you can see all six species of native reptiles in the same place! In the heathland surrounding Arne Nature Reserve and the Studland Peninsula it is possible to spot sand lizards, slow worms and even the elusive smooth snake!
Rather than heading off in search of these rare creatures on your own, we recommend taking part in a wildlife survey with an experienced guide. They’ll show you the tell-tale signs to look out for and ensure you are working safely – adders are venomous after all. Any data you collect will be reported to the relevant bodies and will inform conservation efforts.
If reptiles aren’t your thing, head to Lulworth to look for Butterflies and Insects. This Dorset beauty spot boasts 4/5th of all the species in the UK, so you’re bound to spot these colourful creatures as you traverse the footpaths. Keep your eyes peeled for a flash of brilliant blue – it might be the Lulworth skipper. This rare butterfly is one of the smallest in the UK and only found in select parts of Dorset!
Brownsea Island is home to one of the last remaining red squirrel populations in the UK. Make the journey across Poole Harbour by boat and spend a couple of hours exploring the forests in search of these agile creatures as they jump through the trees.
You’ll need to be quiet, because they can be quite timid. We guarantee the effort will be well worth the reward!
Many visitors are surprised to learn that the Dorset is a hot spot for dolphins and porpoises. Every year, hundreds of these magnificent creatures are spotted swimming and feeding in waters along the Jurassic Coast.
There’s nothing better than seeing marine life in its natural environment and we know, from experience, that seeing dolphins in the wild is an experience you’ll never forget! Dolphin sightings are by no means guaranteed during a trip to the coast, but there are a few places you can go to up your chances of seeing common, white beaked or bottle nose dolphins in the UK.
If you’re planning a land watch, head to Durlston Country Park or Portland Bill – both are hot spots for dolphins. These picturesque locations provide an elevated position and magnificent sea views. If you’re unsure what to look for, consider joining a group such as Dorset Dolphin Watch. The friendly volunteers organise regular watches and record data for scientific purposes. Don’t forget to pack your binoculars or scope!
Book a space on a wildlife watching boat trip for a truly unique experience. There are a couple of boat operators in Dorset, who head out in search of these magnificent cetaceans. Snapper Charters in Weymouth for instance, offer dedicated wildlife watching boat trips in conjunction with Naturetrek – the UK’s wildlife travel experts. The team are Wise accredited, which means they hold safe boat handling around animals’ qualifications.
Photo credit: Dorset Dolphin Watch
If you’re looking for something a bit more unique, why not book a session with Badger Watch Dorset on the outskirts of Dorchester. The friendly team have a selection of nature hides set up in the heart of the countryside, where you’re virtually guaranteed to see badgers as they emerge from their setts.
The area is illuminated by floodlights, which provide an unrivalled view of these magnificent creatures. During the session, it is common to spot owls, foxes and other night time visitors as they forage for food. These night time wildlife watching sessions are extremely popular with wildlife photographers, looking to get some once in a lifetime snaps.
The hide is open from 6:30pm to midnight and you are free to leave whenever you please.
South Lytchett Manor is well placed for couples or families looking to go wildlife watching in Dorset. There are a variety of habitats within easy reach of our park, which provide unbeatable nature experiences for those who love spending time in the great outdoors.
We take great pride in the natural environment and work hard to create areas within our grounds where wildlife can flourish, meaning you don’t even need to travel offsite to be in with a chance of spotting deer, ducks, birds and bats.
What a fabulous place! Our first outing in our new campervan to try it out, the campsite and facilities are... thewardrobem, Nov 2023
The best campsite I've ever stayed at, usually large complexes lose a bit of what camping is about, but not... Colin, May 2023
Great stay, very clean excellent facilities. Bus into Poole 15 mins nice shops and great walk by the Quay. Definitely... Janet, Nov 2023