BBC Springwatch boosts visitor numbers at RSPB Arne

RSPB Arne has seen a 20 percent increase in the number of visitors since the BBC broadcast the wildlife show Springwatch from the nature reserve near Wareham in Dorset.

Now, thousands more tourists are expected to visit the area at the start of the summer school holidays, encouraged not only by the TV publicity but also by special events including the celebration of Purbeck’s heathland during Heath Week from Monday 24th July 2023.

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RSPB arne nature reserve
DORSET AONB

Extra visitors are a welcome boost for Purbeck, but can bring risks to the heathland

Numbers for 2023 expected to be around 60,000

The live tv programme, which showcased Purbeck including Swanage, was shown over three weeks from Monday 29th May 2023 pulling in millions of viewers for BBC2.

The team at RSPB Arne now estimates that annual visitor figures for 2023 will rise to around 60,000. Although this is far from the historic high of 145,000 visitors in 2017-18 when BBC Autumnwatch and Winterwatch were broadcast from Arne, it is a promising start to the return of pre-pandemic numbers.

The latest show has generated a lot of first time visitors and especially families, many drawn by the conservation messages delivered by Springwatch.

Events for Heath Week across Purbeck

More than 20 organised events for Heath Week in Dorset include a reptile survey walk at RSPB Arne on Tuesday 25th July 2023, with two evening walks to discover nightjars on Thursday 27th and Saturday 29th July 2023

The Urban Heaths Partnership team will also have an education team out at Knoll Beach in Studland on Friday 28th July 2023 to promote the area’s amazing heathland wildlife – close to the heathland which was recently devastated by a wildfire.

RSPB ARNE

Listening out for nightjars on an evening walk at RSPB Arne

Inherently fragile landscapes

While the extra visitors provide welcome income for the local economy, any additional pressures come with a risk, as highlighted by the recent Studland Heath fire which was believed to have been started by discarded glass bottles on tinder dry grass.

David Brown from the National Trust, which is part of the Purbeck Heaths National Nature Reserve said:

“The Purbeck heaths provide a fantastic opportunity for visitors to refresh and recharge in a beautiful setting, the chance to explore on foot, by bike or on the water. They provide a space in which visitors can learn about and be inspired by nature.

“However this brings its own challenges for the wildlife of the heathlands, which are inherently fragile landscapes, easily damaged by too much or the wrong kinds of visitor pressure.”

Studland Heath fire
Swanage Fire Station

The latest fire on Studland Heath affected a large area of environmentally sensitive land

“Tourism can have a positive effect”

Sustainable tourism is seen as a way forward for the Purbeck economy to benefit from extra visitors, while still protecting the natural environment and wildlife.

David Brown added:

“Hundreds of thousands of people want to visit the Purbeck Heaths to camp, explore, share the delights of local food and drink, connect with nature and to just be on holiday.

“We’d like to see a future for the Purbeck Heaths where tourism can have a positive effect on the environment, society and the local economy.”

RSPB arne nature reserve wetlands

The amazing views across Arne attract both tourists and film crews

New initiatives

One new initiative for summer 2023 is a tourism leaflet promoting car free days in Purbeck, including visits to Blue Pool, Knoll Beach and Arne using national cycle networks, the Breezer buses, the seasonal 2RN shuttle bus between Wareham and Arne, Swanage Railway and Beryl bikes to get around.

Another is the K9 Firewise Patrol, a joint project between Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service and Dorset Dogs, where volunteers regularly walk on the heath with their dogs looking out for any signs of fire or suspicious behaviour that may link to wildfires.

K9 Firewise volunteer Irene, who patrols with her dog Poppy, said:

“The joy of this scheme is that it is so simple to be a part of. As a dog owner we walk daily and love to be out on the wonderful heathland that we have in Dorset.

“Whilst walking we look for signs of fires or anything suspicious that could damage the heath and wildlife, then complete a simple report via an app – in effect helping to look after the health of ourselves, our dogs, the heath and its wildlife, flora and fauna all at the same time!”

Dog that looks for fire on the heath
Dorset Dogs

Harry joins the K9 Firewise Patrol to watch out for signs of fire on the heaths

“It can take 25 years to recover from a fire”

Urban Heaths Partnership team manager Paul Atwell said:

“We really appreciate and are grateful to people and their dogs who are willing to volunteer their time to help make a difference and to be involved in this scheme to protect our precious heathlands in Dorset.

“Sadly, any fire is devastating to these habitats especially at this time of year. It can take up to 25 years to recover from the damage caused by such fires.

“For Heath Week, we are encouraging organised events around heathland to understand what habitat we have there and how we can look after it, with guided walks being held on less sensitive land.

“One of our roles is to help mitigate against extra people coming in, for example we do work with Dorset Dogs over summer.

“We try to make visitors aware of the sensitivity of the heathland as well as the people who use them regularly. We do find that if people have specialist interests, like dog walkers, they are normally very caring of the heaths.”

Urban heaths partnership stand
Urban Heaths Partnership

The Urban Heaths Partnership is encouraging organised events for Heath Week

Further information

  • More about RSPB Arne
  • Discover the events of Dorset Heath Week with the Urban Heaths Partnership
  • Find out how to have car free days out in the Purbeck Heaths NNR
  • Visit Dorset Dogs to find out how to help protect the countryside

Watch Purbeck Heath Week film

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