The RSPB nature reserve at Arne is perfect for both a short stroll through the woodland or a full day out walking and exploring.
Part of the Isle of Purbeck and the Dorset AONB, the 565 hectare reserve comprises an array of habitats, which are havens for wildlife, including all six of the UK’s native reptiles.
As you explore Arne, you’ll discover ancient woodland, stunning expanses of rugged heathland and even small bays of Poole Harbour with views across to the Purbeck Hills and Brownsea Island.
There are various viewing points and bird bides dotted around the reserve. You can also hire binoculars or book onto a guided tour at the welcome area but the car park.
A shop and café for coffees, cakes and light lunches can be found a short walk from the car park.
There are seven trails of varying lengths along which to explore Arne. You can pick up a map at the welcome area, or simply follow the colour-coordinated signposts.
- Shipstal Trails – Follow the red signs from the car park through the woodland to the salt marsh. The full trail is around two miles long and will take just under two hours to complete, although there are shorter versions, such as the green and yellow trails, which are both about an hour, the orange Dumbledore trail and a 30-minute easy access trail
- Coombe Heath Trail – Grey signs will lead you around this hour-long, 1.5 miles trail. It encompasses some of the reserve’s heathland leads to a viewing area through which you can see views over Purbeck to Corfe Castle
- Hydes Heath Trail – With wide-reaching views, this two-hour route explores some of the newer heathland area of the reserve (dogs – except guide dogs – are not allowed on this route)
You can download a map and visual guide via the RSPB Arne’s website:
- Trail route guide: www.rspb.org.uk/globalassets/downloads/documents/reserves/arne_trail_guide.pdf
- Visual guide: www.rspb.org.uk/globalassets/downloads/documents/reserves/arne-visual-guide.pdf
Many of the reserve’s trails can be explored by Tramper.
To enquire about hiring the off-road mobility scooter email in advance: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bikes are prohibited on all nature trails in the Arne reserve.
There is, however, a public bridleway close to nearby St Nicholas’ church in Arne village, as well as bike racks, so if you do come by bike (the Purbeck Cycleway will bring you within around 2km of the reserve) you can continue to explore Arne on foot.
Dogs are welcome at Arne but must be kept on a short lead of less than two metres so as not to disturb wildlife and their delicate habitats.
The nearest dog waste bin is on the Arne Road toward Ridge by Sunnyside Farm.
Dogs are permitted in the garden area of the café. You’ll also find water bowls here and at the welcome area by the car park.
The diversity of the habitats at Arne are one of the things that makes it so special – walk through woodlands of ancient oak, across farmland, alongside acidic grassland and even find a sandy beach of Poole Harbour along the trail.
There is scrub, mudflats and salt marsh, as well as wetland, wet woodland and – rare for the UK – lowland heaths. The RSPB team works hard to protect the natural environment here for the conservation of its flora and fauna for years to come.
This variety of habitats mean that Arne is teeming with wildlife throughout the year, and one of the best places in Dorset for wildlife-spotting.
There is a plethora of wildlife on the reserve, which you might see on your visit:
- Deer – The resident herd of sika deer can be seen grazing in the field as you walk through the woods, and may even roam out along the path
- Birds – A fascinating place to look out for some of Britain’s most-loved birds, Arne is home to the Dartford warbler, spoonbill and nightjar among many others, including waders such as the avocet, whose population at Arne is the UK’s second-largest
- Reptiles – Like Studland, Arne is one of the few places in Britain where all six UK-native reptiles can be found. These are the smooth snake, adder, sand lizard, grass snake, common lizard and the slow worm
- Insects – Arne is also home to a host of intriguing critters, including the rare Purbeck mason wasp, which is only found in Dorset, and the silver-studded blue butterfly
If you’re not a seasoned ornithologist, or would like to learn more about hedgehogs, mushrooms or sand lizards, the RSPB team holds regular interactive events, guided walks and educational activities.
If you want to check in with what’s happening on the reserve right now, you can visit the RSPB Arne live webcam: youtu.be/z2YXRazll4Y
The rich habitats and natural environments provide the RSPB team with unique opportunities for the conservation of threatened species.
Here are some of the success stories over the years:
- Ladybird spider – The striking ladybird spider almost became extinct here in the 1980s, with only seven remaining. The ladybird spider was released into Arne in 2011 and has become a resident mini-hero having now established itself beyond Arne
- Lowland heath – Supporting various rare plant and animal-life, the under-threat lowland heath of Arne and its many micro-habitats is carefully managed using specialised knowledge and techniques, including managed grazing (using ponies, pigs and cattle); managing the balance of gorse, heather and open ground; and managing invasive species such as bracken and rhododendron
Children and family activities at Arne
There are trails and activities aimed specifically at children at Arne, as well as year-round and seasonal events.
Harry Potter fans will enjoy this circular walk and wild play area.
Pick up a map of all the routes around Arne at the welcome area.
Discover the secrets of the forest in the RSPB’s Halloween ‘Wild Woodland’ quiz trail half-term fun.
Keep an eye out in the trees for clues to lead you on to the next discovery point – and learn some weird and wonderful nature facts along the way.
Collect your map and quiz sheet at the entrance near the car park.
Public toilets are located next to the car park and are open between 10am and 4pm daily.
An accessible toilet is also available – an RPSB team member at the welcome area will be able to assist and open it for you.
The café at Arne is open from 10am – 4pm daily.
It offers a range of hot and cold drinks, snacks and light lunches, including children’s portions, vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.
Food is organic, Fairtrade and sourced locally where possible. The reserve uses organic, bird-friendly coffee, meaning that coffee producers ensure the canopy above the coffee bush where wildlife can thrive remains intact.
There is wheelchair access to both the café and shop at Arne.
The RSPB Arne shop sells a range of nature and wildlife-oriented gifts and homewares, including bird-feeders, hedgehog and toad ‘hotels’ and a range of bird food.
There’s also everything you need to help you explore the natural space around you, such as binoculars and telescopes.
The shop is also a great place to pick up a memento of your day or children’s nature-themed games books and toys.
The nature reserve at Arne, including its car park, is open every day from 8.30am until dusk.
In addition to this, certain areas and facilities are open daily as follows:
- Welcome Area: 9.30am – 4.30pm
- Toilets: 10am-4pm
- Shop: Weds – Sun 10.30am – 4pm
The café is currently offering a takeaway service only, between 10am and 4.30pm.
Get in touch with the team at Arne by email or phone to book a guided tour, hire a Tramper in advance or for general enquiries about the reserve.
The ‘Hire-a-guide’ tour is best for up to four people and lasts up to three hours.
The cost for a tour is £100 (or £80 for RSPB members) for your group.
📞 01929 553360
Admission and parking
There is no admission fee to explore Arne, but car parking charges apply as follows:
- Free for RPSB members (display membership card in your car)
- £7 for the day per car
- £15 per coach or minibus
There are five Blue Badge spaces near the entrance to the main walking trails, as well as four spaces further in to the reserve for visitors with additional access needs.
There is a secondary overflow car park to cater for busier days.
How to get to Arne
Postcode for your SatNav: BH20 5BJ
Follow the A351 from Swanage until you reach Soldiers Road (past Norden and just opposite the Halfway Inn pub). Turn right and continue until you reach Arne Road. Take a right here and RSPB Arne will be just down the road.
If you’re coming from Wareham, head towards Stoborough on the B3075. Arne is signposted from New Road – turn left here and then right at Ridge. Continue on Arne Road until you reach the nature reserve.
It is possible to get to Arne by bus (also by train, alighting at Wareham to pick up the bus), however the nearest bus stop is a three-mile walk from the reserve.
You’ll need to catch the Purbeck Breezer No.40 and get off at Stoborough Green, at which point you can follow New Road till you reach Arne.
Note that you can also grab a taxi from Wareham Station to Arne, although booking a return time in advance with your driver is recommended as phone signal in Arne can be patchy.
Join the RSPB
If you’re interested in joining the RSPB visit the charity’s website: www.rspb.org.uk/join-and-donate/
It’s a way to contribute to the conservation of wildlife and the natural world as well as receive benefits such as a quarterly magazine and free entry to the UK’s 170+ RSPB nature reserves.