The best of Dorset in words and pictures

Dorset in winter

Guy Edwardes captures our county’s landscapes and wildlife

Fallow deer were introduced to Britain by the Normans. One of the best places to spot them is on Powerstock Common, a Dorset Wildlife Trust reserve near Bridport.

Fallow deer were introduced to Britain by the Normans. One of the best places to spot them is on Powerstock Common, a Dorset Wildlife Trust reserve near Bridport.

The Dorset countryside can look a little bleak and barren during the winter months. However, if you know where to look there are often some spectacular scenes to be witnessed and always an abundance of wildlife to be found.

Grey herons are found around both freshwater rivers and lakes and along the coast. They feed on a variety of prey including fish, frogs, insects, small mammals and young birds.

Grey herons are found around both freshwater rivers and lakes and along the coast. They feed on a variety of prey including fish, frogs, insects, small mammals and young birds.

I consider winter to be the best season to explore the rugged and magnificent Dorset coastline. At this time of the year the sun rises and sets out to sea, casting golden light along the shoreline and cliffs. There are often periods of exceptionally clear air that provide fabulous views from the highest points along the coast. When a winter storm lashes our shores head for a viewpoint such as Portland Bill or the Langmoor and Lister Gardens in Lyme Regis to witness the spectacle in safety.

Yellowhammers are normally found on arable farmland but cold weather often brings them into gardens as food becomes harder to find

Yellowhammers are normally found on arable farmland but cold weather often brings them into gardens as food becomes harder to find

North Dorset has been most prone to significant snowfall in recent years. Shaftesbury is the highest town in Dorset and can be particularly affected. It can be difficult to travel far in these conditions but it is well worth exploring on foot to view the magnificent scenes. Spare a thought for birds of prey such as barn owl and wintering short-eared owl as these conditions can make it almost impossible for them to find mice and voles beneath the snow.

Barn owls can suffer greatly during harsh winter conditions. They will often be seen hunting by day when prey is scarce.

Barn owls can suffer greatly during harsh winter conditions. They will often be seen hunting by day when prey is scarce.

When the temperature drops below freezing frost will begin to form. In areas prone to mist and fog this can turn into a thick layer of hoar frost on trees and vegetation, producing a most dazzling spectacle come morning. Some of the best places to view this magical display are river valleys and the lowest points in the Marshwood and Blackmore Vales.

Frost crystals form from water vapour in the air and on particularly cold nights large crystals can grow, especially along riverbanks and on hilltops shrouded in fog or low cloud

Frost crystals form from water vapour in the air and on particularly cold nights large crystals can grow, especially along riverbanks and on hilltops shrouded in fog or low cloud

Our garden bird populations are boosted during the winter months by thousands of migrants such as chaffinch, blue tit, siskin and great tit, all of which travel south to escape the harsh winter conditions in Scandinavia and other countries in northern Europe. Some species only occur in Dorset during the winter months such as redwing, fieldfare, brambling and occasionally waxwing. Feeding the birds in your garden can benefit them greatly during spells of cold weather. However, feeding must be consistent otherwise the birds will rely upon the food source you are supplying and may struggle if it stops suddenly, especially in areas where other people aren’t feeding them. It is equally important to provide a constant supply of unfrozen drinking water. Watch out for huge flocks of starlings congregating at dusk to roost in reed-beds. By gathering in such large numbers individual birds are less likely to be preyed upon by sparrowhawks and peregrine falcons.

Fontmell Down affords spectacular views across the Blackmore Vale. An extensive network of footpaths provides access to this summit and neighbouring Compton Down and Melbury Hill.

Fontmell Down affords spectacular views across the Blackmore Vale. An extensive network of footpaths provides access to this summit and neighbouring Compton Down and Melbury Hill.

Don’t let the cold temperatures discourage you from exploring Dorset’s coast and countryside. Dress up warm and enjoy our county’s breathtaking landscape and remarkable wildlife this winter!

Storms often batter our coastline during the winter months. A strong south or southwesterly wind can bring huge rolling waves crashing ashore, as shown in this image of Lyme Regis.

Storms often batter our coastline during the winter months. A strong south or southwesterly wind can bring huge rolling waves crashing ashore, as shown in this image of Lyme Regis.

DORSET’S BEST WINTER WALKS

Lulworth Range Walks:

Footpaths pass through some of the Jurassic Coast’s most impressive scenery between Kimmeridge Bay and Lulworth Cove. The walks are situated on MOD land and are open most weekends and during public holidays. See http://www.dorsetforyou.com/389942 for more details.

Scarlet elf cups are colourful fungi that appear throughout the winter and into spring. They are common in damp woodlands and along riverbanks.

Scarlet elf cups are colourful fungi that appear throughout the winter and into spring. They are common in damp woodlands and along riverbanks.

Melbury Beacon and Fontmell Down:

A short but fairly strenuous walk across the downs of north Dorset providing spectacular views over the Blackmore Vale and the Saxon town of Shaftesbury. Further details can be found on the National Trust website.

Snowdrops are one of the first harbingers of spring. The small village of Compton Valence near Dorchester is famous for the fine displays that line both sides of the road.

Snowdrops are one of the first harbingers of spring. The small village of Compton Valence near Dorchester is famous for the fine displays that line both sides of the road.

Lewesdon Hill and Pilsdon Pen:

This 7 mile circular walk begins in Broadwindsor and takes in the two highest hills in Dorset – Lewesdon Hill 279m and Pilsdon Pen 277m. Both hills provide stunning views of the patchwork landscape of the Marshwood Vale. Directions can be found here http://www.greatwalksinbritain.co.uk/Editions/Walks/

Significant accumulations of snow have occurred on Compton Down in recent years. These beech trees are at Gore Clump above Compton Abbas.

Significant accumulations of snow have occurred on Compton Down in recent years. These beech trees are at Gore Clump above Compton Abbas.

WHERE TO WATCH WILDLIFE IN WINTER

Radipole lake RSPB reserve:

This fabulous nature reserve right in the centre of Weymouth is one of the best locations in Dorset to observe bearded tits, bittern and water rail during the winter months.

These beech boughs were photographed on Beaminster Down after a light covering of snow

These beech boughs were photographed on Beaminster Down after a light covering of snow

Lodmoor RSPB reserve:

An RSPB nature reserve situated just to the east of Weymouth. The lagoons here support a variety of overwintering wading birds, along with little egret, bearded tit, Cetti’s warbler, bittern, water rail and a range of wildfowl, all of which can be viewed from several points along a well-made and level, circular trail.

The crumbling ruins of Corfe Castle are positioned in a strategic gap in the Purbeck Hills. Both East Hill and West Hill provide stunning views of the majestic Dorset landmark.

The crumbling ruins of Corfe Castle are positioned in a strategic gap in the Purbeck Hills. Both East Hill and West Hill provide stunning views of the majestic Dorset landmark.

The Isle of Portland:

Portland Bill is a great spot to view seabirds, especially when they get pushed closer to the coast by passing storms. Purple sandpiper, turnstone and goosander can also be observed along Portland’s rocky shoreline.

The towering golden sandstone cliffs between Burton Bradstock and West Bay are familiar landmarks of the Jurassic Coast

The towering golden sandstone cliffs between Burton Bradstock and West Bay are familiar landmarks of the Jurassic Coast

Powerstock Common:

This Dorset Wildlife Trust reserve is an excellent place to spot wildlife on a frosty winter morning. Watch out for both fallow and roe deer. A circular walk leads through the reserve’s mixed woodland and then back along a disused railway line.

The Purbeck Marine Nature Reserve at Kimmeridge Bay is well worth a visit during the winter months. Get there at low tide to search for the varied marine life that inhabits the rock pools.

The Purbeck Marine Nature Reserve at Kimmeridge Bay is well worth a visit during the winter months. Get there at low tide to search for the varied marine life that inhabits the rock pools.

Brownsea Island:

Boat trips to the island run, weekends only, from 19 February departing from Sandbanks. A winter visit will be rewarded with views of a variety of wintering wading birds on the lagoons such as golden plover and avocet. Red squirrels are present – if not always prepared to pose – all year. Contact the Dorset Wildlife Trust for more information 01305 264620.

Dorset Directory