26 September 2017 Talk: Poole Harbour and its Birds by Neil Gartshore

Neil Gartshore is a true expert in his field having worked for more than 25 years in nature conservation including a 15-year spell at the RSPB's Arne Reserve in Poole Harbour, and being author of the annual ‘Birdwatcher’s Yearbook’ and of ‘Best Birdwatching Sites: Dorset’. He came to talk to Lymington & District Naturalists’ Society for our first winter meeting of the season and his topic, naturally enough, was ‘Poole Harbour and its Birds’.

Poole Harbour is one of the largest natural harbours in the world at about 10,000 hectares; it has a double tidal system with two highs close together and just one low which is important to know if you’re thinking of visiting as different species can be seen at various places depending on the state of the tide. Low tide gives small channels and mud flats for feeding waders whereas high tides drive birds to roost for example at Brownsea Island. 

All round the coastline of the harbour is fantastic for birdwatching and natural history in general even though the waters are very busy with many commercial and leisure interests ranging from Royal Marines exercises to kite surfers. This is because the harbour is zoned for different activities which people generally abide by. Both the harbour and some of the surrounding land have a variety of protective nature designations and these are supported by monthly bird counts which have been taken for over 30 years. The data from these counts are analysed periodically to see how species are faring and how usage of the harbour is changing.

During the period from October to February Poole Harbour is one of the most important areas in southern England for wintering waders and wildfowl; it regularly holds thousands of duck such as teal and wigeon, hundreds of Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Redshank and Dunlin, as well as uncommon visitors such as Bittern, Whooper and Bewick’s Swans. In summer both Sandwich and Common Terns breed on Brownsea Island, Little Egrets nest around the harbour, about 10,000 pairs of Black-headed gull nest on islands as well as 80 pairs of Mediterranean Gulls which have increased considerably in the last 20 years.

Brownsea Island is the jewel in the crown for Poole Harbour. It is owned by the National Trust but the northern part and the lagoon are managed by Dorset Wildlife Trust. There are several hides for observing the birds and these are a good place to get close to the waders in the winter and the breeding terns in the summer. Brownsea is also well known for its Avocets, beautiful elegant birds with their slender upturned bills, and the regular presence through the year of 30-40 Spoonbills. Although the island is closed to visitors during the winter it’s still possible to spend a couple of hours there by joining a guided boat tour of the harbour many of which allow time on Brownsea.

Spoonbills in flight
Neil Gartshore’s knowledge of and enthusiasm for the birds and other wildlife of Poole Harbour and the adjacent nature reserves left his audience making plans to go there this coming winter season to experience the spectacle for themselves. We were indebted to him for reminding us that such a special and important site is so close to us.