A series of monthly blogs by Midnight Sparkle, Inside Arne gives you exclusive insight into some of the work that is vital to help manage and maintain the RSPB’s wonderful Dorset reserves. Each month, this blog series will feature a different member of the team, be they staff or volunteer, sharing personal stories and behind-the-scenes knowledge.


Hyde’s Heath from a volunteer’s perspective: An interview with Angela

After a short break, the series continues with Angela, a volunteer at Arne, here to tell us about Hyde’s Heath and the diverse work of the Hyde’s Heath work party.


How did you get into volunteering with the Hyde’s Heath Work Party?

I was initially encouraged to volunteer by one of my Explorer scouts. I run the Wareham Explorer scouts, and one of them was volunteering in the café at Arne and she said, why don't you go and volunteer at Arne when you retire. So I was actually introduced to it by one of the young people.

I've been volunteering in the Arne shop for four years since I retired and I’ve been volunteering in the car park since they reopened after lockdown. Through this, I met Bev (Beverley Lagden, Hyde’s Heath Project Officer) and she mentioned her conservation work parties on Thursdays. I thought it sounded like a good idea and my husband decided to do it as well. We've been doing it for quite a while now and it's been really good because it's a really nice group of people who like to get on with it and the work we do is quite varied as well.

At Hyde’s Heath, we’ve mostly been pulling pines, cutting the smaller ones and sawing the slightly larger ones. The contractors are brought in for the particularly big trees. Working within COVID guidelines, we’ve had to work spaced out. Luckily, my husband and I can work as a team, which allows us to handle the bigger ones and work more quickly as well. Adam (Residential Volunteer) helps us to burn the pine we’ve cut. Using the tools is a pretty good core exercise actually - you know you've done a day's work, certainly by the time you’ve been up there all day, cutting and dragging and burning.

One of the best things has been that, as the weeks went on, we could see the area we've cleared getting bigger and bigger - it’s a huge amount! It's really good that, each time we go back, we can see the heather and heathland plants regenerating and increasing, as well as benefits to other wildlife.

The woodlark have increased up there as well as the Dartford warbler because, although gorse is their habitat of choice, it will eventually regenerate up there as well. More reptiles and amphibians will come out as the pine is removed and it becomes a stable environment for them. We found some interesting fungi out there on the old pine stumps including an old bracket fungus. After a few more sessions of pine removal, more and more Heath will regenerate up there.


Photo credit: Beverley Lagden - Hyde’s Heath volunteers, cutting pine on the heath while socially distancing.


What other work do you do as part of the work party?

As well as the work we do at Hyde’s Heath, we’ve recently re-posted the overflow car park at Arne, removing the plastic tape and putting in wooden posts to show people where to park. We took out some of the posts that no longer needed to be up on Coombe Heath and reused those in the car park.

We’ve been involved in surveying, counting early spider orchids and small river invertebrates. We’ve also dug the ditch at Coombe Heath and worked at Durlston recently. At Upton, we've done pond work and odd jobs with a nice mixture of RSPB volunteers and volunteers from other organisations too.

The work party is organised by the RSPB but we work at Arne, Wareham Forest, Upton Country Park, and Durlston. Working with other voluntary groups is great and we sometimes swap jobs halfway through the day! A lot of what we've done at Upton has been clearance work - clearing areas of bramble and stinging nettle. We’ve also cut willow that needed pollarding, and used it to re-border one of the ponds.


Photo credit Beverley Lagden - Hyde’s Heath, before and after cutting pine.


What’s your favourite thing about volunteering? What keeps you coming back?

I keep volunteering at Arne because I live locally, I've known the reserve for the last 30 years, and I think my favourite task is probably the pine pulling because that's the one where you can really see we're making a huge difference. I’d say there's still several years’ worth of pine pulling to go and they’re going to keep growing, so it’s about making sure we keep on top of it. Even where it’s cleared it will come back and need to be re-cleared again. In fact, some of what we're doing on Hyde’s Heath has been done before, some of the larger pines had been removed some years ago, but since then a lot of small pine has grown up and it will continue to grow because the seed is in the ground. That’s why Arne’s Pull-a-Pine event is great because it gets lots of people interested in what we're doing at Arne, getting involved to make a difference, and getting something back from it.

Something else I’d like to mention is that Bev is involved with a study that Bournemouth University are doing about volunteering, conservation work, and wellbeing. The last few weeks we've all been filling in a questionnaire at the beginning and end of each session about our wellbeing, and somebody at Bournemouth is studying whether being out in the open air and doing something useful makes people feel better - which I believe it does. Just being out in the open air is good for people. Talking to others and working together, then seeing the difference you’ve made, is a great feeling.

Photo credit Beverley Lagden – The Hyde’s Heath work party come prepared to pull pine, whether rain or shine!


Many thanks to Angela for sharing some of the work she does as part of the Hyde’s Heath work party at Arne. If anything you’ve read about here has interested you, or if you’d like to learn more about volunteering with the RSPB, we would love to hear from you – please email us at arne@rspb.org.uk

Keep an eye out for next month’s entry as we continue the Inside Arne series.

To keep up-to-date with all of the latest Arne news, check us out on: