Waterside Natural History Society visit to Highcliffe in Dorset

The outdoor meeting for November was arranged over a year ago as a walk along the cliffs at Highcliffe on the south coast.

Unfortunately, part of the walk was closed in March 2017 so a circular walk along the top of the cliffs and returning by the shore was impossible.

The single walk was replaced by two separate walks starting from the Cliff Hanger café car park and the Highcliffe Castle car park respectively.

November is a quiet month for natural history with many of the plants becoming dormant for the winter and the bird life restricted to resident birds.

Greater emphasis is therefore placed on the scenery and the views along the cliff top provided a continuing interest throughout the walk.

Away from the car park at the Cliff Hanger Café, the noise of traffic receded to be replaced by the sights and sounds of the coast.

The sky over the sea consisted of high cloud with colours ranging from grey through yellow and orange to pink.

The outline of the Isle of Wight and the Needles could be seen to the east with Hurst Spit almost reaching to the island.

To the west, Hengistbury Head and the entrance to Christchurch Harbour could clearly be seen.

The walk was accompanied throughout the day by the sound of Gulls and the swell breaking onto the shingle beach.

The Dorset coast is prone to erosion and although there is a tendency to allow nature to take its course a great deal of work has been done in this area to protect the existing coastline.

Large boulders of Portland stone have been laid on both sides of the coastal path and into the sea in the form of groynes to try and stop the sea from scouring along the coast.

Coarse shingle appears to have been transported to the beach rather than accumulated naturally.

Time will tell if these sea defences are enough to protect the land but it certainly attracts large numbers of people and dogs going for a Sunday stroll.

Highcliffe Castle is a castle in name only unless you believe ‘an Englishman’s home is his castle’ in which case it is certainly a castle.

The gardens designed by Capability Brown have long since outgrown the original design but when approaching through the trees the castle towers above the viewer and makes you stop to gaze in awe.

Much of the grounds have been turned into the ‘Steamer Point Nature Reserve’ which provide an unexpected woodland setting along the top of the cliffs.

The trees and vegetation are mainly green even at the end of autumn due to the Scots Pine and Evergreen Oak above and the Gorse below.

Ivy and cultivated shrubs left over from the original gardens remain green through the winter but parts of the wood consist of deciduous Oak and Beech which have shed their leaves onto the woodland paths.

The maritime climate also means that frost is unlikely and coastal plants thrive in the shingle on the coast.

Sea Spurge and Rock Samphire were both present at the side of the path and the daisy-like flowers of Sea Mayweed grew in crevices between the rocks.

The indoor meeting for November was an illustrated talk by Dominic Couzens entitled ‘Birding a local Patch’.

The patch in question was a square kilometre in the area around Longham Lakes in Dorset which Dominic Couzens watched over and recorded from before the reservoirs were created in 2002.

Over 180 different bird species have been recorded since its creation.

The talk described some of these birds with their migratory habits and time spent over the years as the reserve has evolved.

Dominic Couzens has a relaxed speaking manner with a dry sense of humour that entertained the large audience throughout the evening.

He writes regularly for publications such as the RSPB magazine and has written several books.

The Waterside Natural History Society was very lucky to have such a distinguished speaker for their last meeting.