Isle of Purbeck’s Wildlife: A Visitor’s Guide

Isle of Purbeck Wildlife Guide

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Located on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset, the Isle of Purbeck is a peninsula that’s surrounded by water on three sides and heathland on the fourth side. Since the Jurassic Coast is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Isle of Purbeck is afforded special protection, which is great news since the area is home to an array of wildlife habitats, giving it amazing biodiversity.

One of the most attractive things about the Isle of Purbeck is its geology. The cliffs and rock formations here offer the chance to explore some of the most majestic coastline in the UK. What’s more, the area is renowned for its prehistoric fossils, making this an archeological haven. Kimmeridge Bay is one of the fossil hotspots and is also home to the oldest working oil well in the country.

The Isle of Purbeck is also famous for its history, with evidence of humans having inhabited the area for thousands of years. In the town of Wareham, there are relics and artwork from hundreds of years ago, and the town even still retains its Saxon churches and walls that have stood here since 1030.

As well as being an immersive historical site, the Isle of Purbeck is also a wildlife lover’s paradise. Being on the coast, there is an abundant seabird population, including Dartford warblers, stonechats, and guillemots. But the area is also famed for its marine life, and visitors can spot porpoises and dolphins, particularly at the Old Harry Rocks, where pods of dolphins are often spotted.

In the UK, there are only three species of snake, one of which is the smooth snake, which is incredibly rare and found only in the southern parts of England. However, you can spot it, along with other unique reptiles, like the sand lizard, along the coast on the Isle of Purbeck. 

As we move through the seasons, the wildlife here shifts, offering visitors a unique experience each time they visit. What’s more the Isle of Purbeck is also well known for its active outdoor lifestyle, giving you the chance to try out activities like snorkeling, hiking, diving, and cycling.

If you’re keen to find out more about the local wildlife then there are several nature reserves and visitor centers dotted around the Isle of Purbeck that serve as excellent educational resources.

Types of Wildlife to See

The Isle of Purbeck offers many opportunities to spot UK wildlife in its natural habitat thanks to various areas like grasslands, rocky coastlines, and woodlands. Because of this, the area is home to many different creatures.

The birdlife on the Isle of Purbeck is perhaps the most well-known wildlife attraction, with various seabirds like gulls, guillemots, and kittiwakes coming to breed here. The rocky cliffs at Durlston Country Park offer some of the best opportunities to spot these birds.

Birds of prey are also very common here, with peregrine falcons often spotted soaring over the coast in search of food. These birds nest on the cliffs, and some individuals can even be spotted nesting at Corfe Castle; an ancient 12th century fort. Barn owls are also common on the Isle of Purbeck but of course, they’re nocturnal, so you’ll have to head out after dark to spot them.

Along the coast, there are several bird watchings hides that provide an opportunity to see these amazing creatures up close. The Arne RSPB Reserve offers some excellent chances at spotting waders and estuarine birds.

One side of the Isle of Purbeck is surrounded by heathland, and this provides a habitat for many creatures, including birds like stonechats and the Dartford warbler which is the only species of warbler that overwinters here and can often be heard singing its beautiful chorus.

Staying on the heathlands, insect lovers will be in for a real treat since the area is well known for its rare butterfly species. The silver-studded blue and the Lulworth skipper can both be found here, especially in summer. As well as several other species of skipper, you may also spot the orange tip, the purple hairstreak, and the holly blue.

Other insects of note on the Isle of Purbeck include the dragonfly and damselfly, which are often seen flitting around freshwater habitats like streams and ponds. The emperor dragonfly can grow up to 3 inches in length and is a common sight here.

The Isle of Purbeck has plenty of woodland habitat where you may be lucky enough to spot roe and fallow deer in their natural habitat. They’re mostly active at dusk and dawn and while you’re looking for them, keep an eye out for foxes and badgers that also frequent the woods here. Another mammal that’s common on the Isle of Purbeck is the hedgehog. These adorable creatures are common but sadly, their numbers are declining.

If you’re keen to get out onto (or into) the water then this provides some incredible opportunities to see the diverse marine life here. Dolphins are commonly spotted as well as porpoises and a whole host of interesting fish species like Dover sole, sea bass, and bream. On the shore, check out the rockpools, which are home to small fish, crustaceans and even sea anemones.

Best Time to Visit


Visiting the Isle of Purbeck between March and May allows you to see the beginnings of wildlife for the year as many nesting birds are returning from their migrations.

Wildflowers are starting to bloom along the coast and in the meadows which brings rise to the number of pollinators and insects. Look out for meadows filled with cowslips, ox-eyed daisies, and blue chalk milkwort.

There are also 9 species of orchid in the area which start to bloom in spring, and many are keen to spot the pyramidal orchid.


At the beginning of summer, the Isle of Purbeck is alive with seabird activity, so if you’re a bird lover, then this is a great time to visit.

Between June and August is also the best time to spot the reptile species that call this area home; you may see them basking in the sun.

Many people come at this time of year to take one of the many boat trips out onto the sea in order to check out the marine life.

Moving into the later part of summer, visitors have the chance to see a hum of bird activity as many species are starting to breed. And you won’t just see them, you’ll also hear their beautiful mating songs, especially in the meadows and grasslands.


As autumn comes around, a lot of the bird species are preparing to migrate, so it’s a wonderful opportunity for bird photography as the skies are alive with activity.

Moving slightly inland, raptor activity increases and birds like buzzards and kestrels can often be seen flying overhead.


While the Dartford warbler is the only warbler species to remain in Dorset over winter, there are lots of wading and sea birds that stay behind too. The lesser-black-backed gull and the oyster catcher can both be seen during winter.

Other Times to Visit

For anyone that’s keen to explore nocturnal wildlife, the Isle of Purbeck is a great location. Lots of mammal species can be spotted, like badgers and foxes, as well as owl species like the tawny and barn owls.

If you visit during the summer months and explore the sea, there is a chance that you may spot seahorses.

For anyone that’s keen to explore life in the rockpools, be sure to check the tide calendar and plan your visit at low tide.

What to Explore?

Wildlife & Nature Reserves

  • Durlston Country Park: This is a top rated location that gives you the chance to observe the beautiful landscape and incredible wildlife of the Jurassic Coast. What’s more, you’ll have the chance to learn about Victorina history, making this an ideal family day out.
  • Studland Heath and Nature Reserve: Covering just over 3 hectares, the Studland nature reserve is wonderful for bird watching, but the heathlands are also home to some of the rare reptilian life in Dorset.
  • Purbeck Marine Wildlife Reserve: With a wealth of educational resources and the chance to spot marine life, this is a great place to go as a family.

Historical Sites

  • Corfe Castle: Built in the 12th century, Corfe houses the ruins of this beautiful castle, now owned by the National Trust. Not only does it bring history alive, but it’s also an excellent place to observe raptors and other wildlife.
  • Tyneham Village: After being evacuated in 1943, Tyneham village was never lived in again but it’s now an important historical site often referred to as Dorset’s lost village.

Geographic Wonders

  • Old Harry Rocks: For a chance to observe dolphins as you walk along the coast, Old Harry Rocks is a great location. What’s more, the coastal views here are second to none and make for a great photography opportunity.
  • Durdle Door: An iconic piece of the south English coastline, this geological formation is not only breathtaking but also a great vantage point to spot seabirds and marine life.

Coastal Adventures

  • Poole Harbor: If you’re keen to spot seabirds then the Arne RSPB reserve and Poole Harbor are excellent choices. The spoonbill can be seen here with its unique appearance and feeding habits as well as various wading and estuarine birds.
  • Kimmeridge Bay: Ideal for families with young children wanting to explore the rock pool, Kimmeridge Bay is also a hotspot for diving and snorkeling.
  • Chapman’s Pool: Catch a glimpse of dolphins and porpoises from this stunning isolated cove.
  • Swanage Pier: Another wonderful opportunity to spot marine life and a hotspot for snorkeling and diving.

How to Get There?

Public Transport

  • Wareham is the nearest train station to the Purbeck Peninsula, and services from Waterloo run here daily.
  • Trains from London Waterloo run to Wareham.
  • There are several bus services running throughout the area that provide access between villages as well as some services running to wildlife hotspots.


  • From London, the Isle of Purbeck is easily accessible, taking roughly 3.5 hours via the M3 and A31.
  • There are several car parks dotted around the Isle of Purbeck, but be sure to check opening times and fees.


  • Visitors from other areas on the south coast, such as Bournemouth and Poole, can catch the Sandbanks ferry across to Shell Bay.
  • This is a great chance to take in the scenery along the south coast.

Cycling & Walking

  • There are lots of cycling and hiking trails around Purbeck, which allow you to explore in an eco-friendly manner.
  • Try the South West Coast Path, which runs for 630 miles and goes straight through Purbeck.
  • Keep in mind that much of the terrain here is uneven or hilly.
  • The Purbeck Heritage Coast Information Center has lots of resources to help plan and guide your trip. You can also visit the Wareham Tourist Information Center for similar assistance.

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