4 great Dorset rivers for wildlife and walks

The River Allen

The River Allen - Credit: Archant

Sally Welbourn of Dorset Wildlife Trust takes us on a tour of her four favourite local rivers

The Moors

The Moors River starts as a chalk stream in Cranborne, which is referred to as the ‘Crane’ before changes in the geology of the river (running through clay, sand and gravel) creates a sluggish water course referred to as ‘The Moors’. The large number of aquatic and wetland plant species recorded here is amongst the highest recorded from any section of a British lowland river, which is unique for the small size of the river channel.

• Where: Starts in Cranbourne Chase and joins the Stour, going through Moors Valley Country Park

• Length: approx. 20 miles

• Wildlife Focus: The Moors river system and wetlands supports breeding populations of many of Britain’s dragonfly and damselfly species. Some 32 species of dragonfly, including the Emperor dragonfly, the largest of the dragonflies, have been recorded on the river. Until 1957 the lower reaches of the Moors was home to the orange-spotted emerald dragonfly, which is now extinct in Britain.

• Visit: There are two Cranborne walks near The Moors river. 

The Moors

The Moors - Credit: Archant

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The Stour

The Stour is the longest river in Dorset, with one of its tributaries being the River Allen which is home to Dorset’s largest population of the threatened native white clawed crayfish. The Stour is slow moving, with lots of different fish species including eels, roach and grayling which provide food for the many resident otters.

• Where: Starts at Stour Head in north Dorset, to Christchurch Harbour

• Length: approx. 60 miles

• Wildlife Focus: The Stour a popular place to see otters as it has lots of streams and tributaries running into it and old hollow trees provide places of shelter. Otters are very territorial (to the death!), with one male dominating at least a 25 mile (40km) stretch of river, so the length of the river makes it ideal to accommodate all the otters!

• Visit: Explore the river by foot via the Stour Valley Way. Find out more at stourvalleyway.co.uk.

River Stour

River Stour - Credit: Archant

South Winterbourne

There are two main Winterbourne rivers in Dorset, but many of our chalk rivers have a Winterbourne section at the start of the river. The underlying rock of Dorset’s Winterbourne stream is chalk and this rock soaks up rain like a sponge, storing it. As the level of the ground water continues to rise, springs can pop up anywhere along the river bed. In the spring and summer, the springs dry up and the stream will stop flowing.

• Where: This river joins the Frome in West Stafford

• Length: approx. 8 miles

• Wildlife Focus: The rare winterbourne mayfly only lives in a handful of rivers in the UK, but has specially adapted itself to the sections of the rivers that dry up. Kingfishers are also seen near both the Winterbournes, flying fast and low over the water. Their shrill double-note call gives away their presence before you see the flash of electric blue!

• Visit: Go to dorsetaonb.org.uk.

South Winterbourne

South Winterbourne - Credit: Archant

The Frome

The river Frome is a chalk river with crystal clear water, best known for its brown trout and spawning salmon. Along its length, the main river is joined by several important tributaries above Dorchester, including the Wraxall Brook and the rivers Hooke and Cerne.

• Where: Evershot, through Wareham to Poole Harbour

• Length: approx. 46 miles

• Wildlife Focus: Salmon thrive in the Frome because they have an abundance of invertebrate to feed on, and good quality gravel to spawn in. Along the Frome is a fish ‘counter’ which the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust uses to monitor salmon and their movement in the river.

• Visit: Explore the river via The Frome Valley Trail. Find out more at dorsetcouncil.gov.uk.

River Frome

River Frome - Credit: Archant


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