A look back at Dorset’s wildlife news from 2016

Red squirrel on Brownsea Island

Red squirrel on Brownsea Island - Credit: Archant

Sally Welbourn from Dorset Wildlife Trust looks back on the county’s wildlife stories of 2016

Ground-breaking red squirrel study

In September 2016 wildlife experts from Edinburgh University started a study on Brownsea Island to better understand how British red squirrels are affected by a form of leprosy. Leprosy was first identified in red squirrels in Scotland in 2014, and post-mortems have since revealed that the disease also affects red squirrels on Brownsea Island and around the country. Characterised by swelling and hair loss to the ears, muzzle and feet, the disease is believed to have been present for many years. The risks to humans is negligible, and Dorset Wildlife Trust and the National Trust are pleased to continue welcoming visitors to Brownsea Island whilst this ground-breaking study takes place over the next three years. Find out more about this study at nationaltrust.org.uk/news.

The appeal of seals

Another interesting marine wildlife sighting this year has been ‘Molar’ the seal, spotted twice near Portland Bill. Molar was last seen in November 2014 in St Austell Bay, so this sighting is great news for the Cornwall Sea Group Research Trust and the Dorset Seal Project. It also proves that their extensive photo ID catalogue is very effective, giving them valuable information about how far and frequently seals travel. Find out more at dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk/Seals.

New nature park created in Dorset

Funded by the HLF (Heritage Lottery Fund) the Great Heath Living Landscape project has created wonderful wild spaces for both wildlife and people over the last two years, including the launch of Corfe Barrows Nature Park in Corfe Mullen back in June. The Great Heath connects eight special wild places, giving access to the local countryside, its history and its diverse range of wildlife. Read more at thegreatheath.org.

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Dolphins settling into south west waters

Numerous sightings of ‘Stumpy’ the dolphin at locations from Dorset to Cornwall indicates the existence of a South West population – the third population of dolphins identified in the UK. Pods are known to split into smaller groups, and a number of young dolphins have also been spotted, which is a great indication of a thriving population. So keep your eyes peeled on our coastal waters off Dorset in 2017!

Nuts about nature?

Wondering what to give a wildlife fan for Christmas? With membership of Dorset Wildlife Trust they’ll get our magazine three times a year, a guide to our 45 nature reserves, a car sticker and all the latest wildlife news and events from around the county. It is the perfect way to get them started on a ‘wild life’ for 2017. Cost is £36 for single, £42 for joint and £48 for family membership (or pay by direct debit from £3 a month). Find out more at dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk and click on ‘support us’ or call 01305 264620.

Adopt a seahorse

The seahorse is one of the most iconic sea creatures in the UK, and both the short-snouted seahorse and the spiny seahorse are native to Dorset. However, like many marine habitats, ecosystems which support the seahorse population are in decline. In response to this Dorset Wildlife Trust launched its seahorse adoption scheme earlier this year as part of the Marine Conservation Fund, with the aim of turning the tide for Dorset’s marine wildlife. Adopt a seahorse for a one-off donation of £20 as a gift to yourself or someone special ( a great Christmas gift) and you will receive an adoption pack including a pin badge, cuddly seahorse, certificate and lots of information about these enigmatic creatures.

Find out more at dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk/seahorseadoption or call 01305 264620.

State of nature report

In collaboration with over 50 conservation organisations, the second State of Nature report was published this year; it provided us with a health-check of how wildlife is faring in the UK. The results revealed that half of the UK’s native species are in decline, with 15% facing extinction. Many common species like the song thrush, house sparrow and native bluebell are fewer in number, and wildlife-rich habitats have become increasingly scarce. However, there is some good news. Locally, DWT is making a difference with a number of large scale restoration projects, which are already seeing positive results. If you want to Say Yes to Wildlife and support our work in Dorset, visit dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk/sayyes.

Badger cull returns to Dorset

Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT) was hugely disappointed that the badger cull returned to the county for a second year running and included additional culling areas, in an attempt to control Bovine TB disease in cattle. In 2013, DWT started a badger vaccination programme on its nature reserves which are close to livestock in west Dorset to demonstrate that there are viable alternatives to culling badgers. TV presenter and wildlife expert, Simon King OBE launched a petition in August, calling for the cull to be stopped. Sign the petition here: dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk/badgers.