Have you ever been walking along and caught a familiar smell that immediately transports you back in time? Well, this happened to me the other day whilst out walking. I had decided to take a shortcut through an area of heathland in Dorset which I was very familiar with but hadn’t been to for many years.
I had spent a lot of time here as a young boy growing up. Memories came flooding back thick and fast. It was here that I first used to ride my bike along the dirt tracks and it was here that I first fell in love with cycling and the great outdoors.
I think it was my Tom Sawyer days, where I built rafts and tried to float them (but not always successfully!) on one of the ponds. Some days, my young sister would come with me and we would build camps and hideouts. We would also catch newts and water boatmen on one of the ponds, with fishing nets made out of Mum’s old stockings which were attached to an old garden bamboo cane. Anything we caught was put into an old jam jar. I don’t think you’d be allowed to do that now as I think the Palmate Newt is protected? This whole area now comes under the Herpetological Conservation Trust. Most of the heathland is of the dry type, dominated by Ling Calluna vulgaris and Bell Heather Erica cinerea. In addition to gorse scrub, there is habitat diversity provided by stands of Scots Pine and Birch. Many of the very rare animals confined to these lowland heaths can be found here, like the Sand Lizard, Smooth Snake, Heath Grasshopper and Dartford Warbler. and of course, my old friend the Adder.
The heathlands had three ponds, two small and one large. It was on the bank of the large pond early one sunny morning that I saw my first venomous snake – it was warming its body in the morning sun. I knew what it was by the dark zigzag line along its back… it was an adder, the only venomous snake we have in the UK. Although poisonous, its venom rarely kills anyone.
Fortunately, my childhood memories have been preserved for the moment because the heathland area has been awarded the status of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
I do hope this area continues to be preserved, so that in the future more children will learn to appreciate and enjoy the diversity of plants and animals that these small pockets of heathland can bring.