Studland – planner’s comments

Posted on Sun, 2nd October 2022 by Jolyon Medlock
Event Reports

Planner’s comments – Studland Dunes

I seem to spend many a weekend driving to South Wales, the Lakes or Scotland in search of technical orienteering terrain. There is a perception among some northerners and Scots that little tough navigational terrain exists in the south, except on sand dunes in Devon and Cornwall, or on Dartmoor. A few years ago, whilst walking over the northern dunes at Studland, I was surprised how complex it was, but also how little the dunes varied in height, unlike the towering dunes at Braunton. Having jumped through several hoops with the National Trust and Natural England, and having secured Ben Mitchell’s skills in mapping, we suddenly had a terrain that was a match for more distant areas. I hope you agree that Ben managed to make sense of the madness of the knolls, re-entrants and depressions, and we are delighted to have Studland on our doorstep, and a five-year license to orienteer there.

One reason for the license is to try and assist NT with their biodiversity goal of breaking up the heather-clad dunes to reveal sandy tracks, that in time, will lead to less dune stability, and to re-create the natural processes that dune systems need. This means though that the heather-clad dunes are currently over-grown, and there is a relative absence of tracks. In orienteering this weekend, you have assisted the resident herd of cattle. The going is therefore tough, particularly in the area between controls 52 and 36. In hindsight, many of the courses were too physically demanding, and in future all courses (except perhaps brown) should be shorter. My intention was to keep you out of the dunes and on the beach on the way to the start, aiming for the obviously mapped clearing. Courses would then approach the dunes at 90 degrees to the natural undulation of the landscape. In the north the large mires create three linear dune areas. The middle one I used for the green, the middle and right for the blue, necessitating a trip to Shell bay, and the brown covered all three, via the car park at the ferry. Perhaps it’s too far to get around the northern end, but it does mean hopefully that I avoided too much re-tracing of steps.

The southern area is intersected by a number of smaller marshes, some being very narrow, and following the dry summer, all were much drier than normal. Even the dot ponds appeared empty. Come back in January, and it may be very different.

There was much debate about whether marshes could be crossed. I’m not sure why, as it was printed in capital letters on all maps “ALL MARSHES ARE OUT OF BOUNDS” and I went to great lengths to explain this in the final details. I was given a very detailed map from Natural England, delineating all the valley mires (i.e. marshes, bogs) and where we should avoid. Anything with horizontal blue lines were marshes, and none should be crossed.

However, the mapper had mapped some marshes as uncrossable, and others as just marshes. This was based upon a physical ability to cross, rather than permissibility. We could surround all marshes of all kinds with a black line, but that would get messy. I could also have covered all marshes with OOB, but that would spoil the map, as well as make any interpretation of the fine detail far more challenging. Instead, I hoped that all would oblige.

The finger of marsh to the east of 46 caused some issues. It was almost possible to stride the marsh for someone of my height. On the Friday I noticed that there was also a cane with a white tag left to the east of control 46, presumably by an ecologist, perhaps to represent the denizen of some rare invertebrate, perhaps the ladybird spider. It wasn’t left by the planner to mark a crossing point, so I apologise if you thought it was. This finger of marsh was uncrossable, and so those that crossed it did gain a few minutes advantage. I probably shouldn’t have used that control site, nor have any legs heading east from it, to avoid temptation. It is rather tricky though planning for 8 courses in such a small area, trying to keep you off the paths, as well as not reversing legs between controls.

Two other areas also probably require some amendment. The area around control 51, the high point with a “boulder cluster” is surrounded by rampant gorse, with two defined paths from the north, and a few tracks through the gorse from the south. I spent some time with shears making this more accessible, but some were still aggrieved.

The northern dunes are easier to run on, although the area to the north of control 56 is tricky. A couple of non-distinctive trees could be elevated to full status, perhaps, but where do you stop with mapping trees. However, I chose the site at 56 to be just north-east of three distinctive trees, which I hoped would guide you all in. The index contour marks the high ridge, and it has a thin runnable track. Something to remember for next time, if you found this area tricky.

I hope you all feel like you were challenged mentally as well as physically. I tried very much to plan courses that kept you thinking constantly, with a few simpler legs at the end, in easier terrain, when the brain and legs were getting tired.

I want to thank the control placers and collecting team. Particularly those who had run the brown then went out again to collect the controls in. When I put most of them out on Friday evening in the rain and gales, I admit I might have hidden the odd one in the heather, to avoid them blowing away.

Hope to see you back in sunny Dorset soon.


Orienteering Club