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Brownsea Island

nr Poole, Dorset

Location Guide

A peaceful island of woodland, wetland and heath with a wide variety of wildlife, famous for being the birthplace of Scouting and Guiding, with Robert Baden-Powell holding the first experimental Scout camp in 1907. Other historical activities include daffodil farming, pottery works and acting as a decoy to protect Poole in the Second World War.

It is the largest of five islands in Poole harbour being 1.5 miles long by .75 miles wide, it comprises of a Scots and Maritime Pine woodland, two large acid (freshwater) lakes, alder & sallow carr, freshwater reedbed and a 28 ha. saline lagoon, saltmarsh, deciduous woodland and arboretum, a Henronry, an Open Air Theatre and a castle. You can enjoy walks and spectacular views of Poole Harbour, Studland, Old Harry Rocks and the Purbeck Hills. It is a haven for wildlife, including red squirrels, peacocks and deer.

The Dorset Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve

Is a  96.8 hectare reserve occupying the northern half of the island and is leased by the Dorset Wildlife Trust from the National Trust who own the island and manage the southern half. It is a site of Special Scientific Interest, and included in the Poole Harbour Ramsar Site and Special Protection Area.

Within this area is the non-tidal Salt Water Lagoon, which is home to cormorants, oystercathcers, blacked backed and black headed gulls, shulduck, mallard and Canada Geese all year round. Grey Herons and Little Egrets from the Heronry also roost and feed on it. Access is limited to certain times, but the area can be viewed from the public hide by the main path leading from the quay.

Access to the Nature Reserve - July and August one guided tour daily from 2pm to 3.45pm, March-June and Sept-October the reserve is a self-guided nature trail, where you collect a trail guide leaflet from the box on site. The reserve also has small charges for entry.

The Boardwalk leading to the reedbed in the
Nature Reserve Hugh Venables



Meadow in Dorset Wildlife Trust Reserve
Hugh Venables


The Islands Wildlife and it's Calendar

Red Squirrels, almost extinct in southern England, they are an important part of Brownsea Island where there are no competing Grey Squirrels. They are mostly active in spring and autumn around sunrise and sunset, when of course visitors are not on the island. This island has a population of  around 200-250. They can be found in all the wooded areas of the island, however they are shy and can be difficult to spot, particularly in hot summer months when they will be resting.

As well as it's population of Red Squirrels which are the highlight of the island it also has peacocks, Sikka deer which you are more than likely to see. There are also many wildlife visitors to the islands each year. The following is a typical guide to what might be seen on a visit.

Red Squirrel on Brownsea
  lee adcock


  • Red squirrels can be easy to see before the leaves of deciduous trees have developed

  • Avocets, Black-tailed Godwits and other waders are still present before they leave to nest elsewhere

  • Common and Sandwich Terns and Black-headed Gulls begin to pair up and display

  • First Mallard ducklings appear

  • The Brimstone butterfly is on the wing on warm and sunny days.

  • Wader migration will evident on the lagoon with Little Stints and Curlew Sandpipers possible
  • Red Squirrels can be difficult to see, especially on busy and hot days
  • Day-flying Cinnabar and Six-spot Burnet moths are on the wing
  • Terns and Gulls begin to nest on the lagoon.
  • Reed Warblers and Water Rails are in the reedbed.
  • The Downy Emerald dragonfly (scarce nationally) is on the wing on warm and sunny days.
  • Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits will be present in good numbers especially at high tide
  • Red Squirrels can be easy to see as they forage on the ground for fallen nuts, berries and fruits
  • Late dragonflies like the Migrant Hawker could be seen
  • Many types of fungi on the woodland floor
  • Common and Sandwich Terns and Black-headed Gulls, feeding chicks on the lagoon.
  • Up to 10 species of dragonfly and damselfly on warm and sunny days
  • Common Spotted and Marsh Orchids should be flowering in damp areas around the lagoon and reedbed
  • Butterflies include White Admirals, Purple Hairstreaks and many others

Saltwater Lagoon
Peter Land


There are dedicated trails for young smugglers, historians and explorers.

Brownsea Castle is NOT open to the public.

Brownsea can only be reached by ferries from Poole Quay, Sandbanks Jetty, Bournemouth Pier and Swanage Pier from March to October. The ferries are privately owned and the ferry operators have their own charges.

Brownsea Island Ferry


St Mary's Church

West Lake, Brownsea Island
Peter Land

The Heath

Branksea/Brownsea Castle
William Kemp

Brownsea Castle
Ms Jackson

Brownsea Beach


Further information Grid



Brownsea Island, nr Poole, Dorset

Ceremonial County: Dorset

Grid Reference:

SZ028878   OS Map: 195

Map Link:


Aerial photo:

Google Aerial 



Best Times to Visit:





National Trust

Other useful websites:

Brownsea Island Ferries   Greenslade Pleasure Boats

The Open Air Theatre  Dorset Wildlife Trust 


Nearby Locations:

Poole Bournemouth Swanage

New Forest Virtual Swanage

Other Relevant pages: Red Squirrel Fact File


Planning Grid


Brownsea Island, nr Poole, Dorset

Grid Reference:


Getting there:

Can only be reached by ferries from Poole Quay, Sandbanks Jetty, Bournemouth Pier and Swanage. Boats run half-hourly from 10am


Enter the reserve along the boardwalk which starts next to the public bird hide


Poole Quay & Sandbanks


6 bird hides, boardwalks, shop, exhibition, Toilets at Brownsea Quay & in The Villa, National Trust Café

Things To Do, See and Photograph:

Red Squirrels, Sikka deer, birds of all types, flowers, butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies, landscape and sea views, walks

What to take:

Binoculars, long lenses, polarizer,

Nature highlights:

Red Squirrels, dragonflies, all sorts of water birds, castle, lakes and more


Brownsea Island




BH13 7EE


01202 707744

Opening times:

March to October (exact dates alter each year)


Adults: £4.90; Child: £2.40; Family: £12.20

Photo Restrictions:

No commercial photography without permission

Other Restrictions:  
Special Needs Access: Good, tracks are rough in places. Most of the trail and three bird hides are accessible by wheelchair. Wheelchairs and disabled visitors can be easily accommodated on the ferry boats.
Special Needs Facilities: Toilets at the quay and visitor centre. Map of accessible route for wheelchair users.
Children Facilities: Baby changing facilities, pushchairs and baby back-carriers admitted. Childrens guide book, quiz/trail, family activity packs, all terrain baby buggies for loan
Dogs Allowed: No Dogs

Please let us know any other information that we can add to the Further information and Planning Grids or page and any errors that you discover. Before making a long trip to any location it is always wise to double check the current information, websites like magazines may be correct at the time the information is written, but things change and it is of course impossible to double check all entries on a regular basis. If you have any good photographs that you feel would improve the illustration of this page then please let us have copies. In referring to this page it is helpful if you quote both the Page Ref and Topic or Section references from the Grid below. To print the planning grid select it then right click and print the selected area.

Please submit information on locations you discover so that this system continues to grow.


By: Tracey Park Section: Nature Reserves/Islands Key:
Page Ref: brownsea Topic: Nature  Last Updated: 05/2015


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