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Brownsea Island and The Red Squirrels

When you think of Brownsea Island, you tend to think of two things; scouting and red squirrels. Set in the heart of Poole Harbour, Dorset, this island is a rare haven for our native mammals and makes for a great day out exploring particularly for a nature lover like me!

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After catching a ferry from Poole’s Town Quay, we moored up at Brownsea just before lunchtime. As the boat was arriving, my first sight was of a pair of male peacocks just strolling along the shingle beach that fringed the coastline – not your average sight that’s for sure!

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We managed to bypass the ticketing area thanks to being National Trust members so a quick zap of our membership cards and we were free the explore the island’s trails.

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We decided to walk the longer of the suggested walking routes which would be around 3 miles in total (the island is around 1.5 miles long). Beginning the route, we stopped not far along at one of the bird hides that’s managed by Dorset Wildlife Trust on the edge of their nature reserve. From here we could see a variety of waders including what looked at a distance like a flock of oystercatchers. There are some ID charts up in the hide to help you identify the various birds here. 

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We then began to walk further westwards following a pathway that led us past a group of peahens and their chicks, none of which seemed that phased by our presence. In fact, the chicks were making such as sweet little noise as they followed their mum along the path, they really were adorable.

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The mission for the day was to spot and hopefully photograph some red squirrels – my partner claimed he’d never seen one before so he was excited to find them (we have subsequently been told by his mum that this wasn’t true as he saw a couple on the Isle of Wight when he was a child but he doesn’t remember this!). We were told by one of the National Trust volunteers on the island that the best place to see the squirrels was behind the church and she suggested we went there and sat on one of the benches quietly and the squirrels should appear before too long.

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The woodland walk here certainly lent itself to squirrels with lots of trees bearing nuts at this time of year. Waiting patiently we couldn’t see anything but began to notice that nuts kept dropping high up from one of the beech trees. It was only after this kept happening that we realised the squirrels were up there dropping the nuts and then after ten minutes or so they’d descend and scurry around burying their finds ready for the winter!

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After this, it wasn’t long before we would see them dart around, up and down the large trees and at times get pretty near to where we were standing. Now photographing them mind was a different matter, talk about speedy! I lost count of how many photographs I have with just a tip of a squirrels tail or a gingery-red blur, thank goodness for digital cameras and no need for reels of film! 😊

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It was great to watch the squirrels’ behaviour though and we were both surprised by how much smaller they seem than the grey squirrels that we are all so familiar with. 

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After taking countless photos, we decided to venture on towards Maryland, the ruins of an old village which was on the island. From around this area there’s a small sandy/shingly beach where many boats were moored up and there were extensive views across Poole Harbour and the Dorset countryside.

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We passed by other flora and fauna including some impressive looking toadstools and several species of dragonfly.

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The weather was fine and some of the views along the walk were spectacular, you could easily think you were on a Mediterranean island with the colour of the sea reflecting off the azure blue sky. 

The National Trust have put up some signage along the walks that show some of the industry that used to take place on the island in days gone by which included a pottery and a daffodil farm. You can discover more about the history of the island and in particular of the island’s involvement in scouting from the visitor centre and scouting centres that can be found on the island.

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Before heading back to the mainland, we decided to make a final stop by at the woodland walk area to watch the squirrels again. As part of this we also picked up an area of the board walk that fringes the Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Brownsea reserve. It was from here that I noticed a fluffy red thing in the branches of a birch tree in front of me and after watching it for a while I realised it was a red squirrel! It was amazing to watch it and to be so close to it, they really are beautiful creatures.

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Our journey back to Poole was slightly longer as the boat cruised around Brownsea and passed by some of Poole harbour’s other islands. Along the way the skipper informed us of some of the area’s history including Brownsea’s role in WW2 and some of the changes that have happened to the neighbouring islands, including the building of a very stunning Canadian-style eco-house which I could quite happily live in. 

If you haven’t been before then give Brownsea Island a go!

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Useful information

We set off for Brownsea from Poole’s Town Quay. Just pop along to one of the wooden kiosks on the quayside to purchase your ticket. For £12 you are taken on a return journey to the island with the journey across taking around 20 minutes. There’s no need to pre-book unless you are in a large group or the Bournemouth Air Show is on. On arrival at Brownsea non National Trust members need to pay an admission. There’s a café and toilets on the island but visitors are requested to bring their litter back to the mainland. A final tip from me: don’t forget to take your camera and pop it on sports mode!

Written by Emma Kirkup

Emma hails from the south of England, having lived in Wiltshire, Dorset and Hampshire. She previously worked at VisitWiltshire and likes to think of herself as a bit of a guru on the local area. Her scratch map of the world is gradually being rubbed off and her recent overseas travels have been to Corsica and Malta. Favourite destination ever: New Zealand.

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