Brownsea Island is a small island, one of many, in Poole Harbour. It is administered by the National Trust (so yes, entry is free to members), but is also co-managed by the Dorset Wildife Trust who look after a large lagoon on the North side of the island.
What wildlife can I see?
The main attraction for many visitors to the island are the red squirrels, one of the last refuges for these creatures in the South of England. According to the trust, the island is also home to 11 different species of bat, including the noctule bat. Sika deer, introduced to the island in the 1850s can also be found. The lagoon is home to a number of wading birds and kingfishers are also a common sight. The island offers a number of different habitats, from woodlands to heaths to beaches and offers a number of different walking routes around the island.
How to get there
There are a few ferry services to the island, from both Poole Harbour and from Sandbanks. We’ve used Brownsea Island Ferries from Poole and it’s a 20 minute trip to the island’s jetty, but when you leave the boat continues for a 45 minute guided tour round the south of the island, before dropping you back at Poole. Make sure you keep a note of the last ferry time when you arrive, which will be written on blackboards on arrival. Brownsea Island Ferries also run a service from Sandbanks, for a shorter 10 mins each way trip.
Where to stay
Robert Baden-Powell’s first scout camp was on Brownsea Island, so of course you can camp there, from April to the end of September. See here for details and availability.
We have not camped on the island, but have stayed in both Poole and Sandbanks for our trips to the Brownsea. On our first trip, hotel accomodation in Poole was very limited, so we ended up booking a place at the RNLI college, which turned out to be a very nice place to both stay, eat and have a drink, as well as being only a 15 minute walk from the harbour. On the millionaire’s residence of Sandbanks, we stayed at the imaginatively named Sandbanks Hotel, which had it’s own stretch of beach and a number of eating options, including an in-house italian, pizza and seafood restaurants.
Where to eat
The National Trust has one of their wonderful cafes at the visitor centre where the ferry drops you off, with a nice terrace looking out over the sea. However, we recommend taking a picnic (or buying takeaway food from the cafe) and eating on one of the beaches on the south side of the island or on one of the benches over looking the sea.