Brownsea Island, the largest of five islands in Poole Harbour is located close to the Harbour entrance, less than half a mile across the water north west of Sandbanks chain ferry.
Although the other four islands are privately owned and have no public access, Brownsea has been welcoming visitors to its shores for over a hundred years. However, there are also boat trips from Poole Quay near Poole town centre that, as well as taking you all the way round Brownsea Island will venture further into this second largest harbour in the world for closer views of Furzey Island, Green Island, Long Island and Round Island.
Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour
Quite apart from international recognition as a nature reserve and together with the Harbour an area of outstanding natural beauty, Brownsea Island is also known throughout the world as the birthplace of the Scout movement. Lord Robert Baden Powell set up his first experimental camp on 1 st August 1907, with boys pitching their tents on the Island. Little did they know how important and far-reaching their camping week would be, as it laid the foundations for the worldwide scouting and guide movements. There’s still a wonderful campsite on Brownsea where you can experience what the first scouts did all those years ago!
Commemorative stone erected in 1967 near the original campsite.
When visiting the Island you may come across the commemorative stone erected in 1967 near the original campsite. Earlier, in 1962 Brownsea Island’s future as a heritage asset and wildlife preserve was guaranteed when the National Trust took ownership and leased the northern part to Dorset Wildlife Trust. When on holiday at Sandbanks or the nearby Poole and Bournemouth, Brownsea Island really is a ‘must visit’.
Brownsea Island Forest wooden play area
There is something for everybody and the Island is especially popular for a family day out. You can embark on one of the large ferries which provide a regular service starting at Poole Quay, or take the smaller ferry boat* on the shorter trip from the landing slip near the chain ferry that links Sandbanks with Studland. All the ferries operate daily when the Island is open, normally between late March and the end of October every year, but remember that other than guide dogs, there are no dogs allowed on Brownsea. (*Currently suspended, so please check before you plan your trip.)
Brownsea Island Ferries – The Maid of Poole
There is just one arrival point on Brownsea, at the southern end of the Island where there are reception facilities for arrivals. There is also a campsite, a visitor centre, public toilets and a souvenir shop and two National Trust holiday cottages situated just three metres from the water edge. Here you will be close to Brownsea Castle, also known as Branksome Castle and originally a fort built by Henry V111 between1545 –1547,to protect Poole Harbour from the threat of a French attack. Indeed, a hexagonal gun platform remains to this day as part of the building. For much of the C20th and until recently, the castle was used by the retailer John Lewis Partnership as a holiday centre for employees.
Brownsea Castle – a 16th Century commissioned by King Henry VIII
The southern end of Brownsea is always the busiest part of the Island because of the comings and goings on the ferries, the visitor facilities and, not least, the dozens of peacocks! Here is the starting point for the daily guided tours, and the area most used for outdoor events and educational activities. Every summer since 1964, Brownsea’s open air theatre has performed a Shakespearian plays, with boats organised from Poole Quay for the ticket only performances.
Our very own Director – Paul Andrews (on the left), performing in All’s Well That Ends Well!
For the more active amongst us the National Trust provides information, with helpful free maps, so when you visit the Island take a walk through the woods following the footpaths to see glorious views across the Harbour towards the Purbeck Hills. Why not bring a picnic and sit on the grassy area, or on hot sunny days find your favourite tree to sit under?
A view through the trees on Brownsea Island
You can watch the birds and squirrels eating seeds from nearby feeders. And if you’re lucky you may even get to see the friendly peacocks perform an elaborate dance to show off their tail feathers!
Beautiful peacocks stroll amongst visitors to the island
If you’re one of the many who visit Brownsea Island Dorset for the wildlife you will want to take the circular path round the island through the internationally important nature reserve featuring rare wildlife. Brownsea is one of only two places in southern England, which has an indigenous population of protected red squirrels.
Home of the rare Red Squirrel
The Island has a thriving variety of natural habitats including woodland, heathland and a lagoon where rare and threatened wildlife find sanctuary in its woods, reed beds and lagoon. And in this aquatic environment there are many species of birds, avocet, black-tail godwit, spoonbill, common tern and the mallard to name but a few….. in fact there are two dozen rare species recorded on the Island. There’s good viewing from the many hides, whilst paths and boardwalks give access to most of the habitats.
Nature trail around Brownsea Island
A wildlife and wetland centre is situated in the middle of the reserve. There is so much to see and do on Brownsea Island! Make a day or half day trip as part of your unforgettable holiday at Sandbanks Beach.