Wildlife and Habitats on Brownsea Island

Thriving natural habitats - including woodland, heathland, lagoon and seashore - create a unique haven for wildlife.


Red Squirrels

Almost extinct in Southern England, red squirrels are the most important pine-feeding creatures that live here. Most active in spring and autumn at sunrise and sunset, they can be found in all wooded areas of the island. They are very shy and can be difficult to spot, partly eaten cones may be the only clues that they are nearby.

Sika Deer

Britain's second largest breed of deer was introduced to the island from Japan in 1896. The deer quickly discovered that theycould swim across the water to the Isle of Purbeck, where they espablished new herds. Sika deer on the island are quite shy so willl often be found hiding in dense tree and plant cover.

Common Fungi

There are many common fungi species on Brownsea island that can be spotted throughout the year. Common yellow russula, earthballs, puffballs, red milkcaps, bracket and wax caps are just a few that can be found.

The many attractions of Brownsea Island are close by for the East dorset Association
Visitor watching deer on Brownsea Island, Dorset.
National Trust Images / John Millar


The Lagoon

This is a habitat of national and international importance for a variety of birds. They use the lagoon to nest, feed and roost throughout the year.

You can spot over-wintering birds leaving in the spring, From May to July common and sandwich terns feed their young. Grey herons, little egrets, cormorants, oystercatchers, shelducks, kingfishers and wagtails all roost and feed here.

Mixed Woodland

There are over 60 types of tree on Brownsea, most were deliberately planted by past owners.

The central valley contains native hardwoods, oak, beech, holly and ash. Introduced trees include sycamore, sweet and horse chestnuts and conifers.

Spot fungi and wax caps and listen out for green woodpeckers. Wood ants have amazing nests that can be see throughout the woodland. Keep your eyes open for red squirrels and the amazing golden pheasant.

Heather and Gorse in flower
NTPL John Millar


The open heath - with its heather, gorse, wood sage, bird's foot trefoil, health milkwort, heath bedstraw and sheep sorrel - attracts many insects. These include the small copper, common blue, silver-studded blue and green hairstreak butterflies.

On sunny days look out for common lizards basking in the sun or tiger beetles hunting. You will also see both ling and bell heather and may catch a glimpse of a Dartford Warbler or Nightjar along with a variety of butterflies and dragonflies.

The seashore

The beach is sandy and pebbly, except at the western end where it is overlain by pottery and brick left from the days of the pottery industry on the island.

You can see sea thrift, sea lavender, frosted orache and sticky groundsel along with many shells, crabs, sandhoppers and other creatures.

Spot oystercatchers on the mud flats, particularly when raising their young in the spring. There are also sandpipers and turnstones.