Bird watching on Brownsea

An internationally important wildlife haven, the lagoon hosts thousands of avian visitors each year.

Brownsea Island is managed in partnership with the Dorset Wildlife Trust, who look after the northern part of the island, including the lagoon and surrounding wetland areas which is home to thousands of birds and other wildlife. 

The lagoon

Originally managed as pastureland this area of Brownsea was allowed to flood in the 1930s, becoming a non-tidal, brackish water lagoon offering a sanctuary to a vast number of birds.

Brownsea Island's lagoon
Brownsea Island quayside buildings and lagoon
Brownsea Island's lagoon

Why is it so special?

The lagoon has several uses, ranging from a ‘drive-through’ style feeding area for species such as curlew sandpiper, wood and green sandpiper, little stint and little ringed plover, and also as a high-tide roosting zone when most of the harbour is under water.  The lagoon also plays a vital role in providing a safe haven for overwintering birds including avocets, black-tailed godwits and large numbers of wildfowl.

What can you see?

Over 20,000 birds visit Poole Harbour each year to feed and roost, including Britain's largest-ever-recorded over-wintering populations of spoonbill and avocet in the UK, plus internationally important numbers of black-tailed godwit, shelduck and oystercatcher.  Numbers of avocet can peak at over 1,000 and black-tailed godwit at around 2,000, which is quite an impressive sight, especially when one of the over-wintering merlin or peregrines starts hawking over the lagoon. Spoonbill is another lagoon favourite with numbers often reaching 40+ by mid-October.

Dunlin and Grey Plover in flight over the Brownsea lagoon
Dunlin and Grey Plover in flight over the Brownsea lagoon

Spring and summer

In spring and summer the lagoon’s function changes from being a sleepy high-tide roosting area to a busy and bustling breeding site for Poole Harbour's important common and Sandwich tern colonies. The tern islands which are conveniently built right in front of the two hides provide a fascinating insight into the breeding and courtship behaviour of these summer visitors, as well as views of the adults feeding chicks too. 

Bird hides are now open

Visitors can catch a glimpse of the summer action on the lagoon action with a visit to the Dorset Wildlife Trust area of the island and the bird hides, where there will be opportunity for visitors to set up their own scopes and use their binoculars to take a closer look.  Special viewing vistas have also been created in the reedbed along Villa Road to allow a reed's-eye view of the action too. As the season progresses, the sight and sound of the terns packed onto the islands and their toing and froing to feed their young, ramps up and remains quite something to witness. 

You can also watch a live-feed of the action on the lagoon here, more information on this below. 

Autumn and Winter

In the colder months you can spot over wintering waders stopping off on their migratory journeys to feed in the lagoon. In winter it’s also possible see huge groups of spoonbills. These tall white birds can be seen swishing their spoon-shaped bills through the water as they feed. 

Spoonbill in shallow water
Adult spoonbill standing in shallow water
Spoonbill in shallow water

Accessing the Dorset Wildlife Trust area

The Dorset Wildlife Trust manage the lagoon and wetland areas and there is a suggested donation of £2 to enter this part of the island, which includes access to hides and admission to the Villa Wildlife Centre which has an exhibition, gift shop, toilets and a feeding station for red squirrels.

Large groups of more than 15 people will need to book in advance at