Summer wildlife spotting

Brownsea is a haven for a myriad of different wildlife species. Whether your watching for red squirrels leaping through the woodland canopy or your following a trail of woods ants along the forest floor, here we share with you some of our top summer wildlife spots.

The rare red squirrel

Brownsea has a healthy population of over 200 red squirrels which are active all year round and do not hibernate, but in summer they can be a little elusive.  At this time of year the squirrels are busy raising their young in their nests called dreys which look like dense balls of interwoven twigs (roughly the size of a football), lined inside with soft materials including moss, leaves, grass and fir. Dreys are usually located in the fork of a branch tight against the tree trunk, around two-thirds of the way up the tree.  Red squirrels will usually have more than one drey and have often been observed moving their kits from one to another.

The best time to spot the squirrels in the warmer months is early in the morning and later in the afternoon when the heat of the midday sun has subsided.


Here's Ranger John with a few more tips on spotting squirrels:

Sika Deer

There is a herd of deer on the island which you may spot munching in the undergrowth or on the acid grassland. They are most active at dawn and dusk but can be seen in small groups during the day around the island, usually in the quieter areas. They are extraordinarily difficult to pick out should they choose to remain motionless. When the fawns are very young, the mothers leave them alone and hidden for hours at a time, so if you should accidentally come across one, look on from a distance as it hasn’t been deserted. 

Spotted! Deer emerging from the undergrowth as the sun goes down.
Deer on Brownsea
Spotted! Deer emerging from the undergrowth as the sun goes down.

Chickens and Peacocks

Our resident chickens and peacocks can be found on Church Field and will come running at the first site of a sandwich!  But don't be fooled, these feathered friends get plenty of food and are well cared for so do keep your lunch to yourself. 

An inquisitive peacock on Church Field may come and say hello
An inquisitive peacock on Church Field may come and say hello


Brownsea boasts a significant amount of the fifty plus species of dragonflies and damselflies that we have here in the UK.  Summer is the perfect time to find a comfy spot to sit and watch as they whizz around.

Dragonflies and damselflies are signficant indicators of how well a habitat is doing.  They play an important part in the ecology of fresh water systems due to their significant role in the food chain.  Dragonfly nymphs live in fresh water for up to five years, eating other aquatic organisms such as mosquito larvae or even small fish.  Once they become an adult, they continue to feed upon flying insects such as horseflies and mosquitoes.  They are also an important source of food for creatures such as frogs and birds.

Damselflies tend to be smaller and weaker in flight, their eyes are on either side of the head and when they rest (apart from the Emperor Damselfly), they keep their wings closed whereas the dragonflies rest with their wings open. 

The beautiful blue of a Southern Migrant Hawker dragonfly
A beautiful blue Southern Migrant Hawker dragonfly sitting on a reed
The beautiful blue of a Southern Migrant Hawker dragonfly

Wood ants

All over the island you'll spot large mounds of small twigs and pine needles which are wood ant nests, a large red and black ant species locally common but internationally scarce and under threat.  In the summer months their nests become alive with activity and can contain up to 100,000 ants.

They play a very important part in the ecology of the woodland, farming the Pine Aphid high in the tree tops for its honeydew, which they take back to the nest and feed their larva and queen, along with other insect prey. The workers are all female and live for a couple of months, the queen can live for up to fifteen years.

Wood ants are good at giving the unwary a nip with their jaws then squirting a tiny drop of formic acid from their tail into the bite.  It is this formic acid that the ants use to subdue their prey to carry back to the nest.

Interestingly, some bird species have been seen disturbing the wood ant's nest in order to enrage the ants.  They have then stood with their wings spread, allowing the ants to spray them with the acid, killing the parasites that live on the bird's wings.

We're home to lots of wood ants
Close view of wood ants 
We're home to lots of wood ants
Beautiful birds
Spoonbills on Brownsea

The lagoon

Dorset Wildlife Trust manage the island wetland areas, including the internationally important lagoon habitat. Currently the hides are not open to visitors, but you can still take in views across the lagoon from other spots, including the courtyard. In the autumn you can watch spoonbills slowly swish their bills from side to side through shallow pools of water.

Looking out onto the harbour from Brownsea Island

Visiting Brownsea Island: what you need to know

In this article you’ll find everything you need to know about how to get here, what's open and what to expect from your visit. You'll also find a link to the booking page.