Brownsea Island wildlife walk
This walk cuts through mixed and pine woodland at the centre of the island.
Path next to church
Start the walk from the path next to the church and walk in the opposite direction from Brownsea Castle. Take the left fork in the path.
In autumn, this is a good place to see red squirrels as they feed on sweet chestnut and beech tree nuts. Carry straight along this path.
Red squirrels must gain over 10% of their body weight to survive the winter. They're best seen in autumn when foraging for nuts. They can tell if a nut is rotten by its weight. Pine trees are particularly important for red squirrels and you'll often see chewed pine cones on the woodland floor. There are no grey squirrels on Brownsea even though they're usually better adapted to survive in this type of woodland than red squirrels. There are more than 60 types of tree to be seen including oak, beech, holly and ash.
At Rockets Corner, take the second left and continue through ideal red squirrel territory, with mature Scots pine trees on your left. Also look out for goldcrests in the woodland distinguished by a bright yellow stripe on their head, they tend to live high up in the canopy. They're the smallest European bird and have a suitably small call more of a high-pitched squeak. Other birds that can be spotted at Brownsea are the avocet (over 1,000 roosting in winter), peregrine, little egret and kingfisher in winter, and terns, gulls and oystercatchers in summer. Birds in the reedbeds include grebes, coot and the shy water rail, with its distinctive pig-squealing call. Brownsea also has internationally important birds such as the bar tailed godwit.
Habitats and wildlife
Brownsea Island's many and varied habitats include pinewood, heath, mixed woodland, shore and lagoon, which support a wide array of wildlife. The Victorians introduced sika deer from Japan, which soon swam across the water and colonised the mainland. Look for them in reedbeds. You can also spot common lizards and red squirrels. The wetlands on the island support sea lavender, common spotted orchids and marsh cinquefoil, and there are more than 60 types of tree to be seen including oak, beech, holly and ash.
Note that the pine woodland here is regenerating. This must be managed carefully to conserve the red squirrel population. Take the next path on your left
The wetlands on the island support sea lavender, common spotted orchids and marsh cinquefoil. Water voles are extremely shy (and rare) so it takes a lot of patience to spot them in the wetland areas they inhabit. Not to be confused with rats, water voles have a blunter, rounder face.
Pass a track on your left, and then take the path that bears left. In this area, volunteers have recently removed rhododendron (an invasive foreign plant) to maintain the diversity of native plant and animal species. The lakes on Brownsea (which resulted from peat digging) attract many insects, including 24 species of dragonfly such as the small red damselfly and the ruddy darter. There are also green tiger beetles and many species of butterfly, such as the green hairstreak and the small copper.
At the farm buildings turn left, then follow a path until you again reach the church at the start of your walk. Alternatively, take a right towards Brownsea Castle. Here, there are facilities including a National Trust shop, toilets and café.
End: Path next to church, grid ref: SZ022876
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