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The rare red squirrel on Brownsea Island

A close up of a red squirrel on a branch on the floor of woodland on Brownsea Island, Dorset
A red squirrel exploring the woodland floor at Brownsea Island, Dorset | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

Brownsea Island is one of the safest and largest strongholds of red squirrels in the south of England, and a great place to do some spotting.

An endangered species

Red squirrels are an endangered species in the UK due to the loss of their woodland habitat and the introduction of the American grey squirrel.

While both species of squirrel have a similar role in the ecosystem in that they are small woodland mammals that spread the seeds of trees, red squirrels are a particularly important asset in the regeneration of pine woodlands. Reds are specially adapted to feed on the seeds in pine cones and greys tend to favour broadleaf woodland where many other animals can do the job of spreading the seeds, such as birds.

If red squirrels became extinct in the UK, it would not only have a negative impact on our pine woodland regeneration but we would also lose one of our most iconic native mammals.

When to see red squirrels on Brownsea

Red squirrels are most active in spring and autumn, so a visit during those seasons is the most likely to be rewarded with sightings. They're usually spotted during the quieter times of the day, so a good time to spot them is when we first open or later in the afternoon before we close. You could also stay overnight on the campsite and go red squirrel spotting when it’s quieter. Try your luck on the Woodland Walk and don't forget to look up, down and all around.

A close up of a red squirrel climbing a tree on Brownsea Island, Poole Harbour, Dorset
Red squirrel on Brownsea Island | © National Trust Images / Chris Lacey

Where to see them

Red squirrels are most often found in the coniferous woodland areas, feasting on nuts and seeds, or you may find pine cones that have been nibbled, leaving what looks like a nibbled corn on the cob.

Squirrels have been spotted on the woodland walk, near the Church, either posing for photographers or leaping between the oaks. Another good place to try is by the feeders up by the Villa on the Dorset Wildlife Trust managed area.

Walk this way

The Woodland Walk offers a great feasting ground for squirrels, so you'll have a good chance of spotting some here, or in the Dorset Wildlife Trust area where it's a little quieter. Dorset Wildlife Trust manage the island’s wetland areas, including the internationally important lagoon habitat.

For more tips for spotting red squirrels, read the red squirrel spotting tips article at the bottom of this page.

A red squirrel on Brownsea Island, Poole Harbour, Dorset


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