Brownsea Island - Winter Wonderland

'In the bleak midwinter'
Brownsea Church in a glittering winter wonderland

'In the bleak midwinter' Brownsea Church in a glittering winter wonderland - Credit: Archant

Brownsea Island is closed to visitors until February but life - and hard work - continues for the island’s 29 residents, as National Trust Head Ranger Reuben Hawkwood explains

'Brownsea Castle and the Wild Purbecks'

'Brownsea Castle and the Wild Purbecks' - Credit: Archant

Winter is the time to enjoy the solitude of the island and with it the wilder side of Brownsea emerges. By the church a red squirrel rustles through the leaves in search of its hidden stash of nuts; nearby deer and rabbits graze quietly in the fields. In the lagoon a flock of waders startle and take flight as a peregrine flashes by.

On a crisp bright January day, with vast blue skies overhead, waves gently lap at the golden beaches, and the sun illuminates the dazzling white outcrop of Old Harry Rocks in the distance. This is Brownsea Island in its winter plumage.

Surrounded by the magnificent Poole Harbour, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, itself overlooked by Poole and Bournemouth on one side and the wild Purbecks on the other, the island could not be in a more picturesque setting.

The Sandbanks to Studland chain ferry marks the harbour entrance which opens out to the curve of Poole Bay. As you approach by boat the perfectly proportioned castle, with its two towers in front, surrounded by a castellated formal walled garden, nestles into the rising woodlands. The faded brick of the Villano and quay cottages stretch out towards the lagoon wall.

Paths meander through the island’s woods leading up to cliff top benches which afford unparalleled views of the other harbour islands. A series of hides on the way offer a happy refuge for any twitcher keen to spot internationally significant populations of avocets or black tailed godwits. If you arrive at the right time – on a high spring tide – you may see up to 10,000 waders taking advantage of the constantly maintained water levels and rich food supply.

Recently nominated by BBC Countryfile as one of Britain’s Favourite Nature Reserves, Brownsea is among the top ten bird watching sites in the country.

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Our lagoon (managed by Dorset Wildlife Trust) is an internationally designated wetland reserve. In fact the island has almost every nature conservation designation there is, and we work hard every winter to maintain and improve our woodlands, heath and wetlands.

After three years as Head Ranger here, I can’t imagine being anywhere else. There are 29 of us who live and work on the island permanently.

Our children travel to and from school on the island boats - Brownsea Enterprise and Castello - seemingly oblivious to the special privilege they enjoy.

It’s not all plain sailing though. Occasionally gale force winds carrying horizontal rain whip up a powerful sea that may, at high tide, spill over our jetty and threaten the very fabric of the island. When it gets really bad, we help crew the boat to pick up islanders returning home at night. In the dark with a freezing sea, limited visibility, relentless waves, and sleet driving into the open cabined boats, our resident boatmen really show their skill.

We are all very proud when our beautiful island recently won several tourism awards, recognising the efforts of the whole team – staff and volunteers alike. This included the Dorset Tourism Award for Best Tourism Experience. Having also celebrated the 50th anniversary of being opened to the public by the National Trust, 2013 really was a golden year for the island.

Visiting Brownsea

The island re-opens on 22 March but if you would like to experience the tranquillity of a winter’s day with us, boats run (from Sandbanks only) each weekend from 8 February to give everyone the opportunity to visit this winter wonderland.

For more details visit or call 01202 707744.