Area: 200 ha
Location: South of the United Kingdom, Dorset, city of Poole
Number of visitors:
Tourists: ~130,000 per year
Protected island: yes
Terrestrial protection status: nature reserve
Brownsea Island is a small 200-hectare island located in the south of England and more specifically in the harbor of the town of Poole. Apart from the church and a few buildings, the National Trust owns the entire island.
The island is 2.4 km long and 1.2 km wide. It is the largest of the eight islands located in Poole Harbor. It is essentially made up of forests, moors, a salt marsh, lakes and a brackish lagoon. Most of the buildings are grouped near the wharf, but a few are scattered across the island.
The first traces of occupation date back to the 9th century. Since then, the island has hosted successively or simultaneously several orders and institutions, including the church, the nobility, the army, the porcelain industry and as private property. It was partly open to the public until 1930, when the owner banned all access to the public following a wild fire that destroyed much of the forest. The acquisition of the island by the National Trust in 1963 allowed Brownsea to reopen to the public. It is also on this island that Robert Baden-Powell founded the scouting movement in 1907. A 7.2 km swim is organized each year around the island by the lifeguards of the town of Poole.
Visitors to the island have grown from around 10,000 visitors in 1963 to around 110,000 visitors per year today. They can walk around the island and enjoy a museum on the history of the island, a shop, a cafe and a holiday cottage. Most of the island is accessible to tourists, apart from some areas in the northern part of the island where there is a nature reserve managed by the Dorset Wildlife Trust. Brownsea Castle, located in the southeastern part of the island, has been leased to the John Lewis Partnership, and is therefore not open to the public.
Every year since 1964, the island has hosted the Brownsea Open Air Theater, a theater festival dedicated to plays by William Shakespeare. A scout camp still occupies the southwestern part of the island.
Despite its small size, the island has several types of ecosystems such as forest, two freshwater lakes, a salt marsh and a brackish water lagoon that attract many species of flora and fauna. More than 100 tree species compose the forests, including oak, beech, rowan, hazel and several species of pine. These forests are home to many species of birds and bats as well as a population of around 200 red squirrels, which do not compete with grey squirrels like on the mainland. The island is also well known for its population of Sika deer, introduced from Japan in the late 19th century, and ornamental peacocks that roam the grassy courtyard around the church. In the lagoon ecosystem, terns can be found in summer and avocets in winter, while cormorants, gulls and other seabirds nest there all year round.
Despite the measures put in place by the National Trust, one of the island’s major challenges is the adaptation of the influx and tourist practices to the challenges of protecting ecosystems. An effective action plan will necessarily have to integrate public awareness actions. Although not recognized as an invasive species, and despite the presence of fences, deer populations should be further monitored to prevent the potential negative effects of their overpopulation on tree species