Brownsea Island

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Coordinates: 50.68333 -1.96667 Go

Brownsea Island boat jetty seen from the Poole to Brownsea ferry. The building in the background is Brownsea Castle.

Brownsea Island is the largest of eight islands in Poole Harbour in the county of Dorset, England. The island is owned by the National Trust. Much of the island is open to the public and includes areas of woodland and heath with a wide variety of wildlife, together with cliff top views across Poole Harbour and the Isle of Purbeck. The island is most notable as the home of the first camp of the Boy Scout movement. Access is by public ferry or private boat; in 2002 the island received 105,938 visitors. The islands name comes from Anglo-Saxon Brūnoces īeg = "Brūnoc's island".


Brownsea island lies in Poole Harbour opposite the town of Poole in Dorset, England. It is the largest of eight islands in the harbour. The island can only be reached by one of the public operated ferries or by private boat. There is a wharf and a small dock near the main castle. The island can be seen from almost all of the mainland and from such places as Sandbanks. The island is 1.5 miles long and 0.75 miles wide.

The entire island is owned by the National Trust, including most of the buildings on the island (which are situated near the small dock/wharf). However several buildings and parts of the island are leased or managed by third parties. The northern portion of the island is a Nature Reserve managed by Dorset Wildlife Trust and an important habitat for birds; this part of the island has limited public access. A small portion to the south-east of the island, along with the castle, is leased to the John Lewis Partnership for use as a holiday home for partners, and is not open to the public.


Brownsea island has built up on a bare sand and mud bank deposited in the shallow harbour. Ecological succession has taken place on the island to create topsoil able to support ecosystems.

The nature reserve on the island is leased from the National Trust by Dorset Wildlife Trust and includes a brackish lagoon and area of woodland. Other ecosystems on the island include saltmarsh, reedbed, two freshwater lakes, alder carr, coniferous woodland, deciduous woodland and arboretum. In the past invasive species such as rhododendrons, also non-native, were introduced to the island but the trusts have cleared many areas. The entire island is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.


A Brownsea Island peacock displays to a visitor

The island is one of the few places in southern England where indigenous red squirrels survive, largely because non-native grey squirrels have never been introduced to the island. Brownsea also has a small ornamental population of peacocks. The island has a heronry, in which both Grey Heron and Little Egret nest.

There is a large population of non-native sika deer on the island. In the past the numbers have been higher than the island can sustain and have overgrazed. To try and limit damage to trees and other vegetation by deer, areas of the island have been fenced off to provide areas of undamaged woodland to allow other species such as red squirrels to thrive.

The lagoon is noted for the large population of Common Tern and Sandwich Tern in summer, and a very large flock of Avocets in winter, when over 50% of British birds (over 1500) can be present.


Early History

The monument commemorating the first Scout camp

Brownsea Island's story is first recorded in the 7th century, when a hermit living on the island lit beacons to guide boats into the harbour. In 1015 King Canute landed on the island before attempted invasions at nearby Wareham and Hamworthy (Poole).

The island was fortified by Henry VIII, and the castle he built became a parliamentary stronghold in the English civil war. After electricity was installed at the end of the 19th century the castle caught fire and was only partially rebuilt.

William Waugh

During the ownership of William Waugh in the 19th century an attempt was made to exploit clay on the island. Buildings were set up at the west end, a pier built and a short tramway constructed. It was hoped that the clay would be of the same quality as the nearby Furzebrook clay, but it turned out to be suitable only for sanitary ware. By 1880 the venture was over, amid implications that the original geological samples had been adulterated with high quality clay. Traces of these activities remain today in the form of archaeological remains (mainly building foundations and pottery fragments) as well as in the ruined worker's village of Maryland, nearly destroyed by bombing during World War II.


From July 29 until August 9, 1907, lieutenant general Baden-Powell held the first experimental Scout camp for 22 boys on the island. The subsequent publishing of Scouting for Boys started the Scout Movement.

St Mary's Church

Another large expenditure by Waugh was the construction of St.Mary's church in Gothic style. Inside the church there is a monument to Waugh as well as the tomb of the late owner Bonham-Christie. Part of the church is dedicated to the Scout movement, with a separate monument to Baden-Powell and his wife. The flags of the Scout movement line either side of the main Altar.

Bonham-Christie and the Second World War

In the 1930s the owner of the island, Mrs. Mary Bonham-Christie, closed the island to visitors to make it a wildlife sanctuary. This led to the island becoming overgrown, but when the National Trust purchased the island after the owner's death, it was reopened to the public.

In the Second World War lights were placed on the island at night to divert the attention of bombers away from the nearby conurbation of Poole and Bournemouth, army camps on the Purbecks and the important naval base on the Isle of Portland. There are many bomb craters on the island that are havens for rare wildlife.

Since 1964 the island has been host to the Brownsea Open Air Theatre, annually performing the works of William Shakespeare.


External links

50°41′25.03″N 1°58′18.21″W / 50.6902861°N 1.971725°W / 50.6902861; -1.971725