Posted by: Ross Gardner | October 8, 2012

Island Life

I have enjoyed many a trip down to Dorset over the years, but never before have I taken the short boat trip across Poole Harbour to Brownsea Island.  The autumn sun shone warmly last Saturday and I was given a pretty good idea of what I had been missing.

The island is owned by the National Trust, who in turn lease 100 hectares of it (a bit less than half) to the Dorset Wildlife Trust to manage expressly for nature conservation.  A glance at the DWT trail guide informs you that in the 16th century the island’s marshlands were reclaimed for the various purposes of forestry, agriculture and industry (there was once a pottery on the island).  Once supporting a several hundred strong working population, by the middle of the 20th century the island had reverted back to nature.  Today it is a special place indeed.

Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris). Copyright 2012 Ross Gardner.

The DWT nature reserve is a place not be hurried through – you most likely couldn’t even if you tried.  It is somewhere that hours may be spent almost without you noticing – a quick visit is not an option.  The carr woodland and reed-bed I would imagine is never without the sense of teeming life, even in the depths of winter.  A time when even with the myriad insects absent, the copious lichens and mosses encrusting and smothering the bark would ensure a continued air richness.  So too the pinewoods, where I’m sure the piping of the Nuthatch and twittering of Coal Tit that threaded the treetops on our visit would continue to be heard regardless of season.  Also, of course, it is these woods and those all across Brownsea that are special for the population of Red Squirrel that thrives on the island; Brownsea is one of the very few remaining English sites.  For us there was also a special species of mining bee – Colletes hederae – that joined the insect hordes drawn to the massed Ivy blossoms – not without good reason is it known as the Ivy Bee.

Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta). Copyright 2012Ross Gardner.

And let us not forget the lagoon that occupies a large part of the reserve, where huge congregations of wildfowl and wading birds gather in the winter.  Even this early in the autumn we were treated to views of Avocet and Black-tailed Godwit by the dozens, Little Egret and Teal apparently impervious to the proximity of the birdhides, and more besides.

A look at the watch and three hours have gone by and this before you have walked the heath and woodland rides around the rest of the island.

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