More Purbeck visitors urged to take trip to Brownsea

With the National Trust now running its own ferry from the jetty at Sandbanks, it’s hoping to encourage more people from Studland, Swanage and Corfe Castle to explore Brownsea Island, set in the idyllic location in Poole Harbour in Dorset.

The island, which reopened to the public in March 2024 after its annual winter closure, is the Dorset home of red squirrels, scouting, some of Britain’s rarest birds and a castle built on the orders of King Henry VIII.


King Henry VIII’s spectacular castle is at the entrance to Brownsea Island

Within Studland parish boundaries

The island, run by the National Trust in partnership with Dorset Wildlife Trust and John Lewis, comes under the jurisdiction of Studland Parish Council but is often wrongly considered to be part of Poole. 

However it is easier than ever to get to Brownsea Island from Purbeck due to cheap £2 bus fares on the Morebus Purbeck Breezer 50 and the convenience of the National Trust’s ferry crossing to Brownsea Island from the jetty at Sandbanks, which has now resumed after the Covid pandemic.

The cost of an adult ticket aboard the Enterprise ferry for a ten minute crossing to the island is less than £10, not only £4 cheaper than the sailing from Poole Quay but also considerably easier when coming from Studland or Swanage.

The Morebus Purbeck Breezer 50 service which runs from Swanage to Bournemouth is still only £2 a trip until at least Sunday 30th June 2024 and includes a scenic open-top bus ride through Studland and a chain ferry crossing too.

Brownsea’s famous red squirrels play happily in the island’s church yard

And can also be seen bounding around in trees through Brownsea’s woods

Saved for wildlife in 1960s

Brownsea Island was saved for wildlife and people to enjoy in 1962 when the National Trust took ownership and leased the northern part to Dorset Wildlife Trust.

There was also financial support from the John Lewis partnership who restored the castle – which dates from 1547 and was designed to defend Purbeck against a feared French invasion – and now uses it as a corporate hotel for its employees and retired staff.

The island’s wildlife includes some very tame peacocks

You can also get a glimpse of Britain’s largest flock of spoonbills

“We again have a service from Sandbanks”

Brownsea Island visitor operations and experience manager Olivia Gruitt said:

“I’m really keen to let people in Purbeck know that we once again have a service from Sandbanks. We used to have big yellow ferries going from the jetty, but they were stopped by the pandemic – and in truth the jetty was no longer in the best shape to receive 15 tonne boats.

“We have a replacement project under way at the moment and in 2026 we hope to reopen a much bigger scale ferry service from Sandbanks.

“But for the time being, the jetty is once again open to the public who can prebook tickets on the Enterprise at 10 am, 10.30 am, 11.30 am and 12 noon – four services just for visitors from Swanage, Corfe and Purbeck who don’t want to have to drive all the way round to Poole Quay.

“They can park at Shell Bay, hop on the chain ferry and catch a ferry from Sandbanks to Brownsea – the parking and entrance to the island are free for National Trust members.”

An open top bus is the perfect way to begin an adventure to Brownsea Island

The £2 bus fare makes getting to the Sandbanks jetty from Purbeck a breeze!

The Enterprise moors up at the entrance to Brownsea Island, during one of its four services a day

“One of the top questions we are asked”

Olivia added:

“We now have increased access to the castle, we do historical walks and cream teas in partnership with John Lewis, once a month throughout the year.

“Our visitors are desperate to know what happens in the castle, so we are pleased that we can now give them a rare glimpse of that!

“Most people come here to see our red squirrels – we do have national fame as the birthplace of scouting, of course, and some young families come here for a day out to get some space, but one of the top questions we get asked is where can people see a squirrel.

“We have a healthy population of around 250 squirrels and they are around and about at the moment, starting to build nests for their kitting season – they are just everywhere at the moment, which is lovely.”

Boardwalks are being built through the reedbeds to a new visitor centre

Described as a birders’ paradise

The island has a unique mosaic of habitats in a small area – the island is about a mile and a quarter long but has beaches, coastland, heathland, wooded heath, wetland and bogland within walking distance, all with their own fascinating wildlife.

A new lookout and visitor centre at the entrance to the island is in the final stages of being built and when complete, hopefully by July 2024, will offer a boardwalk path through reedbeds to an elevated viewpoint with a 180 degree vista of the lagoon.

Birds on the island include avocets, spoonbills, oystercatchers and sandwich terns, but there are so many different species which make an appearance in Poole Harbour through the year – more than 300 at the last count – that it is described as a birders’ paradise.

For Easter, children are being encouraged to become more familiar with birds on Brownsea with an interactive trail designed and built by Dawn Clark of Swanage, the island’s visitor experience officer.

It includes huge papier mache bird heads of an eagle, a blue tit, a nightjar and an owl which have been hung from the branches of a tree at child level to be worn and photographed and are already starting to appear on Instagram accounts.

Giant bird heads are included on an interactive trail on Brownsea

Visitor experience officer Dawn Clark of Swanage with the bird heads she made

A hungry caterpillar bean bag toss

Dawn Clark said:

“I have also made a robin and a tern, and I am hoping that I can put them out as well to join the rest of the flock for the Easter weekend.

“I have put out some bird yoga poses, including a peacock and a chicken, to start the Easter trail and have lots of activity points to follow along Deer Park Road and down by the lily pond, to end with a chance for children to measure themselves against the wing spans of birds.

“I make all the crafts myself – it gives me an outlet for my creativity and it’s great fun! I have an egg and spoon race where the objective is for children to feed the baby birds, worm hopscotch, a hungry caterpillar bean bag toss and much more!”

Visitor operations manager Olivia Gruitt, pictured in the island’s visitor centre

Brownsea Island once used to grow so many daffodils that it supplied Covent Garden in London

Stargazing seats and daffodil fields

The trail will be running for three weeks over the school Easter holidays, but there will be other trails running through spring including an unmissable animal poo trail for May!

Elsewhere, the island has an adventure playground for children, stargazing seats which are also used to admire the natural tree canopy of the pine forests, a mini museum which pays tribute to Robert Baden-Powell who founded the scouting movement on Brownsea in 1907, and daffodil fields.

Sandy beaches in quiet coves – an unexpected feature of Brownsea Island

Take a yacht or a kayak out on the water for a delightfully different break

“We also have beautiful sandy beaches”

But Olivia Gruitt added:

“One thing I am trying to push this year is that we also have beautiful sandy beaches. People don’t necessarily come here for a swim, but we do have gorgeous beaches which you are likely to have to yourself if you come prepared.

“The wonderful thing about Brownsea, even when it is at its busiest, is that beyond the reception area, you may not see another person. Once you are out in the woodlands, you might pass a busy natural play area, but there is still a sense that you have the island to yourself.

“We have a bunk house for staying visitors in the most beautiful location, tucked up on the south shore with amazing views of the Purbeck hills and a big garden for a barbecue.

“People come back there year after year, you can just get into your kayak and straight out onto the water, it’s a very special place!”

Part of an adventure playground for children in the forest grounds

The island church has resumed regular Sunday morning services

Your adventure starts here: the Morebus Purbeck Breezer 50 service in Swanage

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