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Estuaries | Poole Harbour and Brownsea

Winter wonderland

Brownsea Island (Image c/o Viktoria Gridley-Haack)

Poole Harbour on the Dorset coast is the second biggest natural harbour in the world with 96 km of coastline and several unspoilt islands.

One of those islands is Brownsea which was once a sanctuary for deer from Japan.

From exotic species to winter waders. Photo by Viktoria Gridley-Haack


The Brownsea deer were imported by Victorian landowners with a penchant for exotic species.

Nobody realised that the deer could swim and the Sika escaped from Brownsea at the end of the 19th Century.

Today their descendants flourish on the mainland.

A good place to see them is at Shipstall Point in the shadow of Poole Harbour.

The best time to watch the deer is early in the day when there are very few people around and the animals come out to graze on grass.

The deer are frequently to be found on the reed marshes around the hide by the viewpoint.

Thriving deer community

Sika DeerIt's thought there are as many as 7,000 Sika Deer living around the harbour area especially on the Studland peninsula, which boasts one of the highest densities anywhere in the UK.

The deer have done well in this part of Dorset. They can thrive on poor vegetation, which enables them to live at high density.

The Sika have superior digestive powers, and like to eat the heather and gorse on the Dorset heathlands.

Their mouths and stomachs are certainly tougher than many animals.

These hardy creatures can even eat brambles, blackthorns, yew and ivy.

Winter waders

Brownsea c/o Viktoria Gridley-HaackPoole Harbour is also one of the most important estuaries in the country for wintering birds.

The best way to see them is by boat - the RSPB runs cruises leaving from Poole harbour side.

In the winter the harbour is home to 28,000 birds from the Arctic and Continental Europe.

Amongst the migrants are Brent Geese from Russia, wading birds from Canada and Greenland, and ducks from Russia and Central Europe.

Also look out for other cosmopolitan visitors including Avocets and Black Tailed Godwits.

These bird love wintering in Poole Harbour with its relatively warm climate - the estuary doesn't freeze up, and there's plenty of food available.

The harbour's large inter-tidal area of mud and sand is a popular feeding ground - different species of birds feed on different areas.

The mud is rich with rich including small shellfish, crustaceans, and lugworms.

The birds roost at high tide on the jetties, salt marshes and the lagoon on Brownsea Island in undisturbed locations where they can rest and sleep safely.

Godwits and Shelducks

Brownsea sunset c/o Viktoria Gridley-HaackWatch out for waders - Poole Harbour is internationally important for these birds especially the Black Tailed Godwit.

Increasing numbers are now wintering in southern England and Ireland.

This once common breeding bird dropped dramatically in numbers in the past when they developed a reputation as a delicacy.

Another visitor is the Little Egret, a small, white heron-like bird, which loves the rich waters in Poole Harbour.

This bird has spread gradually from southern Spain and France to Britain as winters have got warmer.

During the breeding season the Egret acquires head plumes which for centuries led to the birds being killed for their feathers to be used in the hat trade.

The outcry that followed marked the beginnings of international bird conservation and eventually led to the formation of the RSPB.

Also to be spotted are Dunlins, Grey Plovers, Red Shanks, and Shelducks.

Winter wonderland

Red Squirrel c/o Viktoria Gridley-HaackBrownsea is an unspoilt island, lying just off the south west tip of Poole Harbour.

A trip to the island is a must for nature lovers - this secluded location is a haven for a variety of wildlife.

In winter it is home to a large population of Avocets - more than 1,000 of these birds roost on the lagoon here.

The Avocet has a unique upswept bill which it sweeps sideways through the shallow watery mud to capture tiny shrimps and other invertebrates.

Brownsea is also the first place where Little Egrets nested in 1996 when they moved north to our shores.

It's probably one of the best places in the country to see this bird - a quarter of our wintering population.

Many of these birds come from Holland, and a few even fly in from nearby Essex or Suffolk.

Poole is a little warmer in winter than the east coast of England.

It's also one of last refuges in the southern England for the Red Squirrel.

At present there are approximately 200-250 red squirrels on Brownsea, living largely in the island's pinewoods where there are no Grey Squirrels to compete.

Photo Credits

All images except deer courtesy of Viktoria Gridley-Haack at Brownsea Island.

 

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