Brownsea Island - an insight into island life during lockdown

Red squirrel by Luke Johns 

Brownsea remains closed to the public with response to the spread of Covid-19, but wildlife is getting on with things as normal during Spring. Luke Johns, DWT's Poole Harbour Reserves Officer, tells us more.

The bird breeding season is well underway on Brownsea Island and with the lack of public, nesting birds have been taking advantage by nesting closer to paths than they would usually. The lack of visitor pressure is also having an effect on plants and trees. We would normally see a thriving campsite, busy reception and boats coming to and from the jetties and where the boardwalks would normally be well trodden by human feet, but now the bracken is growing up through the gaps in the boards. Sika deer are becoming ever more adventurous, adjusting their behaviour from hiding for most of the day and venturing out in the evenings, to being ever more brazen venturing onto Church field to graze during the day.

Arrival of the terns... 

The terns on the lagoon have been busily getting ready for the breeding season, the sandwich terns started to arrive from 25th March and the common from the 16th April.

A few of the Sandwich terns have eggs and we are up to 180 nesting pairs so far with a few left to settle. We are expecting some of the first to hatch around the 22nd May. Common tern numbers are around 100 with all of them yet to settle. Black-headed gulls have chicks already and the volume levels have been turned up, almost to full volume now.

Common Tern by Luke Johns

Common Tern by Luke Johns 

Other bird activity on the island.. 

A slightly more unusual visitor to the lagoon towards the end of April came in the form of a cuckoo, resting and calling from one of the small oaks on the lagoon edge. Spoonbill have dropped in occasionally on the lagoon, usually one at a time, and there are still a relatively high number of black-tailed and bar-tailed godwit, some in stunning brick red summer plumage. Ringed plover have been spotted, along with dunlin in summer plumage, and Curlew.  Oystercatchers are sitting on eggs now around the margins of the lagoon and one pair sharing the island with the terns. The first nightjar on the island was discovered on 20th April. We believe the earliest record of them on Brownsea previously was 6th May. The lone male was over two weeks earlier than usually recorded on Brownsea. The first nightjar churring was heard only 4 days ago meaning that nesting will begin soon.

Nightjar on Brownsea Island by Nicki Tutton

Nightjar on Brownsea Island by Nicki Tutton

Plants and insects 

Orchids are starting to sprout, with so far 23 Southern marsh in the wet meadow, and 5 common spotted on the Villa road. Also, cuckoo flower, forget-me-not species, mouse-ear and fleabane starting to appear in the meadow. The Villa garden is in full bloom, with the bluebells starting to go over and leave room for the red-hot pokers, wild garlic and hemp agrimony. The flowers are attracting a host of bees, hoverflies, bee-flies, butterflies and damselflies. 

The highest number of moth species from one moth trap was 23 on the 25th April with the first pine hawk moth appearing on the 22nd April. Butterfly species to date include: brimstone, red admiral, small white, green veined white, speckled wood, large white, peacock, holly blue and small copper. Dragonfly & Damselfly species to date include: large red damsel, common blue damsel, hairy dragonfly, broad-bodied chaser, black-tailed skimmer, and downy emerald. 

Female black-tailed skimmer dragonfly © Luke Johns

Female black-tailed skimmer dragonfly © Luke Johns 

Wild Brownsea update

As with many things across the country much of the work with the Wild Brownsea project (funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund) has halted due to the current situation with Covid-19. The boardwalk was approximately 2 weeks from completion when, unfortunately work was halted when the island closed. We are slowly but surely working on what we can but with many suppliers and contractors closed or operating on limited resource, we are only able to progress so far. We had a building programme of school trips, outreach and events which had to be curtailed but we still have plenty to look forward to when we are able to open Brownsea once again.