Red Squirrels on Brownsea Island

For some time now, we’ve been meaning to visit the remnant population of native red squirrels on Brownsea Island here in England. Last week, the opportunity finally arrived when a number of bat surveys came up in Poole, the town’s harbour in which Brownsea Island is located.

Getting to Brownsea Island

During the day between these dawn and dusk surveys, Tom and I jumped on the ferry and took the 15 minute ride from the Sandbanks port to the island.  If you plan on visiting, you will need cash for the ferry.  You can use card for the the pay-and-display parking near the ferry, and for the National Trust tariff that is paid once on the island. For prices and how to get to the ports, click here.

The Search for Red Squirrels

The National Trust: Brownsea Island Map
The National Trust: Brownsea Island Map

Once we arrived on the island, our search began. We followed the various tracks around the island, but our hunt seemed to be in vain. The closest we came to seeing the red squirrels was indirect evidence of their presence: a drey nestled in the branch of a tree, nest boxes, cones that squirrels had been gnawing at…

Red Squirrel Drey
A squirrel drey or ‘nest’

We searched high and low. We even asked some passers-by if they had encountered any red squirrels, and they answered that after a day of walking around they still had not seen any. Feeling a little disheartened, we started walking back in the direction of the ferry.

Emma on the Hunt
Emma peering up into the trees hoping to see a red squirrel

With the wetland on our left and the woodland on our right, we wandered slowly along the path. Both of our gazes were focused on the woodland which we believed would be prime habitat for the squirrels.  Movement in the wetland area suddenly caught my attention… Our first red squirrel sighting right where we least expected it!

Our First Red Squirrel Sighting

We followed the movement up and down the trees, across the marshy ground, the squirrel never halting for long. We lost sight of it, and we hadn’t even manged to get one blurry photograph. Luckily for us, our second opportunity arose a few minutes later when Tom spotted a red squirrel curled up, apparently napping, on a branch overhanging the wetland.

Tom in the wetland area
Tom zooming in on a red squirrel

Tom trained his lens on the squirrel and got this first set of shots once it woke from its rest. I’m sure you can imagine how excited we were.

Sciurus vulgaris [RED SQUIRREL] Brownsea, England 12-09-2017 #2Sciurus vulgaris [RED SQUIRREL] Brownsea, England 12-09-2017 #3Sciurus vulgaris [RED SQUIRREL] Brownsea, England 12-09-2017 #4Sciurus vulgaris [RED SQUIRREL] Brownsea, England 12-09-2017 #5

During this encounter, a number of other people joined to watch. We all shared the locations of our sightings. This really is the best way to find out where to look! Group consensus was that the best area for squirrel sightings was the wooded area near the church (see the above map). We headed over towards the church, a five minute walk from our location alongside the wetland.

The wooded area near the church (seen in background)

Advice well heeded! In the half-an-hour we had left before the final ferry departed, we must have seen at least five individual red squirrels in this area. Our day of squirrel-spotting had turned into a very successful one.

A Few Quick Red Squirrel Facts

To round off this post, I wanted to leave you with a few red squirrel facts and numbers that we found interesting (and quite worrying!)

  • The red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) is found in many places throughout Eurasia
  • In Great Britain, Italy and Ireland, numbers have decreased drastically in recent years
  • This decline is associated with the introduction by humans of the eastern grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) from North America, and habitat loss
  • There are approximately 138,000 red squirrels throughout the UK vs. approximately 2.5 million grey squirrels
  • Of the red squirrel population, it is estimated that approximately 120,000 are in Scotland, 3,000 in Wales and 15,000 in England (~200 on Brownsea Island)
  • Without conservation the species could be completely wiped out from Britain by 2030
Sciurus vulgaris [RED SQUIRREL] Brownsea, England 12-09-2017
“What did you just say?!”

Red Squirrel Conservation

Red squirrel conservation is essential for the survival of the species in Britain.  To see what is being done to conserve the species in Britain, and what you can do to help, check out a few of the following websites:

The Dorset Wildlife Trust – Adopt a red squirrel to help safeguard the future of red squirrels on Brownsea Island

The Wildlife Trusts – Red Squirrel Conservation – Key Facts & FAQ

Red Squirrels Northern England (RSNE) – A red squirrel conservation partnership working right across northern England

Red Squirrels United – The biggest ever partnership of academics, practitioners and volunteers working together on a scientifically robust programme of red squirrel conservation

Until Next Time!

Please feel free to ask us any questions in the comments below. Until then, here are a few last snaps of a red squirrel with their peacock companion. 🙂

Sciurus vulgaris [RED SQUIRREL] Brownsea, England 12-09-2017 #9

References and Further Reading

Brownsea Island Ferries Website
(Retrieved 19 September, 2017)

The National Trust Website – Brownsea Island
(Retrieved 19 September, 2017)

The National Trust Website – Top Places to Spot Red Squirrels –
(Retrieved 19 September, 2017)

Wikipedia Website – Eurasian Red Squirrel
(Retrieved 19 September, 2017)

We also want to give a shout-out to Mandy for letting us stay at her home whilst in Poole… Thank you, Mandy! x

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Thanks for doing this post on the Red Squirrels! I loved it, especially those shots where the fluffy tail is lying along its back. What beautiful, cute creatures! Very pretty chestnut colour!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! We’re very happy that you enjoyed the post 😃. We certainly enjoyed watching them! They really are the cutest of creatures. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Graham says:

    I love your blog! Really great to have just found it! Many of your photographs are awesome!

    I went to Brownsea Island a good few years back…sadly didn’t see the peacock (I love that shot with the peacock right next to the squirrel). Wouldn’t it be great if the red made a comeback…but until we allow it more protected habitat I guess that is a pipe dream…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Graham, Thank you very much for your kind words, and for visiting our blog! 🙂

      Isn’t Brownsea Island great?! We definitely intend to go over again the next time we’re back in the Northern Hemisphere.

      There were actually quite a few peafowl about during our visit. They were super friendly, too.

      Ah, I’m also batting for the red squirrel! But, as you say, it’s going to take a lot more than luck…



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