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What it’s like to live on Brownsea Island

PUBLISHED: 11:16 26 September 2017 | UPDATED: 11:16 26 September 2017

Cormorant golden hour on Brownsea

Cormorant golden hour on Brownsea


Living on Brownsea Island is a dream realised for lifelong wildlife enthusiast Nicki Tutton

Living on an island is the stuff dreams. The excitement of a boat trip, followed by a day of discovering the wildlife of Brownsea Island is an adventure in itself. But for a handful of people from the National Trust, the island’s owners, and Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT), who manage the nature reserve there, this is their everyday life. Nicki Tutton is a true ‘islander’, having worked on Brownsea for 12 years for the National Trust and also as a DWT volunteer. She was upgraded to a full-time island resident in 2015, and is assistant warden for DWT.

The rhythm of island living is dictated by the seasons. With summer, comes long sunny days when visitors flock to the island, but the dark days of winter are a stark contrast to this. “It takes a fair bit of adjustment to live here. I moved here during October, the tail end of the season which meant the island closed not long after,” Nicki recalls. “Being here every day without members of the public visiting or our daytime volunteers coming onto the island was a bit odd at first, but I soon got used to the quiet.”

Logistics are also somewhat challenging too on this car free island, especially in winter. “When it’s dark and rainy and I have lots to carry from my car to the boat, and then across to the island, I think how easy it would be to park outside my front door and just walk in. Then I remind myself that I’m one of the lucky few who have the privilege of living on this beautiful island year round.”

Getting on and off Brownsea is weather dependent, conditions control the running of the boat service, especially in winter. Last year Nicki didn’t leave the island for several days due to the sea being so rough, but being prepared with a good supply of food and drink, means the disruption is minimal. “People often ask how I do my food shopping. Everything has to come over on the boat - so weight, amount and size of items is always a consideration, as is having a vehicle available on arrival to transport it all to DWT’s Villa, where I live. I have to confess that I do sometimes miss being able to order a takeaway or pop to the shop, but it’s a small price to pay for living here.”

Nicki’s lifelong passion for nature certainly helped her to get her dream job. “Growing up I was always off exploring, climbing trees, sifting through a pond or watching the activity around an ants’ nest. I started bird watching seriously when I was about eight years old. On Brownsea we are lucky to have a wide variety of nesting, over wintering and migrant birds, and some great hides to get close to them. This year I set myself a challenge to learn more about moths, I was terrified of them until I attend my first moth trap on Brownsea many years ago!”

So what would be a typical day on Brownsea Island for Nicki? “Even though there’s always a plan for the day, you never know what will come up, that’s why I love my job. During the summer season I could be helping to check bat boxes, fixing the board walk, or leading a guided tour. I love showing off the island to visitors. During the winter is when all the ‘heavy’ work is done. You could find me chain-sawing a fallen tree, cutting firewood for the Villa’s wood burning stoves, or up to my knees in mud in the lagoon weeding the tern islands.”

Whatever the season, life on Brownsea is never boring for Nicki: “Whether you’re lucky enough to live here, or just visiting for the day, you’ll enjoy a magical experience. It could help pave the way for you to develop a love for wildlife, just like it did for me. That’s if you haven’t fallen for it already!”

Find out more at dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk/brownsea_island_reserve.


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