Dorset News, Environment, Latest News | Posted: Wednesday, February 19th, 2020 at 12:49 pm | return to news

Black-tailed godwits visit Poole Harbour in record numbers

More than 3,700 black-tailed godwits were reported as being seen in the Brownsea Lagoon in Poole Harbour in December 2019 – a record for Dorset. Wardens on Brownsea Island said numbers remained high in January 2020, with over 2,000 birds present, even at low tide.

Flock of Black-tailed godwits above the lagoon
Flock of Black-tailed godwits above the lagoon

Black-tailed godwits are more commonly found in feeding grounds around the rest of the country, particularly East Anglia, Kent and north-west England. It is thought that high rainfall and high tides have made their usual feeding grounds inaccessible because of flooding, so they have ventured further south in search of food. 

A rare breeding bird in the UK, the black-tailed godwit has suffered from dramatic decline and now has many levels of protection, including under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981. It is a tall, elegant wading bird which forms large flocks when feeding. The birds can be seen digging in the mud with their long bills, hunting for invertebrates. 

Luke Johns, Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Poole Harbour Reserves Officer, said, “The Brownsea Lagoon is a hub of activity all year round, but bird numbers do peak in the winter. It’s fantastic to see so many black-tailed godwits and it shows how resourceful wildlife can be if habitat is compromised. We are proud that due to careful management we are able to provide this habitat in the heart of Poole Harbour for these declining birds. It’s also a great opportunity for the public to see birds in large numbers from the hides over-looking the lagoon.”

The godwits were not the only sight to please birdwatchers. A flock of almost 2,000 dunlin, and waterfowl such as teal, shoveler, gadwall and wigeon have been seen in the lagoon over winter. Brent geese have been seen in their hundreds in Poole Harbour and the long-tailed duck has also been spotted off the shores of Brownsea – an unusual sight for Poole Harbour. 

Birds have not been the only wildlife to flourish on Brownsea Island over winter. Fungi, mosses and lichens have been doing particularly well due to the mild, wet winter. 73 new species of beetle were identified in surveys conducted in 2019, adding to the 1,000 beetle species already identified on the island.   

Hundreds of people joined the Brownsea Winter Bird Boats to witness the spectacle of the black-tailed godwits during December and January. The boat trips, put on by DWT, National Trust and RSPB, offered the chance to see the birds in the lagoon whilst the island was closed to day visitors. There are further opportunities to see the island’s birds and rare wildlife, including the red squirrel, as DWT has partnered with the National Trust for a series of Early Bird Walks which take place from April to October. These walks give you the chance to take a guided tour with an experienced guide outside of the usual opening hours. See for more details or to book.

Brownsea Island is owned by the National Trust while Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT) has managed the northern section of the island since 1962. DWT and the National Trust are working together on the new Wild Brownsea Project, which is partly funded by the National Heritage Lottery Fund. The project will ensure that every visitor to Brownsea Island has a great wildlife experience and opportunities to explore and learn. Find out more about this project at

Brownsea Island is open for winter weekends until 8 March and will be open daily from 14 March until15 November 2020. For more information about visiting, visit or phone 01202 709445. 

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