Poole Harbour and Islands

Poole Harbour has a distinctive and varying character, from large expanses of open water, winding creaks and indented shallows to mudflats, marshland and reed beds.

The natural harbour has a distinctive and varying character, from large expanses of open water, winding creaks and indented shallows to mudflats, marshland and reed beds. These combined with undeveloped rural landscapes to the south and west, as well as significant urban influences from Poole, create a complex, commonly large-scale landscape with a strong character and sense of place, where water provides a unifying element.

  • A large scale, open, tranquil and generally unspoilt seascape with open views of colourful and textured surrounding landscapes, including heathlands and woodlands
  • A distinctive mix of tidal mudflats, marshland, reed bed, open water and shingle bank with indented and shallow shorelines to the harbour, which sometimes resemble large lakes
  • Wildlife of national and international significance
    Tranquil and remote character derived through perceived naturalness and an absence of development, particularly within the southern portion of the Harbour, which has exceptional undeveloped coastal character
  • Brownsea Island has a particularly strong cultural and historic identity
  • The Harbour provides a distinctive natural setting for the town of Poole

Land shape and structure

The area has a distinctive open character, punctuated by wooded islands. The fringes of the Harbour are defined by an intricate and sinuous coastline, with winding creaks and indented shallows, mudflats, marshland and reed beds.

Soils and vegetation

The Harbour itself is underlaid by a combination of sand, silt and clay, on top of a foundation of sedimentary bedrock. Within the shallow fringes of the Harbour reed beds and salt marsh vegetation can be found. On the various islands the same sedimentary bedrock that underlays the Harbour is also found. Of the islands, the most varied superficial deposits can be found on Brownsea, which exbibits a highly diverse range including sand and clays, which supports vegetation including woodland, heathland and acid grassland.

Settlement and land cover

The Harbour is largely devoid of settlement, apart from isolated dwellings on privately owned islands and a collection of historic dwellings on Brownsea Island, concentrated toward Branksea Castle. Landcover tends to be predominantly deciduous woodland, with patches of heathland, acid grassland, as well as areas of riparian, wetland and salt marsh habitat.

Historic character

Historic and cultural assets of prominence are concentrated within Brownsea Island. However, the Harbour itself also has a strong cultural identify, having been represented within and romanticised by various artistic and literary works. The overall cultural identity of the Harbour is personified by Brownsea Island, its most emblematic feature, which has a fascinating history and cultural identity that is equally derived from its past uses and from the outstanding beauty of its setting. From remnants of the industrial ambitions and associated expansion of William Waugh, through to still ongoing scout camping and residential holiday retreats, the Island provides a unique and intriguing story, further supporting its enduring appeal and iconic status.

Visual character and perceptions

The open waters of the Harbour have a relatively simple character, with expansive views toward the undeveloped landscape to the south and urban areas to the north, punctuated by wooded islands. The Harbour’s visual character becomes more complex in the western and southern portions, where the sinuous coastland and concentration of the islands combine to create a more enclosed context that feels dynamic due to its complexity. Perceived remoteness, tranquility and undeveloped character are key components of the Harbour and area particularly strongly expressed in the southern and western portions, where the influence of the urban conurbation is more subdued.

Strength of character

The overall landscape is judged to have a strong character. Although the area is affected by development within the urban conurbation, the overall combination of landscape and seascape features are of sufficient strength and quality to support this conclusion. However, it is notable that the Harbour has much stronger perceived remoteness, tranquility and undeveloped character in its southern and western portions, due to the lower influence of the urban conurbation. In order to conserve and enhance the character of the Harbour for future generations, it is important to carefully control future development of the conurbation, to ensure that impacts such as lighting, noise and the overall scale and distribution of development do not significantly impinge upon the natural character of the Harbour.


Measures to better management the hydrological catchment area of the Harbour play an important role in underpinning the condition of the area. Positive movement can be observed in recent years, with a more unified partnership response to catchment management. Management of Brownsea Island, by the National Trust and Dorset Wildlife Trust, is considered positive and supports the good condition of this important landscape asset. Although the condition of the Harbour is somewhat eroded by the influence of the urban conurbation, this must be balanced against other positive aspects that can be observed within the character area and its setting. Overall, it is considered that the landscape condition is moderate and stable.

The overall objective is to conserve and enhance perceived remoteness and tranquility, to promote and restore ecological connectivity and function and to manage visitor pressure sensitively.

Planning guidelines

  • Control the urban expansion of the conurbation, ensuring the protection of undeveloped views by minimising and containing visual detractors.
  • Protect important conifer plantations that screen intrusive development on islands and surrounding heathlands, promoting phased replacement to broadleaved woodlands.
  • Secure appropriate mitigation measures and landscape enhancements resulting from further oil and gas extraction. Resist new proposals that result in significant harm to the character and appearance of the National Landscape and/or its setting.
  • Protect the Harbour from excessive visitor pressure and associated infrastructure.
  • Limit the impact of camping and caravanning sites around the fringes of the Harbour. Restrict the expansion and creation of sites in areas where impacts are already significant, including areas subject to notable cumulative effects. Control proposals to introduce new ‘glamping’ facilities, based on landscape and visual sensitives. Pursue appropriate mitigation measures, including seasonal limitations, landscape enhancement measures and conditions that control noise and light pollution.
  • Encourage the use of native planting in any landscape scheme associated with new development and consider removal of unsympathetic species, such as the Leylandii screening hedges that stand out in the landscape.
  • Promote undergrounding of small-scale powerlines in open, sensitive locations around the fringes of the Harbour.
  • Ensure that coastal and flood defences are compatible with the National Landscape’s exceptional undeveloped coastline. Require the use of materials that are complementary to the character and appearance of their environs.
  • Ensure that development linked to aquaculture and fishing is compatible with the National Landscape’s exceptional undeveloped coastline. Avoid locating permanent infrastructure in sensitive areas and minimise the impact of essential infrastructure through good design.
  • Avoid unnecessary and prolonged noise and light pollution. Require good design to limit the impacts and use appropriate planning conditions to secure ongoing control.

Management guidelines

  • Ensure positive management of the wider catchment area, reducing pollutants that threaten sensitive habitats.
  • Promote the positive management of woodlands upon islands, ensuring the ongoing visual and ecological role played by these.
  • Restore surrounding heathland habitats to improve extent and connectivity.
  • Conserve and enhance extensive grazing regimes around the fringes of the Harbour.
  • Enhance the function of Harbour habitats in supporting the wider ecological network.
  • Manage the impact of rising sea levels through creation of flood marsh around Arne Moors.