Main Features

Although the harbour was formed by river valleys being
drowned at the end of the last Ice Age, there are no major
rivers flowing into the harbour today. However there are
several freshwater streams. These flow from springs in the
chalk downland several miles north of the harbour and are
very clean. They flow directly into the harbour. The section
nearest the harbour tends to be brackish as salt water from the
incoming tide mixes with fresh water in the stream.

Fishbourne Stream

Fishbourne Stream rises from the chalk downs to the north of Chichester and flows to meet
the sea at the top of Fishbourne channel. It is very clean and is home to both freshwater creatures and some sea creatures that enter the stream at high tide.


The stream flows fairly fast in the middle over a stony streambed. At the sides are plants that can grow in water such as watercress and yellow flag iris.

The most common freshwater creatures tend to be freshwater shrimps that feed on dead animal and plant matter.

Other creatures which live among the plants for shelter and food include water beetles, leeches and flat worms.

The stream has a number of species of fish, both freshwater and marine. These include sticklebacks and the young of several marine species such as flounders and eels. Fish use the stream as a nursery and come here to spawn. The adults enter the stream at high tide and lay their eggs in the stream where the young can grow up in a more sheltered environment than the tidal harbour. Young flounders disguise themselves among the stones on the bottom of the stream. Young eels, called elvers, will eventually swim all the way to the Sargasso Sea in the middle of the Atlantic.

There are a group of creatures that rely on both the stream and the meadow in order to complete their life cycle. The young of frogs, caddis flies, midges and dragonflies are all aquatic creatures.


Tadpoles only spend a short time in the water and the adult frogs can live in water and on land.
Caddis fly larvae live inside shelters they make by sticking material they find to their cases, to hide from fish which like to eat them. Small clusters of stones stuck to a larger stone may not be what they seem!

The adult caddis flies emerge from the stream as insects and live a very short adult life of about a week. They often come out at night and resemble moths. They rarely eat when adults, they mate and then die.
Dragonfly larvae spend several years in the stream as voracious predators, eating anything they can catch with jaws they can shoot out! They emerge as adults to spend a few weeks flying over the meadows catching insects before breeding and then dying.

Water vole
Water vole

Fishbourne stream is also home to the rare water vole. It is often mistaken for a rat. Ratty in ‘Wind in the Willows’ was a water vole not a rat! It eats water-side plants and lives in burrows in the banks of the stream, often with entrances above and below the water.

Too much disturbance could cause the water voles to move elsewhere but at the moment they seem to be reasonably tolerant of people.

Food chain

Water plants -> mayfly larva -> stickleback -> heron


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Chichester Harbour Conservancy Education
Harbour Office, Itchenor, Chichester, PO20 7AW.   Tel: 01243 512 301