A Special Place for Wildlife

10 Things You Might Not Know About Chichester Harbour Wildlife

More than just picturesque views, seaside strolls and cosy cafes, Chichester Harbour is also home to an abundance of incredible, rare wildlife. From fish-filled waters to bird-filled skies, there's so many unique and incredible wildlife to be seen in and around the harbour. So here are a few interesting facts about our AONB that you might not know.

1. Our water is crowded with life. From colourful seaweeds and reefs of native oysters to crustaceans, molluscs and plankton, there is a whole host of amazing creatures and plants under the sea.

2. You'll find plenty of anemones below the surface. These unusual plants of Finding Nemo fame are a common sight around the Harbour - but they're not the friendliest of plants. They are carnivorous and have stinging cells to capture their prey, such as shrimp, prawns and small fish.

3. We're famous for our seal colony. As the only known rookery in the Eastern English Channel to be the home of Common Seals, they're certainly unique. Visitors often tell us of sightings and capture some brilliant pictures - but it's important to view them from a distance.

4. Wading birds love us. Thousands of Curlews, Godwits, Redshanks and Dunlins all choose to live in Chichester Harbour for all or most of the year. Our mud banks, sand dunes and shingles combined with minimal pollution levels and plenty of food, make it the perfect spot for waders to call home.

5. We do a monthly bird count. We like to know who's visiting us and when, so every month our resident ornithologists and volunteers take on one of the 14 sections of Chichester Harbour to record the number of birds.

6. Slipper limpets changed our waters. After being accidently introduced in the late 19th century, the seabed habitat was changed completely as plants and animals suddenly had hard surfaces to attach to.

7. Our land is over 50% farmland. The land is used for open arable farming as well as livestock and dairy farming, both of which have an impact on the landscape and habitats. The wide range of environments are home for an array of different animals including the nationally rare Water Vole.

8. Fish are our friends. The Harbour is home to over 40 species of fish, including many commercial species such as bass, bream, sole and plaice. But there's also some more unusual fish too, such as the colourful corkwing wrasse and pipefish.

9. We've got predators too. It's not only crabs and crustaceans that lurk amongst the waters; Smooth-Hounds, which are part of the shark family, regularly enter the Harbour.

10. We're internationally important. Full to the brim with rare species and unusual creatures, Chichester Harbour has many national and international designations. We're an AONB, SAC, Ramsar site, SPA and SSSI - meaning our land, water and wildlife are well cared for.

With such an array of wildlife to spot, do plan your next visit to the Harbour or register for our new #harbour100 challenge!


Surprising dunlin find - Pete Hughes, Ecologist - June 2017

During last winter I was lucky enough to find a spot alongside Chichester Harbour where 3 or 4 short-eared owls roosted. These are winter visitors to the Harbour and inhabit open landscapes such as marshes, rough grassland and heaths. Not surprisingly, where the birds had been resting there were a number of owl pellets - the regurgitated bundles of bones, fur and feathers that the owls cannot digest. I was interested to know what they had been eating, so I collected them up and took them home to have a closer look.

I was expecting the owls to have been feeding mostly on small mammals - voles, mice and shrews, but when I started dissecting the pellets, I found mainly the remains of birds, particularly waders. Incredibly, one of the leg bones in one of the pellets had a ring on it - a German ring, from the Hiddensee ringing scheme.

As usual, when I find a ringed bird, I put the details of the ring into www.euring.org a website provided by the European Union for Bird Ringing, the organisation that holds data for all European bird rings, although this time I didn't even know what species of bird it was...

I waited and finally received an email from Germany telling me the details of the bird:
It was a dunlin, which is a small wader that winters in Chichester Harbour in large numbers - around 10-12,000 of them each year. So far, so normal, however this bird was ringed on 30 August 1999. The precise location was Insel Langenwerder, a small island on the North coast of Germany in the Baltic sea. The bird was in its first year at ringing, making it a little over 17 and a half years old when it died!

The British Trust for Ornithology lists dunlin as having an expected lifespan of 5 years, with the oldest ringed bird recorded being 19 years and 3 months. So it's fair to say that this dunlin was fairly elderly when it was caught by a short-eared owl in late February 2017. Perhaps Chichester Harbour holds the secret to long life?


15 May 2017 - Mating Oystercatchers Caught on Camera

We see a lot of things here at Chichester Harbour. But our most recent glimpse into the lives of our resident wildlife is definitely one of our most entertaining. Earlier this month two Oystercatchers were caught on camera during a rather intimate moment at Ella Nore Spit near West Wittering. The sight of birds mating in the Harbour in the springtime is to be expected but not it's often photographed. These pictures were caught by a motion-activated trail camera set up to capture images of rare Little Terns coming to nest.


We went back to the camera today to check for images and low and behold, they were at it again!  All this activity is proving successful as we also found a nest with three eggs close by.


You can easily spot Oystercatchers around the harbour and coastline; just look out for their black- and-white plumage, large stocky build and long orange bill, and listen for their distinctive call. However, you might not catch them in such an exposing position during an afternoon stroll. The area where the Oystercatchers were pictured had a protective electric fence surrounding it to guard against foxes; perhaps the reason why the birds found it such a perfect place to copulate!
We set up cameras like this around Chichester Harbour to monitor rare or endangered animals, but footage like this is always a bonus and made us smile. If you spot any rare animals or unusual sightings, don't forget to share them with us on Facebook or Twitter.

Did You Know?

• The Harbour has an average of 55,000 waterfowl each year. That makes it the most important single site on the south coast of England for these birds. Read more
• It has internationally important numbers of 5 species of wildfowl and waders It is nationally important for at least 8 further species. Read more
• A number of nationally rare species of plants grow here, including orchids and plants that thrive in saltwater. Read more
• An area of mudflat similar to that occupied by a dinghy could hold 40,000 tiny Laver spire shells, 60,000 Corophium shrimps, 50,000 Baltic Tellin shellfish or up to 500 Ragworms.
• There are underwater slippers, spiders and peacocks (limpets, crabs and worms), dahlias, carrots and gooseberries (anemones, sponges and sea squirts)! Read more
• Around 20 Harbour Seals live in the Solent and regularly visit Chichester Harbour. Read more
• There are at least 9 different habitats including saltmarsh, sand dunes and mudflats. Read more

A Globally Important Place

Chichester Harbour has been given several designations as international, European and national level in recognition of the significance of the wildlife of the harbour. More details can be found on our designations page.

What Is Being Done To Look After The Harbour's Wildlife?

The value of the biodiversity of the harbour in its own right and as a resource for enjoyment is recognised in the harbour Management Plan.

What Can I do?

• Join the Friends of Chichester Harbour. The Friends give money to support harbour projects, including wildlife conservation. There are also regular workparties: join other volunteers helping to do practical work to manage habitats.

• Support the Chichester Harbour Trust, which has been set up to buy land in and around the harbour to safeguard it for the future. Tel: 01243 777632 for more information.

• Help with surveys: contact our eclogist, Peter Hughes and find out more information about counting birds.

• Buy locally raised conservation beef. See www.threeharboursbeef.co.uk

• Take care of the wildlife when you are out and about. In particular, keep your dog away from birds.

• Help with Goose Watch by reporting your sightings of birds on inland fields in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty• Sign up for Ed's Nature Notes by the eNewsletter to get a monthly list of what to look out for.

• Follow local wildlife blogs, we recommend Emsworth Wildlife, SOS recent sightings and Hampshire Bird News.

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Trip Feed

Oak trees on harbour shoreline

Sea Thrift by Peter CameronWater Vole by Brian FellowesMarshmallow by Peter Cameron