Wildlife / Specific Areas
Chichester Harbour is internationally recognised for its wildlife. Find out more about the birds, plants and marine life within the AONB, then follow our guide to what's where as you go out and explore the harbour. You will find suggested walks that include all these areas on the Walking page.
Sand dunes are fascinating but fragile places. The northern shore of East Head shows how such features are formed. At the western end the sand is blown in a shallow slope, and as it reaches the area beyond the scope of the tide its progress is slowed by Marram grass. In time higher mounds are formed. In places some damage has been caused to the high area by winter storms; not even the Marram grass can hold the sand in position. In the shelter of the spit there is a large expanse of saltmarsh which in July and August features the mauve Sea Lavender.
If you venture inwards you will reach an area where the sand is more consolidated and other plants can grow such as Sea Spurge, Sea Holly and Sea Bindweed. You will probably hear Skylarks singing above the dunes. Please use the boardwalks to help prevent damage by trampling.
(April to October only; access by boat only - please remain within landing area)
Here the sandy beach is backed by an area of shingle. Both have consolidated sufficiently to support a variety of plants. Yellow Horned Poppies are showy in flower and have long curved seed pods; their rosettes of grey crinkly leaves are present throughout the year. Sea Radish also grows from a rosette and can reach quite a size; it has knobbly pea-like pods. The low-growing Hare's Foot Clover has furry flower heads. Sea Campion has white flowers with delicate cups beneath. The creeping Sea sandwort forms a mat just above the strand-line. In Spring, the pink flowers of Thrift emerge from dense tufts of leaves. Pilsey is a U-shaped island, enclosing an area of mixed saltmarsh. On the western side are some sand dunes, which are growing rapidly.
A walk westwards past Northshore will take you to an area of typical saltmarsh which is relatively easy to explore. Further round the shore you will reach some attractive mixed woodland, where the oak trees bend over the beach and small birds are busy in the treetops. You may hear the laughing call of a Green Woodpecker. The footpath continues to West Wittering and East Head.
At the eastern end of the Marina is an area of marshy grassland where you can see a variety of wetland birds including waders. There is a carpark nearby and an observation hide. Along the edge of the Chichester Canal in summer you will find a range of water plants, and several families of Coot, Moorhen and Mallard.
North of the main lock is a small wood, Salterns Copse, which is traditionally managed by coppicing. A walk here in spring offers you bluebells and a wealth of birdsong. Later in the year it is a good spot for butterflies. You can continue north to Dell Quay and beyond.
From here the path northwards provides an opportunity for birdwatching at the head of the Fishbourne Channel where birds can be seen quite close. This is best done at half tide. At Fishbourne you will find an attractive clean stream flowing through some traditional meadows, bright in summer with a range of flowers and butterflies.
Head north for birdwatching and saltmarsh plants. The best time is at half tide.
This quiet village is hidden from the shore, but the perimeter of the peninsula provides a good walk with some superb views.
From here you can go eastwards towards Nutbourne and Chidham, and also westwards to Thorney Island (see below). Going this way you pass some newly developing saltmarsh, created by allowing the sea to pass through a gap in the bank.
The western side of Thorney Island offers wildlife both sides of the sea wall. The interior nearest the marina used to be tidal but was enclosed in 1870. The former saltmarsh channels support waterbirds such as ducks, coot and grebes. The reedbeds are noisy in summer with chattering Reed and Sedge Warblers. The farmland, which has never been ploughed, is traditionally managed by grazing and haycutting to maintain the botanical interest. The bumps in the fields are mostly large anthills.
Unusual plants such as Golden Samphire (glossy leaves with yellow daisy flowers) grow on the sea wall. It is possible to walk right round Thorney Island, but as it is a military base you must remain on the perimeter path.
The walk west from Emsworth towards Langstone passes through a variety of habitats including woodland and freshwater marsh. There is an option of an inland route past Warblington Church.
West of the marina you will find a good example of mixed saltmarsh. If you go over the road bridge you can explore the area between Langstone and Emsworth (see above), including the old milllpond at Langstone. There is a permissive path on part of Northney Farm which starts from a lane almost opposite the church.
Whether you start from the marina, the sailing club or the beach you can find an unusual habitat near the lifeboat station where dunes blend with heathland. There is colourful heather in late summer; nearer the sea are dune and coastal plants similar to those at Pilsey and East Head.