Fishbourne Meadows

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The cattle have finished their work for another year leaving the grassland in perfect condition for the special plants and animals. The new fencing has done a grand job protecting the Water Vole popultaion and ample signs of their presence has been found along the stream bank. Find out more in our newsletter.


Fishbourne Meadows is well used and loved by local people. It is a Site of Nature Conservation Importance with the entire western portion of the meadow designated as a ‘Scheduled Ancient Monument' as part of the Fishbourne Roman Palace site. The Meadows lie within the Chichester Harbour Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

We have been managing Fishbourne Meadows since the early 1980's. We undertake and organise the management work with the help of the Friends of Chichester Harbour. We have over the years, continuously monitored the plants and animals which live there. Monitoring data has shown that our work on the site has had very positive results - numbers of the rare Southern Marsh Orchid increased from none in 1984 to an average of 650 in recent years, Lady's Smock numbers have increased from around 150 in the 1990's to nearly 700 last year. Over the same period injurious weeds such as Hemlock Water Dropwort, Ragwort and Creeping Thistle have been greatly reduced by the hard work of Volunteers and our Ranger team.

Meadow Challenge

The key to the successful management of the meadows is grazing by cattle. While grassland plants and animals have been flourishing under this approach, the cattle have been grazing the bankside vegetation along the stream much harder than we had previously observed.

The Meadows are also home to the endangered Water Vole, one of the UK's most rapidly declining mammals and they make their home along the sides of the stream. Water Voles require sufficient bankside vegetation for both food and cover, particularly through the winter months. Unfortunately the grazing by the cattle is removing far too much vegetation along the banks. The cattle have also been causing erosion to the banks themselves which is causing the Water Vole burrows to collapse.

Finding a Balance

Managing Fishbourne Meadows is all about finding a balance. Here are some of the options we have thought through:

  • Do nothing: this option would result in the loss of the Water Vole population and continued damage to the archaeological site beneath. We hope you agree that this is not a suitable option.
  • Alter the cattle grazing regime: monitoring shows that the current levels of grazing have dramatically improved the quantity and quality of the plants, animals and insects on the site. We would need to significantly reduce the level of grazing to stop the erosion and grazing pressure on the stream, which would undo all the positive work we have achieved on the meadows to date. 
  • Mechanical mowing rather than grazing: this approach would allow areas to be selectively cut or remain uncut. However, this creates a very uniform result, removes all of the vegetation in one go and would be prohibitively expensive. Grazing is by far the best option for the site, but grazing animals require management infrastructure to make sure they are grazing the right areas.
  • Temporary fencing: the only type of temporary fencing that might be effective with cattle would be an electrified wire strung between wooden posts: this would in essence be a semi permanent fence. The equipment required for this approach would also be vulnerable to vandalism and theft and most importantly Placing an electric fence adjacent to a well-used public footpath is far from appropriate.

Our preferred option is for a length of fencing along the streamside. The fence will lie approximately one metre from the stream edge to give room for the public footpath and also to give a good width of protected habitat for the Water Voles. The fencing will be of a similar design to the existing fencing used on the meadows, but without the use of barbed wire. The scheme has the support of Natural England as part of a ‘Higher level Scheme Conservation Plan' for the site. English Heritage are also in support of the work to help protect the Scheduled Ancient Monument.

We are also pleased to have the support and interest of many local residents, some of who have been pressing us for a number of years to fence the stream to help protect the Water Voles and other wildlife.
We hope you will join us in managing this important and well-used site to achieve the best outcomes for its many uses and interests and we welcome your interest and concern.

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Fishbourne Meadows Update - 3MB