Reedbeds are a wetland habitat dominated by the Common Reed. Reeds are Britain’s tallest grass and they can grow to over two metres tall! Reeds can grow in salt or fresh water but tend to grow at the water’s edge where their roots are wet for most of the year.
They grow close together in thick mats of vegetation forming islands often surrounded by open water, ditches or streams.
At Fishbourne there is an area of reedbeds at the head of the channel. Most wetland plants are adapted to live either in salt water or fresh water. Reeds are amazing because they can cope with salt water when the tide is in and fresh water from the streams when the tide goes out. Only a few other plants grow among the reeds such as sea aster. Reedbeds have to be looked after to keep them good for wildlife or they tend to dry out and trees start to grow on them.
Reed beds are a very important habitat for birds such as reed warblers who come here to breed from Africa. They build a deep-cupped nest among the reed stems to stop the young being thrown out by the reeds swaying in the wind. Reed buntings are resident all year round. The male is very distinctive with his black head and bib with white moustache. They build their nest in the dense vegetation at the base of the reeds.
Several rare species of birds such as the bittern and bearded tit are dependent on reed beds for their survival and steps are being taken to encourage these birds to breed in the area.
Many insects such as moths, beetles and snails also depend on them.
The streams provide shelter for young fish and eels and water voles also like to live here. Reedbeds can help with water purification near sewage works as at Thronham because they trap sediment in the water and use up the nutrients, which helps to clean the water. Reed beds are a threatened habitat as the land is often in demand for agriculture but at Fishbourne the area of reeds is being increased. Reeds are being encouraged to colonise a new area to the west of the sea wall. Rising sea levels are also a threat.
There are also areas of reeds at Emsworth and on Thorney Island. Thorney Island already has the largest area of reeds in the harbour and there are plans to increase the area still further.
Reeds are used for basket weaving and for thatching the roofs of houses.
Walking through the reeds that are taller than you, hearing the birds sing and the wind rustle the leaves is a magical experience!