Why Chichester Harbour is special

A National Landscape

Chichester Harbour is a National Landscape. It was designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1964 in recognition of its beautiful land and seascape. In 2023 all AONBs became National Landscapes. The new name reflects our national importance: the vital contribution we make to protect the nation from the threats of climate change, nature depletion and the wellbeing crisis. Chichester Harbour is the smallest National Landscape in the south east covering nearly 7,400 hectares.

The Harbour’s coastline is charactarised by distinctive tidal channels leading to a maze of inlets and rithes that criss-cross expanses of saltmarsh and mudflats. The shoreline is fringed by wind-sculpted oaks and scrub, with open agricultural fields bounded by hedgerows.

Historic coastal villages are defined by centuries of maritime association, and in the flat landscape, the vertical elements of church spires and old mills are an important part of its character.

A vibrant recreational harbour

Chichester Harbour is one of the largest recreational harbours in the UK, home to a fleet of some 10,000 vessels. It encloses extensive areas of sheltered water at high-tide, making it an ideal location for small boat sailing. It is widely known for the high quality dinghy racing undertaken by most of the Harbour’s 14 sailing clubs. The Harbour is also popular with larger cruising vessels that take advantage of easy access to the Solent and Channel ports and picturesque deep-water anchorages.

The special qualities of Chichester Harbour

Now renamed as a National Landscape, Chichester Harbour was designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1964. The reason it meets the criteria for the designation is because the landscape has a number of exceptional features, called special qualities.

When these are considered in combination, they collectively define what is distinctive and significant about Chichester Harbour compared with other parts of the countryside.

The Landscape Character Assessment, refreshed in 2019 describes in detail the landscape of Chichester Harbour.

The 10 special qualities are in no particular order and they should
be read as an integrated set.

Find out how we are protecting the special qualities for future generations.

The 10 special qualities

  • The unique blend of land and sea – especially the combination of expanses of open waters, narrow inlets and intimate creeks.
  • The frequently wooded shoreline.
  • The flatness of the landform, unusual among AONBs, accentuates the significance of sea and tide and of distant landmarks across land and water.
  • The open water of the central area of the Harbour.
  • The overall sense of wilderness within the seascape.
  • The particularly strong historic environment and heritage assets.
  • The picturesque harbourside settlements.
  • The wealth of flora and fauna, and notably the vast flocks of wading birds add to the richness and diversity of the landscape.
  • The unspoilt character and unobtrusive beauty.
  • The very special sense of peace and tranquillity, largely engendered by the gentle way the AONB is used and closeness to nature that is experienced.


A distinctive feature of Chichester Harbour is the range and spatial coverage of local, national and international designations, which is uncommon amongst National Landscapes and National Parks.

These designations collectively demonstrate that Chichester Harbour is very sensitive to changes in landscape and land use, particularly affecting natural resources, habitats and biodiversity.

Find out more about the designations in Chichester Harbour.