There are many unique elements that make up Chichester Harbour and we are lucky enough to have diverse ecological, geological and environmental features within the AONB. Collectively these areas create the natural beauty that forms the basis for our AONB designation.
East Head is a significant natural feature within the Harbour, but unless you are looking at it from the sky, you may not be immediately aware of its scale, role or history.
Managed by The National Trust since 1966, East Head is a naturally occurring sand spit with dunes which moves and morphs continuously with each and every tide. When walking on East Head the ground is quite literally moving beneath your feet! Over decades the position of East Head has changed significantly, acting like a hinged gateway to Chichester Harbour. Within the last century the sand beaches have run horizontal to the main beach at West Wittering, creating a single continuous frontage, and also run at 90 degrees to it, almost re-joining the mainland. Look today and you will see that the dunes are currently at about 45 degrees. The hinge end has been previously reinforced to hold it in position but in recent years a policy of managed realignment has been followed allowing natural processes to shape the area.
Despite its constantly changing form, East Head remains a natural habitat for flora and fauna including sand lizards, seals, marram grass, skylarks, ringer plovers, ragwort and wildflowers. The sand dunes give way to salt marsh behind, which contracts and expands as the dunes roll.
As such a unique, dynamic and natural feature, The National Trust exercises a light touch management programme with limited intervention. With the marram grasses acting as a glue, holding the sands in place, fencing is used to avoid trampling them which can in turn cause erosion of the sand which is easily blown in the wind. The north end of the spit is typically roped off all year to protect delicate breeding grounds for the ringed plovers who are incredibility sensitive to disturbance.
The long sand beaches, shallow approaches for anchorage and access to the sea make East Head an incredibly popular location throughout the year. However, this popularity can come at a cost and so we always ask visitors to consider its remarkable natural history and be mindful of the varied habitats supported in a single location, whilst enjoying their visit.
A word from us:
During the current lockdown, East Head is only accessible from Harbour footpaths as the car park at West Wittering Estate is closed. If you do visit, please take extra care, particularly with dogs as there are currently birds nesting in the dunes and on the shoreline.