Why is farming important in Chichester Harbour?

There are 15 arable farms in Chichester Harbour AONB and 68% of the land is under crop. 70% of farmland is classed as excellent (Grade 1) or very good (Grade 2) and 87% (1,892 hectares) is managed under Environmental Stewardship Schemes which help to protect and enhance the environment. We work with landowners to plant trees and new areas of hedgerow through our tree and hedgerow planting scheme.

Why is farming important?

With 2,324 hectares of farmland within the AONB (54% of land use), good agricultural land management is a very important. Land managers play a key role in shaping the Harbour’s landscape and minimising the impact on both wildlife and our enjoyment of the area.

Land managers face challenges, such as climate change, changing crop patterns, increased summer irrigation and the need to protect rare and declining wildlife. In addition, there is increased demand for local produce and the need to engage with communities. We provide support and advice to farmers, in partnership with other organisations, such as Natural England and the Downs and Harbours Clean Water Partnership


Chichester Harbour’s location brings many benefits to farmers. The south of England is relatively warm and frost-free and the Isle of Wight provides shelter from strong winds. The flat, coastal plain attracts high light and UV levels, making it ideal for salad crops and soft fruit.  Although soils vary considerably, most farmland consists of clay and clay loams, with some lighter silt deposits.

The type of farming has a direct impact on the landscape.

  • Open Arable Farming – fields are surrounded by ditches to provide drainage. Few hedgerows exist but mature oak trees are common.  Farmers grow winter cereals, oil seed rape and field beans, and vegetables such as potatoes, leeks and brussel sprouts, which they sell at local markets.
  • Livestock & Dairy Farming – farmers use grass leys as an important component of crop rotation. These provide grazing pasture, silage and hay. Over 300 hectares of the Harbour is coastal grazing marsh. This natural grassland provides important wildlife habitats as a result of traditional management techniques. These marshes are used to raise beef cattle with a distinctive flavour.

Farming for Wildlife

Farming supports a number of important habitats. The lightly grazed coastal grazing marsh hides Sylark nests in summer and provides important feeding grounds for over-wintering waders such as Curlew and Redshank. Natural wetland meadows support Green Winged and Southern Marsh orchids.

Aquatic and marginal vegetation can be found along farm ditches, streams and ponds and provides refuge for nationally rare Water Voles. Careful ditch management is helping them to thrive in the AONB.

Hedgerows provide nectar for insects and nesting sites for farmland birds. They work as wildlife corridors, giving cover to Pipestrelle bats that forage for insects. Managing hedges in rotation ensures that farmland birds have fruit and seeds throughout the autumn and winter.

Grass margins left around fields help protect hedgerows from fertilisers, herbicides and insecticides. Yellow Hammers and Linnets often nest in these areas. No-spray zones and conservation headlands along the edges of crops enable rare arable weeds such as Spreading Hedge Parsley, Shepherds Needle and Grass-poly to survive.

Brown Hares prefer large open arable fields. Over-winter stubble provides an important seed source for Corn Bunting and Grey Partridge. Linnets and Lapwing favour spring cereals as they nest on bare soil amongst the crop.

Small copses and woodland are an important feature of the Harbour’s landscape. Coppiced Alder helps to maintain a rare population of Desoulin’s Whorl Snail. 

Heritage in the Harbour 

The current landscape is the direct result of historic land management. Settlement pattern, parish boundaries and even the shape of individual fields have all been influenced by the past. Land was reclaimed from the sea and some of this now forms species-rich meadows. Today, the drive for agriculture to meet the needs of the 21st century provides both an opportunity and a threat to the unique character of the Harbour landscape.

Economic challenges

The economic challenges facing farmers across the UK affect those in the AONB. Many national trends are reflected in our local farms. The number of dairy farms has declined, so has the total number of livestock. The number of viable farms has diminished and farm sizes increased to cope with scales of production.

Local produce is  becoming more popular and presents an opportunity for farmers, along with diversification into areas such as education and tourism. Grants are often available to help farmers find alternative uses for redundant farm buildings or to develop projects which bring an environmental and economic benefit to the community. An example of this is Northney Farm on Hayling Island – a grant helped them to create a successful Tea Rooms which uses milk from the dairy herd.

Farming’s impact on the Harbour environment

Agricultural land management is the single most important activity affecting the AONB’s character. This also has an impact on the welfare of wildlife. Farmers have to respond to changing demands. In future, there may be increased demand for bio-fuels which could determine the crops they grow. In turn, this may have an impact on wildlife and the character of the countryside. We will continue to work with farmers to ensure that wildlife and habitats are conserved and enhanced, where possible.

What can I do?

We can all make a difference and small changes in our lifestyle can make a large difference.

Buy local produce

Buying locally has benefits for consumers and producers. Buying from local farm shops or box schemes reduces food miles and gives vital support to local farmers. This helps the local economy, reduces the environmental cost of food production and increases the health of the local population. It is good to know where our food comes from and this also safeguards the important wildlife and characteristic landscape of the AONB.

Manage your land

Most residents have a garden so you can have an impact on the how the AONB looks.  Planting trees such as English Oak, Ash, Common Alder and Willow will help to maintain the rural character. You can also plant native hedgerow plants, such as Hawthorn, Holly, Blackthorn, Field Maple and Hazel in place of a wall or fence. These are more attractive and will encourage wildlife.