Stage 3 - Mud, glorious mud
Plant and animal life flourish throughout Chichester Harbour and here, at point 3, is a good place to appreciate many of them.
Turn left as the ferry lands you and move up the creekside as indicated on the map. There’s a remnant of the Ice Age here – a large smooth rock left behind when the last ice age ended.
As you stand on the shoreline, look down. One of the most important natural elements of life in the harbour is right beneath your feet.
Anne de Pottier
“The mud is vital. The reason why all these birds is because a food resource is available to them. Mud may look to us sticky and dangerous and boring and something to be avoided. But for the birds its essential. It’s their larder – its got a vast amount of resources in it. If we didn’t have it the birds wouldn’t be here and the harbour wouldn’t be able to offer sanctuary to so many different species.”” said wildlife officer Anne de Potier.
Living in the mud are enormous quantities of animals which form a vital part of the food chain in the harbour; like ragworms , crustaceans like the sandhopper and molluscs like the cockle and the mud snail. They are eaten by birds such as the sandpiper, redshank and oyster catcher.
The harbour is also home to a British species that is at a severe risk of extinction. The Water Vole – inspiration for Ratty in Wind in the Willows - has died out in other parts of Britain, but here it seems to be booming, with new colonies being discovered every year.
The Chichester Harbour Conservancy and local landowners have been working together to make the parts of the area safer and more attractive for the Vole.
The greenshank is a special visitor to the Chichester harbour area, where Conservancy staff have been playing them close attention.
“The greenshanks are one of our specialities. They come to us from July through to September, particularly in the autumn, and we are running a particular project tracking their migration and we are able to link up the the places where they visit – for example, Brittanny, through Chichester Harbour and the Solent up to Norway and study them there and also link up the people that live in those places.” said Anne.
Any other different kinds of birds can also be seen in the harbour – depending on the time of year. Brent geese, the exotic little egret, grey herons, black headed gulls, cormorants, oyster catchers, lapwings, shelducks, curlews and redshanks can all be seen.
If you are very lucky, then common seals can sometimes also be seen in the lower reaches of the harbour . When the tide is out, they like to bask on the mud and can easily be mistaken for a rock. At high tide it’s harder still – you’ve got to spot the tips of their snouts.
You will see one plant in Chichester Harbour, for example, that you won’t see anywhere else in Sussex. Eelgrass, a flowering plant serves as a haven for crabs, scallops, numerous species of fish, and other wildlife, providing these creatures with habitat, nursery grounds, and food.
Elsewhere under water, spring sees the arrival of cuttlefish which come inshore to spawn. In the summer, fishermen can sometimes be seen trawling for sand eels, which are used as bait for other fish. The whole harbour is a bass ‘nursery’ – waters where young bass grow up. In autumn, the local oyster industry gets to work.
More change is predicted for Chichester Harbour – as it gets hotter and the sea level rises. The sea has been rising in this harbour for thousands of year, but a developing international pattern of rising sea levels, frequent storms, and extreme rainfalls is giving great cause for concern.
At the harbour entrance - roughly south west from where you are now standing, the sand spit East Head was breached by the sea in December 2005. Temporary defences are in place, but a final solution is still to emerge.
Some conservationists believe the breach should be left to allow the coast to reshape itself but others say that would silt up the deep-water channels used by pleasure craft.
last updated: 07/12/07