Chichester Harbour National Landscape

Designated in 1964, Chichester Harbour Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is the largest natural harbour in southeast England and the largest recreational boating harbour in Europe, in terms of number of moorings. Yet at 29 square miles, of which 41% is submerged at hightide, it is also the second smallest mainland AONB in England.

(c) Pete Ayling Chichester Harbour NL - Tidal Mudflats (c) Pete Ayling

It has been described as a ‘bird watchers paradise’ because of its importance for its birdlife. Internationally, the Harbour is recognised for the high presence of Brent Geese and Black Tailed Godwit, and nationally, for Redshank, Bar Tailed Godwit, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Curlew, Red Breasted Merganser, Greenshank, Dunlin, Sanderling, and Little Egret. Whilst there is always something to see at Chichester Harbour, it is the overwintering populations that attract the twitchers! Alongside the birds, Chichester Harbour has the largest colony of seals in the Solent, with around 50 Harbour (Common) Seals and 10 Grey Seals. Visitors can experience the peace and tranquillity of the AONB from the water whilst aboard Solar Heritage, a solar-powered passenger vessel that is ideal for relaxing and enjoying the natural beauty of the wildlife and landscape.

The principal management body for the AONB is Chichester Harbour Conservancy. Established by its own Act of Parliament in 1971, the Conservancy is a unique organisation in that it is the only Statutory Harbour Authority and Joint Advisory Committee (JAC) for the AONB. Today, the Conservancy employs around 50 staff, with a mixture of full-time, part-time, seasonal, and flexible employees. The AONB Unit has specialists in planning, education, countryside management, ecology, nature recovery, and in delivering conservation projects.

(c) Pete Ayling Chichester Harbour NL - Dunes (c) Pete Ayling

As well as the AONB, the landscape is also designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), a Special Protection Area (SPA), and a Ramsar Site, with many other complementary local designations, such as Nature Reserves and Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINCs).

However, and despite these protections, it is a landscape that is under a significant amount of pressure. The boundary of the AONB is slowly getting urbanised as more and more houses are built, that will ultimately affect the character and setting of the AONB. Furthermore, with more residents, the risks of recreational disturbance increase, as more and more people walk their dogs along the coastal paths, unsettling the birds that have migrated to rest and feed.

(c) Norman Gill Chichester Harbour NL - Reeds (c) Norman Gill

There is a heightened public awareness about water quality, with the impact of the wastewater treatment works and farming practices under the spotlight like never before, along with issues around marine plastics. Two-thirds of the 56 miles of shoreline is also now subject to hard sea defences, which cause coastal squeeze and have resulted in 58% loss of saltmarsh since 1946. Climate change is having a profound impact, with the Harbour at the forefront of sea level. In the coming years, this will affect the sailing clubs, the marine businesses, harbourside properties, infrastructure, and farmland.

Chichester Harbour is also a popular tourism destination, with more than 1.5 million visitors every year – as many people as some National Parks – yet it is a comparatively smaller landscape with little room to cater for the increasing demand.

Overall, Chichester Harbour is a special place, and there is much to do to try and keep it that way.

(c) Paul Adams Chichester Harbour NL and South Downs (c) Paul Adams

Chichester Harbour and South Downs