We are lucky to be surrounded by wetlands of international conservation importance. Pagham Harbour and Chichester Harbour are both designated wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. They both also hold SSSI (site of special scientific interest) and SPA (special protection area) status for having a wide range of intertidal and terrestrial habitats and internationally important numbers of waterbirds.
On the Manhood Peninsula, we see internationally important populations of lapwing, redshank, snipe, kingfisher, and bewick swans. In fact, Sussex hosts over 50 Biodiversity Action Plan priority bird species, many of which can be found on the Peninsula.
The fourth assessment of the status of all the UK’s 244 birds – Birds of Conservation Concern 4 – was released in 2015. It ranks species into three groups: Red, Amber and Green. Red Listed species are the birds of the highest conservation concern, meaning their populations are declining globally or are even at risk of extinction. Alarmingly, the Red List now accounts for over a quarter (27%) of the UK’s bird species. More on the assessment can be found here.
Read on to learn more about just a few of the Peninsula’s most notable bird species…
Europe’s largest wading bird and instantly recognisable by its long, downcurved bill. They can be spotted at Pagham Harbour during the winter months, outside the breeding season, feeding on worms, shellfish and shrimps. During the summer, curlews head inland to breed among moorland and rough grassland.
A Red Listed species, the curlew is monitored on the Peninsula as their numbers have been in severe decline due to intensification of agriculture on their breeding grounds and predation by foxes. The UK’s breeding population of curlews is estimated to represent over 30% of the west European population.
The intertidal mudflats and saltmarshes at Pagham Harbour are ideal for the curlew in winter, and the conservation of these habitats is vital to their survival. To help curlews thrive, we can raise awareness of their plight among landowners, farmers and visitors to their breeding and wintering grounds. Management of their habitat including creating corridors and controlling predator numbers will also help their numbers rise again. The RSPB and other conservation bodies are targeting their efforts across the curlew’s range to reverse their decline.
Kingfisher, adult female
Small, unmistakable electric blue and orange birds that fly quickly and silently over slow-moving water. They dive for stickleback and minnow fish and take them to nearby perches to feast on. They will also snack on aquatic insects, freshwater shrimps and tadpoles! Pagham Harbour, Fishbourne Meadows, Medmerry Nature Reserve are good places to visit where you might catch a glimpse of one.
Kingfisher numbers are vulnerable to many factors including: harsh winters; traffic collisions; unsympathetic watercourse management; and, industrial pollution and chemical build-ups which poison the fish they rely on. The dramatic loss of kingfishers and many other wetland species, including otters, in the 1970s was due to water pollution.
Kingfishers are an Amber Listed species and further protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) because of their significant population decline across Europe.
Did you know, kingfishers are incredibly short-lived? Only a quarter of adults survive more than one breeding season, and the oldest bird on record was just 7.5 years!
Chatty and sociable small garden birds, house sparrows can be found in city parks to rural countryside. Male house sparrows are streaky brown, a grey chest and underside, and a black throat and cap. The females are similar but lack the black markings.
They are a Red Listed species because their numbers declined severely in the UK –by a whopping 71% – between 1977 and 2008, and the causes are still being identified although it is likely associated with changes in agricultural practices and loss of winter stubble fields where they will go to feed. They are, however, relatively common on the Manhood Peninsula, often seen in arable fields, woodland and in Chichester city centre, so it is important to ensure that this area remains a stronghold for them.
House sparrow pairs will stay together and often remain faithful to their nest site for life. They like to nest in holes and crevices on buildings and will readily use nestboxes. They will sometimes create free-standing nests in hedgerows or conifers. House sparrows are not territorial, so you can often get several pairs nesting in close proximity.
You can help house sparrows on your doorstep by hanging up a sparrow-sized nestbox or two!
Flocks of brent geese end up on the Peninsula’s shores every winter, sometimes in numbers of up to 10,000! There are two distinct populations of brent geese. Dark-bellied brent geese are the type we see here, they spend their winters in southern and eastern England after breeding in Siberia, northern Russia. Pale-bellied brent geese mostly spend the winter in Ireland after breeding in Canada and Greenland.
During the breeding season, they make nests among boggy Arctic tundra which defrosts for just a couple of months while they raise chicks. By mid-September, the ground will begin to freeze over, and the geese will leave their nests and arrive on our shores in October. They usually migrate in large family units, flocking together in wavering lines and small groups, seldom in a V-formation. During their migration, they will stop off to rest and forage in coastal grassland, farmland, and salt marshes, sometimes for up to a week.
They are a small, dark goose, with a white neck collar and white beneath the tail. They like to feed on seaweed, eelgrass, and in midwinter when other food is scarce they will forage in nearby fields for cereal crops. You may see these birds at Dell Quay, Itchenor, Pagham Harbour and Medmerry among other places.
Buzzard (Buteo buteo)
Buzzard with a rabbit
Buzzards once suffered heavily from persecution and pesticide poisoning, but they have made an incredible comeback. Soaring high over farmland and grassland, buzzards are the most frequently seen bird of prey in the UK. Listen out for the classic ‘kee-yaa’ calls as they circle over fields hunting for smaller birds, mice, voles, and carrion. They will also eat earthworms when prey is scarce. They have a fanned tail when flying, and the wings are held in a shallow ‘V’.
In spring, male buzzards perform a ‘roller coaster’ flight. They soar high and then swoop down repeating the same dance to attract a mate. Once he has succeeded, a pair of buzzards will construct a nest in large trees, usually near a woodland but with grazing land nearby.