Reedbeds are ‘single species’ wetlands, dominated by over 60% cover of common reed (Phragmites australis) which can grow to over two metres in height. In Britain, reedbeds are mainly found in low lying river floodplains, ditches and coastal areas where the water table is at, or above ground level for most of the year. They are fantastic specialist habitats for wildlife. They naturally filter and clean water and trap sediments, and when properly designed they can effectively treat sewage, industrial effluent and agricultural run-off. Reedbeds can also help with flood defence, erosion control and aquifer recharge.
Reedbeds often occur as a natural transition between land and water. They are frequently found on the upstream end of ponds and lakes where sedimentation occurs. Because our remaining reedbed networks are so fragmented and small, they often require management to maintain their ‘openness’ and to arrest natural succession.
There are around 5,000 hectares of reedbed in the UK in around 900 sites but many of these are small and fragmented. Some specialist reedbed species such as the Bittern need reedbeds over 20 ha in size to breed. Over 40% of reedbeds have been lost in England since 1945 and they are still declining rapidly. Sussex is a lowland county and should have significant areas of reedbed. Unfortunately due to drainage, development, pollution and farming there are now less than 300 hectares left.
The largest reedbed in Sussex of just over 15 ha is at the Sussex Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve at Filsham in East Sussex. A large area is also found in the Pannel Valley in East Sussex and the adjacent Wildlife Trust Reserve at Rye Harbour where breeding marsh harriers, bittern, bearded tits, water rails and more can be found. Sussex also has a few extra special reedbeds, such as Ladywells in West Sussex which has a pure chalk spring water source, as well as a brackish reedbeds along the coast. Much of our remaining reedbed is found in marginal and linear stands along ditch edges which have less overall value as a habitat, however they play a valuable role in connecting a wider mosaic of wetland sites.
What species can you find in Sussex reedbeds?
Reedbeds are a UK priority habitat for conservation. They are one of the most important habitats for birds in the UK, including nationally rare Red Data Book birds such as bittern, marsh harrier, common crane, aquatic warbler, savi's warbler and bearded tit. Hundreds of different types of insects can be found in reedbeds, including specialist moths such as the crescent moth. Reedbeds also provide refuge for shoals of young fish, Demoulin’s whorl snail, all the British amphibian species and several mammal species such as the water shrew, otter and harvest mouse.
What are the threats to Sussex reedbeds?
Sea-level rise is a serious threat to coastal reedbeds such as those found at Thorney Island. The changing nature of weather patterns and the increasing use of water resources is also having severe effects in some locations. Land drainage, habitat fragmentation and urban development are among the other major threats to reedbed.
Download our leaflet for information on How to create and manage reedbeds