Under the Ramsar Convention, a wetland is considered internationally important if it regularly holds at least 1% of the individuals in a population of one species or sub-species of waterbird and/or 20,000 or more waterbirds. Special Protection Areas (SPA’s) are also designated areas of international ornithological importance. In Sussex, Pagham, Chichester and Langstone Harbours, and the Arun Valley (Including Pulborough and Amberley) are both Ramsar sites and SPA’s. In addition, Pevensey levels is a designated Ramsar site, and Dungeness to Pett Levels is an SPA. A large number of the birds visiting these protected sites are seasonal migrants. Internationally important populations of lapwing, redshank, snipe, kingfisher and bewick swans and important overwintering populations of pintail, shoveler, teal, wigeon and other duck species are found in the Arun valley and at other sites.

There are over 50 Biodiversity Action Plan priority bird species in Sussex which require conservation action. Fifteen of these species are closely associated with wetlands. Common wetland bird species also support other local bird populations, such as reed warblers which are one of the main species predated by cuckoo’s.

Table shows some of the Priority wetland bird species occurring in Sussex


Name Habitat Requirements

marsh warbler Acrocephalus palustris

Tall-herb often dense vegetation and scattered scrub (including rosebay willowherb, nettle and hogweed)

bittern Botaurus stellaris

Wet reedbed and marshland

twite Carduelis flavirostris

Saltmarshes, and grazing marshes during winter, breeding on moorland

bewicks swan
Cygnus columbianus subsp. Bewickii

Extensive wetlands and pools with emergent vegetation, will also use arable land and pastures with short grassy swards or root crops

reed bunting Emberiza schoeniclus

Wetlands including reedbeds, tall rushes and wet grassland with good vegetation cover, gardens, farmland, hedgerows, ditches

herring gull Larus argentatus

Nests on cliff tops, saltmarsh, shingle, coastal grassland, urban roofs, winters on pasture, arable and urban recreational grassland

black-tailed godwit Limosa limosa

Saline lagoons and estuaries, breeding on grazing marsh and other wetland habitats

savi's warbler Locustella luscinioides

Extensive reedbed close to water

grasshopper warbler Locustella naevia

Scrub, thick grassland, reedbeds, forestry and gravel pits

yellow wagtail
Motacilla flava subsp. flavissima

Wet meadows and pastures with ponds or ditches and a mosaic of short swards and tussocks

curlew Numenius arquata

Reedbeds, estuaries, damp grassland, heathland, mosaic of tall vegetation for nesting with short vegetation and open habitats for feeding

grey partridge Perdix perdix

Farmland, rush pastures, moors, mosaics of bare ground and cover, hedgerows, uncultivated margins

willow tit Poecile montanus

Damper habitats such as bogs, marshes and wet woodland. Almost extinct in Sussex.

song thrush
Turdus philomelos subsp. clarkei

A range of habitats including grassland and woodland edges, using invertebrate-rich damp feeding areas

lapwing Vanellus vanellus

Farmland, grazing marsh, wet meadows, seeds and insects

In Sussex, birds such as the willow tit are declining almost to extinction. bewick swans, snipe, lapwing and redshank are among those wetland birds which are declining or which are struggling to breed. The commonly seen ‘streak of blue’ of the kingfisher is also becoming less common. Due to hard winters and habitat degradation through pollution or unsympathetic management of watercourses, kingfishers are now an amber listed species.

Some wetland birds in Sussex are increasing in numbers. Common cranes have increased the frequency and number of their visits to Sussex, and the Eurasian bittern has been heard booming at a few locations. Savi’s and marsh warblers have bred in Sussex for the first time in recent years. Sussex is also a major overwintering area for pale-bellied brent geese. More detailed information on distribution and status of birds is available in the British Trust for Ornithology’s Bird Atlas.