Review of 2018 at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve

, 30 December 2018
Review of 2018 at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve

The Nature Reserve is a biodiversity hotspot full of many plants and animals, some large and showy, but most small and easily overlooked. 

During 2018, our wardens Chris and David led their teams of volunteers on workparties to manage some of our special habitats to encourage our 300 rare and endangered species to thrive. In 2018 we led more than 120 public events, giving 2,300 people wildlife experiences. Learning and Engagement Officer Lucy also led 13 educational groups for 425 students and held regular Watch groups for 5 to 11 year olds, and Nature Tots groups for 3 to 5 year olds. Linda and volunteers, Leah, Anne and Amanda, led 52 Wednesday Walks to encourage people to experience the health benefits of our natural environment with an average of 11 walkers taking part on each. We also opened Camber Castle to the public and cleaned out the 1940s pillbox near the river. The paths, signs, seats and birdwatching hides have been kept in good condition and we have had monthly beach cleans to remove the endless plastic.

So, we have created and maintained a great place for visitors to enjoy – and this is reflected in the 774 reviews on our Tripadvisor page.

Our visitor counts are not all in yet, but in 2017 there was an estimated 360,000 visits made to the nature reserve during the year. We have also built an audience of more than 5,000 on social media.

The nature reserve has become an important part of the local economy where 26% of jobs in Rother District are supported by tourism. To help local businesses we are encouraging visitors to come all year round, arrive by public transport, visit other local countryside attractions, stay locally and use the local facilities. The Friends of the nature reserve are helping with this and their book “The Shingle Shore” sold out and was reprinted, and in December, they produced a winter film, which has been showing at the Rye Kino, but you can also see on our homepage

Our events for 2019 can be downloaded by clicking here

In all these ways we have helped many people to see what we do and why – Sussex Wildlife Trust is “working towards nature’s recovery in Sussex”.

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Our 2018 Wildlife

You could review the past year in detail by looking through our Facebook or Instagram and reading the archive of our regular blogs on the SWT website, but we also condense 2018 for you below …

The year’s weather started mild, but a late February cold spell continued into March and became known as the “Beast from the East”. So spring got off to a late start, but then the dry and hot summer curtailed the flowering of many plants. The wet and mild autumn saw many plants renew their flowering and the mild weather continued to the end of the year with very few frosts.

The birding highlight of the whole year was the regular presence of both spoonbills and great white egrets, but the lowlight was the nesting failure of common and little terns, following low numbers of small sea fish in Rye Bay. In the Rother estuary the common (or harbour) seals have become regular and delight people by their unexpected appearance. With declines in rabbit numbers (from disease?) the shingle has become much more flowery and some of the rarer annuals have spread outside of their protective fences. The “once extinct in Sussex” stinking hawksbeard produced an estimated 5,000 flowering plants this year!

Stinking hawksbeard 1

In January and February there were high numbers of pintail, other ducks, golden plover and other waders, until the very cold weather froze the landscape and forced many birds further south. An ITV program showcased the “Top 100 Walks in Britain” and included the reserve as a favourite walk of actor Robert Bathurst - see the clip here

March saw the return of the first terns and wheatear and the rapid build-up of nesting activity of gulls on the islands of the saline lagoons. And there was the reappearance of those two tiny, white-flowered members of the cabbage family, Danish scurvygrass and common whitlowgrass.

In April 2018, the Royal Mail produced the Reintroduced Species collection of stamps to celebrate the successful reintroduction of various flora and fauna to the UK – including our stinking hawk'sbeard - read the story here  A pair of black-winged stilts stayed for a few days, raising our hopes, but then left, and in late April, our Warden Chris Bentley had a day to remember with two other experts, finding special bees at Castle Water - read the story here

Bws 3

May is usually the most exciting month of the wildlife year and this year delivered several rare wading birds - broad-billed sandpiper, Terek sandpiper, Temminck’s stint  and three black-winged stilts. It was a very flowery season and some of our rare invertebrates were seen during May included the rare jumping spider Pellenes tripunctatus, the rare flea beetle Dibolia cynoglossi and the brown-banded carder bee.

June saw the depressing failure of our two small tern species, but 300 pairs of sandwich tern managed to raise 150 young by travelling further and also feeding on small flat fish. Some of our rare moths were also caught in the moth trap; the “micros” five-spotted ermel, saltmarsh grass-veneer, starry pearl and rosy-streaked knothorn, and the “macros” included star-wort, crescent-striped and shore wainscot.

The most exciting wildlife find of July was a southern migrant hawker, the first reserve record for this rare dragonfly that is spreading from the south. Notable invertebrates included the levels yellow-horned horsefly, only the third reserve record, the soldier beetle Crudosilis ruficollis at Castle Water, the first reserve record since 1999, and several bee-wolf at Castle Water.

August sometimes feels a bit flat after the busy bird breeding season and when most flowers have peaked, but there is always an amazing variety of birds migrating south and it was the best time to see yellow wagtails, which were common breeding birds until a few years ago. Another “lost” breeding bird seen was the turtle dove.

September was a good month to see a couple of late bees that look very similar, but have very different food plants; a recent colonist the ivy bee and the rare sea aster bee that lives on the saltmarsh. Curlew and golden plover roosts increased as did the number of ducks, including a garganey.

In October there were many late flowering plants following the summer drought and autumn rains, including least lettuce and salsify. It was a good month for large, wetland bird sightings with little great white and cattle egrets, spoonbill, grey heron and bittern.

November was a golden month with the return of goldeneye ducks and drakes and the build-up of golden plover daytime roosts to 2,500. The warmth of the season was reflected in the last sighting of the month being a pipistrelle bat flying around the entrance gate at Rye Harbour village.

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December remained unseasonably mild and over the festive period, several plants were still flowering; red valerian, viper’s bugloss, common ragwort, common groundsel, lesser periwinkle, daisy, dandelion, sea mayweed, red deadnettle and of course, gorse.

Discovery Centre

Throughout the year there was much work behind the scenes to progress our Discovery Centre, with project development and fundraising to build and open the building by 2020 to give a better experience to our visitors, including those with mobility challenges. It will enable a great expansion of our educational activities for all ages. Find out more at

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“No one will protect what they don't care about and no one will care about what they have never experienced” Sir David Attenborough, The Wildlife Trusts’ President Emeritus

If you want to support our work across Sussex please join SWT here

And if you want to support the Friends of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve you can join here

THANK YOU to all our supporters who make this nature reserve such a special place. 

We look forward to helping people discover more about our wildlife and the natural world in 2019.

Happy New Year.

Barry Yates, Nature Reserve Manager

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