Sussex has a coastline of 150km and Sussex Wildlife Trust manages two large coastal nature reserves:
- Rye Harbour with saltmarsh, saline lagoons, vegetated shingle and grazing marsh
- Seaford Head with chalk cliffs and sandy grassland.
Saltmarsh is home to flowers that are regularly covered by the sea – Sea Wormwood, Sea Heath and five species of Glasswort - and they produce masses of seed that is winter food for ducks and Skylarks. In summer the Shelduck, Avocet and Redshank take their chicks to feed in the saltmarsh and then in autumn the plants change colours from green to red to purple to brown.
Saline lagoons have a range of salinities and invertebrates that are tolerant to salt and where there are islands there are often nesting seabirds. The water is full of shrimps and small fish that attract the fishing birds such as Little Egret, Little Grebe and Kingfisher.
Shingle is made up of countless flint pebbles that came from the chalk that once connected Britain with Europe. With little nutrient and freshwater it’s only specialised flowers that do well such as Sea Kale, Sea Pea and Sea Campion.
Grazing marsh has ditches, ponds and scrapes that attract many wetland birds year round and it’s the regular hunting ground of Barn Owls and Marsh Harriers. During spring the nesting Lapwing, Redshank and Skylark display over the marsh. The fringe of Sea Clubrush has many specialised insects such as hoverflies, soldierflies and damselflies
Chalk grassland with more than 30 types of flower in a square metre (including Moon Carrot and Green-winged Orchid) is important to insects such as the Chalkhill and Adonis Blue butterflies and Dingy and Silver-spotted Skippers.
Coastal habitat management
Predator fencing. Ground nesting and roosting birds need protection from disturbance and predation by Fox and Badger. At Rye Harbour extensive electric fencing provides large areas with the protection that has enabled thousands of nesting birds of more than 90 species to establish, including 3 terns, 6 gulls, 8 ducks and 6 waders. All year round there are large roosts of waders, ducks and gulls.
Rabbit exclosures. The shingle flowers are vulnerable to nibbling Rabbits so at Rye Harbour there are large exclosures that are safe places for many rare flowers and their associated invertebrates to thrive.
Grazing. The coastal grazing marsh and the chalk grassland need careful grazing to retain their wildlife interest at Seaford Head this is done by cattle and at Rye Harbour by sheep. It’s all about the right number of animals grazing at the right time, giving flowers a chance to grow and birds to nest.
Nestboxes. Wheatear and Shelduck both nest underground, so we provide a range of nestboxes for them . Sand Martins and Kingfisher nest in holes at the water's edge and we have created a nesting bank at a saline lagoon.
Water level management. On saline lagoons the water levels need careful management to encourage salt tolerant flowers to grow and birds to nest on islands without being flooded out. We try to maintain high water levels to benefit the wetland species. We use stopboards to raise levels in ditches and penstocks to control water flow through culverts.
Rye Harbour is interesting all year round, but May and June are the best months with a fine display of flowering plants, insects and nesting birds.There are five birdwatching hides that are accessible to some wheelchairs and a network of footpaths giving many options for long or short circular trails.
Seaford Head is also best when the flowers are out so again, May and June is the best time to be at “Sussex by the sea”, but worth visiting for the views at anytime of year.