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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

East Head, West Wittering, West Sussex. Vascular Plants (12 Sussex RPR species) Lichens & Birds 28.05.24, 01.06.24 and 01.07.24.

East Head is one of the most captivating biological assemblages in Sussex; with fascinating geomorphological. I have visited it three times in the past two months. My first visit was solo on May 28th; the second was with a friend and fellow lichenologist on June 1st; and the third was on July 1st as part of a Sussex Botanical Recording Society field meeting. On these three visits I saw 12 species on the Sussex Rare Plant Register.

This post summarizes these visits, combining photos from each occasion, organized by landform (dunes, dune slack, vegetated shingle, saline lagoon), and further categorized into biological sections (vascular plants, lichens, and birds).

East Head is at West Wittering; at the extreme south west of the Manhood Peninsular, at the entry to Chichester Harbour. To get to East Head I take train to Chichester from Brighton (two an hour; 55 minute journey) and then took the 53 bus to East Head (West Wittering Old House stop) from Chichester Cathedral. J13256 52 53 31 March 24 timetable WEB.pdf ( It takes 22 minutes to West Wittering Old House on the 53 or 32 minutes on the 52), the best stop for East Head. The 52 and 53 busses go every15 minutes (alternating; 2 52s and 2 53s an hour); both go to West Wittering; the 53 goes to West Wittering then East Wittering; the 52 goes to East Wittering first. From West Wittering it is a 20 minute walk to East Head

The pink square marks the bus stop

East Head only receives a very brief mention in the SSSI citation for Chichester Harbour, which includes East Head; this is rather odd as it of international significance for vascular plants The extensive sand dunes at East Head are dominated by marram grass Ammophila arenaria although the degree of ground cover varies from 90% to 10% on the more recently established dunes.

At the end of this post is Frances Rose's magisterial description of the species of East Head.

I am only an amateur naturalist; thus all identifications are provisional; if you note a mistake in identification please feel free to tell me. However, most of these identifications with made collaboratively with other lichenologists and botanists .If you want to contact me about any aspect of this blog, email me at simeon[underscore]elliott[at]gmail[dot]com.

East Head is a shingle spit over which sand dunes have developed, There are young dunes on the west side, and further east there are Mature (fixed dunes) the dune slacks, to the east of the spit there is a tidal saline lagoon. At the top (north) of the Dune is a small area of vegetated shingle


Vascular Plants

Wild radish Raphanus raphanistrum 01/06/24; steep decline because of herbicide use (BSBI Plant Atlas)

Eryngium maritimum, Sea Holly 01.07.24 On Sussex Rare Plant Register.

with Megachile leachella (ID: Steven Falk via twitter). Silvery Leafcutter Bee

Erigeron sp. Fleabane sp. 28.05.24

Euphorbia paralias Sea Spurge 28/05/24. On Sussex Rare Plant Register

Probably Hypochaeris radicata Common Cat's-Ear 28.05.24

Juncus maritimus Sea Rush (28.05.24)

Calamagrostis arenaria European Marram Grass 28/05/24

Carduus tenuiflorus Slender Thistle 28/05/24, a coastal thistle

Leontodon saxatilis Hairy Hawkbit 28/05/24

Carex arenaria Sand Sedge 28/05/24 On Sussex Rare Plant Register

Polypodium sp. A Polypody fern 28/05/24

Lagurus ovatus Hare's Tail Grass 28/05/24; an inroduced species

Calystegia soldanella Sea Bindweed 28/05/24. On the Sussex Rare Plant Register, Red List: VU at high risk of unnatural (human-caused) extinction without further human intervention.

Trifolium micranthum Slender Trefoil 30.06.24

Lathyrus nissolia, Grass Vetchling 01.07.24

Vicia sativa Common Vetch 28/05/24

Trifolium arvense Hare's-foot Clover 28/05/24. There has been widespread decline in south-eastern England since the 1960s, presumably due to habitat loss and the intensification of arable cropping (BSBI Plant Atlas)


Honckenya peploides Sea Sandwort 01.06.24

Trifolium subterraneum Subterranean Clover 01.06.24

Festuca fasciculata Dune Fescue 28/05/24

Phleum arenarium Sand Cat's-Tail 28/05/24 On Sussex Rare Plant Register

Possibly Senecio sylvaticus Heath Groundsel 01/06/23

Arenaria serpyllifolia Thyme-leaved Sandwort 01/06/24

Lysimachia arvensis Scarlet Pimpernel 01.06.24

Centaurium erythraea Common Centaury 01.07.24

Oenothera sp. Evening-Primrose so. 01/07/24

Centaurium pulchellum Lesser Centaury 01.06.24

Cerastium diffusum Sea Mouse-Ear 01.06.24

Logfia minima Small Cudweed On Sussex Rare Plant Register

Cakile maritima European Sea Rocket 01.07.24 On Sussex Rare Plant Register

Atriplex laciniata Frosted Orache 01.07.24 On Sussex Rare Plant Register

Leymus arenarius Lyme Grass 01.07.24 On Sussex Rare Plant Register

Juncus maritimus Sea Rush 01.07.24

Elymus athericus Sea Couch 01.07.24

Triglochin maritima, Sea Arrow-grass 01.07.24

Puccinellia distans Reflexed Saltmarsh-Grass


Probably, Peltigera rufescens Field Dog Lichen 28/05/24


Cladonia foliacea 28/05/24


Cladonia furcata Many-forked Cladonia 28/05/24

Fruiting apothecia

Cladonia rangiformis 28/05/24

Cetraria aculeata Spiny Heath Lichen 01.06.24

Possibly Cladonia pyxidata Pebbled Pixie Cup 01.06.84

Possibly Cladonia fimbriata Trumpet Lichen 01.06.24

Probably Peltigera canina Dog Pelt Lichen 01/06/24


Anthus pratensis Meadow Pipit 28/05/24


Vascular Plants

Dactylorhiza praetermissa Southern Marsh-Orchid 28/05/24


Dactylorhiza maculata Heath Spotted Orchid 01/06/24 sporadic over much of southern and central England (BSBI Plant Atlas_

Jacobaea vulgaris Ragwort 28/05/24

Epipactis palustris Marsh Helleborine 01.07.84 On Sussex Rare Plant Resister

Galium saxatile Heath Bedstraw 01.07.24



Charadrius hiaticula Common Ringed Plover 28/05/24

Haematopus ostralegus Eurasian Oystercatcher 28/05/24


Vascular Plants

Salicornia europaea Common Glasswort 28/05/24

Lysimachia maritima Sea Milkwort 01.07.24

Spergularia media Greater Sea Spurrey 01/06/24

Limonium vulgare Common Sea-Lavender 01/06/24

Frankenia laevis Sea-Heath On Sussex Rare Plant Register

Limonium humile Lax-flowered Sea-Lavender On Sussex Rare Plant Register

INLAND POOLS (on other side of saline lagoon)


Recurvirostra avosetta Pied Avocet 28/05/24

Here is Francis Rose's description of the wild flowers, lichens and bryophytes at East Head from The Habitats and Vegetation Of Sussex (1991) Species recorded in this blog post are highlighted

The most westerly area is that of East Head, West Wittering, (SZ7698). This is a National Trust (NT) property and a Site of Scientific Importance (SSSI) that has developed over the shingle spit that formed long ago on the east side of the entrance to Chichester Harbour. The spit was breached by the storm of November 1953, but since then, with the help of Marram Grass planting and the placing of wattle hurdles to hold the sand, the dune system has extended considerably westward in front of the narrow dune ridge, so that now there are extensive fore dunes with much sand Couch Elytrigia juncea, and good development in some seasons of such strand line and open sandy beach species as Sea Rocket Cakile maritima, Frosted Orache Atriplex laciniata, Prickly Saltwort Salsola kali and Ray's Knotgrass Polygonum oxyspermum subsp. rali. Areas of shingle not covered by young dunes have Yellow Horned Poppy Glaucium flavum and other commoner shingle species.

The main white dunes have been built by Marram Ammophila arenaria, and here there are few other species; on lower dunes to the landward sides. However, Sea Spurge Euphorbia paralias is now locally very abundant, but Sea Holly Eryngium maritimum is now very local, due perhaps to visitors' trampling and needs protection. Portland Spurge Euphobia portlandica occurred here before the 1953 storm, but has not been seen since (but may perhaps one day recolonise this, it's most easterly site on our coastline, from the Isle of Wight where it is still present). Sand Catstail Phleum arenarium is locally common, as is Dune Fescue Vulpia fasciculata. Interesting low fixed dune grassland occurs behind the white dunes; this is dominated by such species as Red Fescue Grass Festuca rubra and Sand Sedge Carex arenaria. Humus formation in the sand is assisted by the carpets of such mosses as Tortula ruralis subsp. ruraliformis that colonies the dunes once the sand is fixed. Older dune grass- land has such rare species as Smooth Cats-ear Hypochoeris glabra, known in only a handful of open sandy sites in Sussex. A good lichen-heath is developed in one area to the north- east, with such species as Cladonia foliacea, C. cervicornis, C. furcata, C. portentosa, C. rangiformis, C. squamosa and Coelocaulon aculeatum, with the mosses Brachythecium albi- cans and Rhynchostegium megapolitanum, the last a local southern species. Cerastium diffusum is common here. Freshwater dune slacks are now beginning to develop between the older and younger dunes; these have carpets of the moss Bryum algovicum var. rutheanum already, and interesting vascular plants, such as Lesser Centaury Centaurium pulchellum, have begun to colonise this moist open calcareous habitat.

To the rear of the dune system, there extends what is perhaps the finest tidal salt-marsh in Sussex. At the upper tidal limits there exist extensive patches of Sea-heath Frankenia laevis in its best Sussex locality, in open sandy flats with Thrift Armeria maritima. Lower down, there is extensive middle salt-marsh community dominated by Common Salt-Marsh Grass Puccinellia maritima, but in July and August it is a blaze of violet-blue with both Common Sea Lavender Limonium vulgare, and the rare Lax-flowered Sea Lavender L. humile, which is confined to the Chichester Harbour area in Sussex. Sea Arrow-Grass Triglochin maritimum, Sea Plantain Plantago maritima and Sea Aster Aster tripolium are common, while the very local Golden Samphire Inula crithmoides (confined to this part of Sussex) is frequent on more elevated parts of the marsh. Another plant present here, Small Cord-grass Spartina maritima, a decreasing species, is also confined to the Chichester Harbour area in Sussex; it occurs only around small pools in the marsh, unlike its hybrid progeny S. anglica which is widespread on the mudflats and elsewhere in Sussex where this habitat occurs. The upper saltmarsh, however, is locally becoming much damaged by the trampling of visitors walking to the NW end of the dune system and needs urgent fence protection.

The West Wittering saltmarsh is the best locality in the county for the difficult genus of Glassworts Salicornia. All the known British species are to be found here:

Salicornia pusilla (upper zone of marsh only)

S. perennis (upper zone mainly) S. europaea (middle zones)

S. ramosissima (middle zones)

S. obscura (on creek sides, rare)

S. dolichostachya (on barer mud in lower zones of marsh, and its varieties fragilis and nitens, both rare).

Many other interesting species occur on dry banks, or in non- tidal brackish hollows by the West Wittering Marsh, particularly Slender Hare's-ear Bupleurum tenuissimum, and the other salt-marsh grasses Puccinellia distans, P. fasciculata and P. rupestris.



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