Farlington Marshes; a winter home for migratory geese, ducks & waders; threats to waders. 15.11.21
Updated: Dec 1, 2021
On Monday 16.11.21 I visited Farlington Marshes Nature Reserve (Hampshire and Isle of White Wildlife Trust) for the first time. It is a fabulous reserve, at the the top of Langstone Harbour, between Portsea and Hayling Island
This reserve offers wonderful walks all year round, but during the winter it really comes to life, playing host to a staggering number of migratory, overwintering wildfowl.
Dark bellied brent geese, wigeons, teals, avocets, redshanks and dunlins flock to Farlington Marshes in their thousands, creating unrivalled bird watching opportunities. The winter also sees the return of the ever popular short eared owls, which hunt over the Point Field and southern end of the main marsh. Farlington Marshes Nature Reserve | Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust (hiwwt.org.uk)
I reached Farlington from Brighton by train and bus. After alighting at Havant railway station, I took the Stagecoach 21 bus to Portsmouth from the nearby bus station, see: 21 Bus Route & Timetable: Portsmouth - Havant | Stagecoach (stagecoachbus.com). The bus goes every 30 minutes and takes about 40 minutes from Havant; alight at Walton Road, Farlington; then walk south to the reserve (15 minutes walk); you need to cross the roundabout that forms the junction of the A27 and the A2030, but this is easy as their are traffic-light controlled pedestrian crossings.
The journey to Farlington emphasises the urbanised character of the Solent region. The bus from Havant passes though Leigh Park and Bedhampton, both large areas of post-war municipal housing. I got off the bus in Drayton/Farlington, the stop is in an area of retail parks and industrial estates. But in 15 minutes from the bus stop you reach the "wildness" of the Farlington Marshes in Langstone Harbour, which, along with Chichester Harbour. forms one of the largest Ramsar locations in England (5,810.03 hectares). Ramsar sites are wetlands of international importance designated under the Ramsar Convention. See Ramsar Sites | JNCC - Adviser to Government on Nature Conservation for a list of Ramsar sights in the UK. The contrast between the urban/industrial hinterland of Langstone Harbour and its natural beauty in fascinating.
However, the marshes are merely a fragment of the marshes that once surrounded the harbour; and whilst there are many birds; the numbers of waders is declining dramatically; ten years ago the Guardian reported, and the situation has worsened since then
The magical winter wildlife spectacle of hundreds of thousands of wading birds converging on British estuaries could be under threat as research shows big declines in some of the most familiar species.
Results from the Wetland Bird Survey reveals that ringed plovers, oystercatchers, redshank and dunlin are among the eight most abundant species overwintering on UK estuaries to suffer significant and consistent population drops over 10 years.
... Ringed plovers have suffered a decline of 39% in 10 years in over-wintering birds and those breeding in the UK. Redshank have fallen by 26% and Dunlin by 23%.
Curlew have fallen by 17% and oystercatchers by 15% in the 10 years to June 2012. Knot have dropped by 7% and the bar-tailed godwit by 10%. Grey plover are down by 21%, according to the data collected by thousands of volunteers. Wading birds declining in the UK | Birds | The Guardian
Map from the Hampshire and Isle of White Wildlife Trust Farlington-map-web.pdf (hiwwt.org.uk) who manage the site.
The walk to the entry of the reserve from the footpaths crossing the A27/A2020 roundabout.
The first thing I saw after crossing under the A27/A2020 roundabout; two Brent Geese tucking in, right next to the bank of Langstone Harbour. Bret Geese eat Eelgrass Zostera spp in the mud Feeding areas for Dark-bellied Brent Geese Branta bernicla bernicla around Special Protection Areas (SPAs) in the UK (wwt.org.uk)
Brent Geese overwinter in Langstone Harbour in Huge numbers For more information on Brent Geese, see the blog post: Langstone Harbour & Hayling Island: Brent Geese 23.10.21
Brent Geese and the industrial landscape of the north of the Island of Portsea which forms the western shore of Langstone Harbour
The mud flats of Langstone Harbour are similar to those of the Wash; although they are surrounded to the west and north by urban and industrial landscapes. The contrast between the summer and winter worlds of dark-bellied Brent Geese is great. Brent Geese come to Langstone in the winter, surrounded by industry and housing; whereas they spend most of their year in the artic wilderness of northern Siberia.
The Brent Geese eat Eelgrass on the mudflats first; when that is exhausted they move onto grasslands on shore including farmland and grass round towns - playing fields; parks. See: Alarm call | Birds | The Guardian
Brent geese flying over the sea wall into Farlington; possible to the Farlington playing fields; Brent geese forage on green land sights around Langstone and Chichester Harbours e.g. Portsea Island, the south coast of Hampshire and West Sussex, Hayling Island, Thorney Island and the Manhood Peninsular; but mostly when saltmarsh eelgrass is used up.
Looking toward the mouth of Langstone Harbour - Eastney Beach (Portsea Island) to the west and Sinah Common and Warren (Hayling Island) to the east
Black Headed Gulls over the harbour
Little Egrets over the harbour
Farlington Marshes Nature Reserve
The entrance to Farlington Marshes
What I saw: Brent Geese, Canada Geese; Oystercatchers, Black-tailed Godwits; Dunlin; Curlew; Grey Plovers; Avocets; Lapwing; Redshanks; Little Egrets; Teal; Wigeon; Shelducks; Tufted Ducks; Pintails; Mallards; Coots; Moorhens; a Kestrel; Long-Tailed Tits; Linnets; a Thrush, Blackbirds; Magpies; Carrion Crows,
The beginning of the sea wall (west) of the marshes: this weird remains of a building is part of the Portsmouth Starfish project, to protect Portsmouth from bombing in the Second World War.
There were several of these Starfish sites around the country and they were set up as town decoys and in one night raid alone our local Starfish site in the north of Langstone Harbour and along the western coast of Hayling Island drew almost 150 bombers away from the city, causing them to attack nothing other than salt marsh. Peter Days Gone By - Nostalgia: Portsmouth News and Information (Portsmouth) (aboutmyarea.co.uk)
A fascinating history of Farlington Marshes can be found on the Hampshire and IOW Wildlife Trusts: Solent Reserves Blog: A History of Farlington Marshes | Solent Reserves Blog (wordpress.com)
Landing Brent Geese
A domestic goose joining the Canada Geese
The Lake and Reedbeds: A Heron and Shelduck (teal at the back) - the Lake and Reedbeds
More Teal and Pintail
Shelducks and Teal
Avocets and Black Headed Gulls
Avocets and a Shelduck
Little Egret and Teal
Grey Herron, Avocets, Teal and Pintails
Lapwings and Teal
Looking over the mud flats of the harbour: A Redshank
A Curlew, Redshanks and Dunlin
The Lake: Brent Geese flying into the Lake
Mostly Lapwings and Pintails at the south end of the Lake
Brent Geese fling into the Deeps
Mallards on the Deeps
Having a bath
Looking over the mud fats of the Harbour: Female Pintails
Redshanks and Dunlin
More views on the mudflats of the Harbour; lots of Dunlin, and a few Redshank and ducks
From the seawall between, the Deeps and Harbour, looking to the north to BAE's Maritime Integration & Support Centre, building on the tradition of radar surveillance from Portsdown Hill. Signs of militarism surround Portsmouth
A kestrel using its superb eyesight and stationary hover to hunt prey; it doen's need radar
A Brent Goose dipping its bill right in the Langstone Harbour mud.
The Kestrel, having a rest to digest its prey (probably a vole). Sitting on the fence that runs along the seawall.
And it took off again as I walked past
Stonechats next to the seawall path; Stonechats characteristically perch in the top of shrubs or on fence posts.
A female Blackbird
The tide was very low (looking toward the mouth between Hayling Island and Portsea)
A Robin; I heard Robin 'tic' alarm call many times - see: Alarm and mobbing calls - The British Library (bl.uk)
Seawall; and drainage ditch in its side,
Solitary Brent Goose in flight.
The road bridge between Langthorne (south of Havant) and Hayling to the east - that separates Langhorne Island (west) and Chichester Harbour (east). (Parallel with the now derelict bridge of the Hayling Billy branch line)
Another submerged boat
Another Stonechat - fluffing itself up.
The autumnal colours of the marsh grasses
A Little Grebe catching fish in the waters of the "Main Marsh"
A male Wigeon
Looking at the Main Marsh from east to west (Portdown Hill to the north west)
Brent Geese against Portdown Hill in the background
Marsh and Portdown Hill
Brent Geese landing
A female Tufted Duck
A Long-tailed Tit
The Kestrel again - I think the same bird I saw earlier
The same Kestrel
Canada Geese; looking west with Portsmouth's Spinnaker Tower in the background
The reserve information space - with the A27 in the background
Black Tailed Godwits; just south of the A27
Two Black Tailed Godwits foraging at Farlington Marshes; about 75m south of the 6 lane A27. I have not got so close to a Godwit before; but the sound of me was well camouflaged by the roar of the traffic and some honking Canada Geese.
A Black-tailed Godwit and tow Moorhens.
A Grey Heron
Black Headed Gulls by the Lake and Reed Beds
Lapwing and Black-Headed Gull
A drainage ditch leading into the Lake
Pools around the lake. This is the first nature trip of the autumn/winter where I saw no dragonflies; the dragonfly seasons seems well and truly over.
Some female Teal
Back to the Lake after a full circuit of the reserve
Avocets, Black Headed Gulls, Redshanks and a Coot
Avocets, a Lapwing and some Black Headed Gulls
Lapwings at the back (south-east) of the Lake
Avocets, some Redshank and some Black Headed Gulls
Lapwings and Juvenile Starlings (that you see so many off in the the autumn dusk of coastal nature reserve; but they are nationally rare and a red lists species)
On the mudflats of the Harbour.
Pintails and Teal.
Another Curlew - you can never have too many Curlews; another red list bird.
Brent Geese arriving in the Lake
Dunlin and Redshank and some ducks on the mudflats of Langstone Harbour
joined by a Pintail
Ducks collect to roost on the banks of the mud rivulets of Langstone Harbour
Looking toward the bridge tat takes the A2020 from the "mainland" to Portsea Island
A Little Egret
Posts and ducks in the Lake
The Kestrel flying over the reed beds next to the Lake
Easting its prey
And another Curlew
A carrion Crow eating seaweed
A female Stonechat on my way out of the reserve
And the same Kestrel again
And a final male Stonechat
A Magpie at dusk
The Kestrel - again!
A male Blackbird
The seawall at the entrance/exit to the reserve.
Threat to Waders
The waders of Langstone Harbour (Redshank, Greenshanks, Oystercatchers, Sanderlings, Plovers (of various species), Godwits (Black and Bar tailed), Lapwings are all under threat.
The dubious accolade of being the biggest threat to wader populations, of multiple species, goes to habitat loss, be it by destruction or degradation. This scourge manifests itself in a variety of devastating, human initiated, actions; intertidal reclamation, changes in agricultural practices, drainage, pollution, disturbance, afforestation, dredging, river management and ploughing up of grasslands are some of the more obvious actions that are seriously affecting waders, of all kinds, everywhere. Add to this the background threat of the effect of climate change altering the environment, a rather more chronic problem, which is never far away and you’ll discover that every habitat in which waders exist is under threat in one way or another. Threats to Waders - Wader Quest
If you are interested in Waders there are a number of organisations aiming to protect them:
Wader Quest: Welcome to wader Quest - Wader Quest
The International Wader Study Group International Wader Study Group |
For data on UK waders the British Trust for Ornithology's Wetland Birds Survey; it is very accessible: Wetland Bird Survey | BTO - British Trust for Ornithology and you can look up trends in wader numbers in your arrea
Birdlife International takes an international approach to bird conservation: BirdLife International - BirdLife is the world leader in Bird Conservation
and the RSPB has some superb initiatives for supporting waders e.g. Curlew Recovery Programme Conservation Project - The RSPB