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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

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 (

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 ( 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 ( 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 (

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

More Oystercatchers

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) (

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 (

Landing Brent Geese

Canada 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

A Pintail

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


Brent Geese

Looking over the mud fats of the Harbour: Female Pintails

Redshanks and Dunlin

The Deeps

More views on the mudflats of the Harbour; lots of Dunlin, and a few Redshank and ducks

A Curlew

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 (

Seawall; and drainage ditch in its side,

Submerged boat

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

Brent Geese

Marsh and Portdown Hill

Brent Geese landing

A Moorhen

A Wigeon

A female Tufted Duck

A Wigeon

The Deeps

A Rabit

Autumn colours

A Long-tailed Tit

Another Robbin

The Kestrel again - I think the same bird I saw earlier


Canada Geese

The same Kestrel

Canada Geese; looking west with Portsmouth's Spinnaker Tower in the background

Autumn colours

Another robin

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.

The Reedbeds

A Grey Heron

Black Headed Gulls by the Lake and Reed Beds

A Lapwing

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.

A Coot

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

The Lake


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

Juvenile Moorhens

A Magpie at dusk

The Kestrel - again!

Autumn colours

A male Blackbird

Autumn colours

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:

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



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