top of page
  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Langstone Harbour & Hayling Island: Brent Geese 23.10.21

I went to Hayling Island to visit RSPB Langstone Harbour; On Hayling Island, the RSPB manages the old oyster bed lagoons at the West Hayling Local Nature Reserve (owned by Havant Borough Council) for its amazing breeding seabird and wintering bird populations. Public access here is via the Hayling Billy Coastal Path and adjoining small paths giving close views of the wildlife. Langstone Harbour Nature Reserve, Hampshire - The RSPB

Langstone Harbour is famous for its overwintering Brent Geese

A map of Hayling Island and the Hayling Billy path.

Image below from Chasing wild geese, for science! - The RSPB in Langstone and Chichester Harbours - Langstone Harbour - The RSPB Community showing the winter migration route of Brent Geese from Siberia to Langstone Harbour

I got to the Langston Harbour Nature Reserve via the Hailing Billy trail; starting at Hayling Station.

The Hayling Billy railway let its last puff of steam out back in 1963 and for a long time since the track that had helped serve the community of Hayling so well for over a hundred years lay in ruin. The rails were torn up and the sleepers moved elsewhere.

What was left became unusable and the route soon became overgrown with the weeds and bramble in danger of leaving the legacy of “the Billy” as a muddy and impassable footnote of local history. But the Billy was never forgotten. Some people remembered and still loved the Billy. It started around 1984 with a team of volunteers wishing to create a national cycleway and by virtue of a lot of dedication. The Hayling Billy — Heritage Trail and Activity Walk (

The beginning of the path

As I approached Langstone Harbour across the road bridge (as the rail bridge is now derelict), I saw a pair of Pintails.

Looking back at Langstone Mill from the bridge.

Langstone Mill sits on the edge of Chichester Harbour, where the waters between Langstone Harbour to the west and Chichester to the east mingle and a thousand years of industry and activity have given way to a beautiful bird and nature reserve. The harbours of Langstone and Chichester wrap themselves around Hayling Island, with Portsea Island to the west and Thorney Island to the east, both of them, areas of considerable historical activity. The shallow, sheltered harbour is a flooded river valley peppered with channels and islands and perfect for bird watching, two thirds of the harbour is now an RSPB nature reserve but the harbour was once a thriving commercial area, evidenced by the beautiful old mill. The old mill, now a private residence, was a working mill until WWI. It is made up of three distinct parts, the mill itself built across a creek, built in 1800 – 1832, the mill store, built in 1800 – 1832 on brick piers and the oldest part, an attached windmill, built in 1720 – 1740. Barges could be brought up to the mill for transporting the milled goods away around the coast.

The mill operated two ten foot wheels, one set higher than the other to make full use of the stream feed and the tide, which was kept behind tide gates. The black windmill is a distinctive feature of the landscape, its tarred outer skin resilient to the full force of the coastal weather. April 3, 2014, HLB, Langstone Mill on the south coast of Hampshire (

As I walked over the bridge a Curlew flew overhead.

A view of the derelict rail bridge form the road bridge.

A Cormorant flying from Langstone Harbour to Chichester Harbour

A view from the top of Hayling Island toward Portsea, with Portsmouth's Spinnaker Tower in the background.


A Little Egrets at the top of the island.

The signal by the derelict rail bridge.

Looking north from the top of the Hayling Island

The old oyster beds (RSPB Langstone Harbour)

Oystercatchers (eating mussels) in the old oyster beds

A Grey Plover, with the Oystercatchers


A Curlew

A Robin; opposite the old oyster beds

Brent Geese

On this video you can hear the very characteristic honking of Brent Geese.

19 Jan 2014

They're a small goose, only a little bit bigger than a Mallard and can generally be found in large flocks either on the water or feeding on fields nearby. There are three different forms globally but the one that spends it's winters here in the Solent (with the exception of a few different individuals) is the Dark-bellied Brent Goose (Branta bernicla bernicla). If you're lucky enough to come across an assemblage of these Siberian visitors, be sure to stop a while and listen, their communal calling en masse is quite beautiful to hear as it drifts over the wetlands.

One of the most amazing things about our local wintering Brent Geese is the scale of the journey they make each year to reach us. They actually breed each summer way up in the high arctic of northern Siberia before travelling over 3000 miles to reach the Solent.

As they don't naturally breed in the UK, we're not able to directly monitor how many young each pair fledge as we would do for locally breeding birds. Luckily for us though, it's relatively easy to spot a young Brent Goose. The easiest way to do this is to look at the rear parts of their wing feathers. Adults are pitch black at the back whilst juveniles will have several thin white bands which cross this area. By comparing the numbers of young birds to older birds in the returning skeins, it's possible to get a year on year picture of just how successful the summers breeding season was.

One of the most amazing things about our local wintering Brent Geese is the scale of the journey they make each year to reach us. They actually breed each summer way up in the high arctic of northern Siberia before travelling over 3000 miles to reach the Solent.

Back in the Solent, the scale of the journey made to spend winter here shows us just how special Langstone Harbour, Chichester Harbour and the surrounding areas are. Between October and March, thousands of Brent Geese can be found feeding on the rich Zostera beds and fields nearby. As you can imagine, after such a journey, they need to eat heartily and rebuild their energy levels if they're to get through the winter and then make the arduous journey north in the spring. Although we know where most of these feeding areas are, we still rely on citizen scientists like you to keep us informed of their movements. This is essential because if we're to be able to adequately make sure their winter feeding grounds are safe from threats, we need to have as many records as possible showing each areas importance. Around Langstone Harbour for example, the major feeding areas are along the east coast of Portsmouth, Farlington, Broadmarsh, and virtually all of the undeveloped parts of Hayling Island.

A flock of Dunlin behind the Oystercatchers

Brent Geese


A Grey Plover flying above the Oystercatchers


A Starling


Turnstones and a Grey Plover

A Grey Plover

Brent Geese

A pie chart by Alan Thurbon showing the distribution of Brent Geese tat overwinter in Europe Portsmouth Wildlife Links and Places (

The geese regularly seen in this area are the sub-species called Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Branta bernicla bernicla. They breed on the Taimyr Peninsula in Northern Siberia, and spend the winter on the east and south coasts of England, and other sites in north-western Europe. The total (world) population is about 300,000 geese, and about 100,000 come to the UK, with 30,000 ish coming to the Solent harbours and coast. Up to 6,500 geese use Langstone Harbour, and about 2,700 use Portsmouth Harbour (Source : BTO in Brent Goose Strategy). Alan Thurbon. Brent Geese (

Highland Cattle conservation grazing to the west of the Oyster Beds

Looking north (with Brent Geese in the foreground) with the M27 and Portsdown

Oyster farming ceased on the site just after the first world war and the land remained derelict until after the railway closed in 1963 when parts of the area were used as a household waste dump and a council highways depot until 1974. The walls around the Oyster beds had eroded and were little more than shingle banks.

A 1860 map of the Oyster Beds from The Oyster beds (

The oytser beds today

A commercial proposal to re-start Oyster farming on the site was received in 1980. Work commenced in 1981 to re-build the walls but by 1982 it was realised that the Planning consent had incorrectly stated the maximum heights of the walls. This led to a protracted negotiation until 1987 when the Company ceased trading. the works carried out in this period proved to be inadequate leading to unstable walls which, together with the theft of metal pipework etc. created a very real hazard to the public.


Leaving the oyster bed area in such a hazardous state was not an option. From 1987 the Council explored various options for overcoming the problems of the Oyster beds with the County Council assisting in this in 1990. Funding any corrective actions was difficult to obtain.

Due to the international designations in force at the site an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was required as input to the Planning process. Borough Councillors, mindful of the need for an environmentally acceptable solution, required that the EIA should investigate all possible alternatives, not simply the alternative proposed by the officers of the Council. This was completed in 1995. When proposals were put to the public there was no clear support for any of the options offered.

Funding and Planning Consent work commenced in 1996 and was completed in 1999 resulting in the creation of the Oyster beds and nature reserve we all love today. The work was awarded Millennium status. The Oyster beds (

A Cormorant on the oyster beds

A Grey Heron on the walls of the beds

Brent Geese in the oyster beds

Cormorants on the banks of the oyster beds; Portsea Island in the background

Dunlin and Oystercatchers on one of the walls of the oyster beds

Two Ringed Plovers behind the Oystercatchers



A Rock Pipet on the banks of the oyster beds

More Brent Geese

Below the oyster beds, a Kestrel, at Stoke

The view south from Stoke - in the far distance St Catherine's Down, Isle of White

A Great Crested Grebe

Th end of the path at West Town

The old West Town station.

Seaview and Bembridge, with St Catherine's Down, Isle of Wight, from Hayling Island seafront (West Town)

Beach huts on the front

A Mute Swan flying over the front.

Herring Gulls fishing a school of fish, with a rig in the background.



bottom of page