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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Ouse Estuary Nature Reserve; birds, insects & plants in greenfield & brownfield areas 05.05.22

Updated: May 9, 2022

The Ouse Estuary Nature Reserve is between the A259 and Newhaven. East Sussex County Council says :The Ouse Estuary Nature Reserve was created to conserve wildlife and provide flood management when a new business park and road were built. It is home to a wide variety of birds, insects, plants and amphibians including the internationally protected Great Crested Newt". Ouse Estuary Nature Reserve | East Sussex County Council

The nature reserve is the land that was already there, before the development of the port access road and business park, with new paths, signage, ponds and ditches dug, a bird watching screen and some wood sculptures by Steve Geliot, installed as part of Public Art in the South East.

The reserve is of two parts, although it is not described thus: a greenfield area between the A259 and McKinley Way (port access road) and a brownfield part between the McKinley Way and the buildings of Newhaven and the new business park. The path going through the brownfield part is clearly shown in the Ouse Estuary NR map; but the signage about wildlife is only in the greenfield part (east of McKinley Way to the A259). When I visited, the brownfield part seemed to be used primarily by dog walkers, and has fly tipping of household waste and a great deal of general rubbish dumping (mostly takeaway food packaging). The terrain seems to be formed partly from spoil heaps (presumably from excavations from the new housing and industrial development). There is also a stub road coming off McKinley Road at the south end, going into the brownfield site, suggesting that this area is/was intended for development. This area consists of areas of asphalt, sand/grit hillocks with grass, wild flowers and shrubs and a strip of trees along a brook; somewhat redolent of what is now called open mosaic brownfield habitat see: Identifying-open-mosaic-habitat.pdf ( I saw a lot of wildlife on this brownfield area: bumblebees, solitary bees, butterflies, a variety of wild flowers, Stonechats, Linnets, Starlings, Whitethroats, Blue Tts, Great Tits, Chiffchaff, Red-legged Partridges, Carrion Crows and Magpies. If a full biological survey was undertaken I expect there would be a considerable number of invertebrates in the brownfield area. However, this part of the reserve seems to be not looked after (no signage, poor litter management) but this type of site (open mosaic) could be a haven for wildlife, especially invertebrates, with a little more management.

Open mosaic brownfield sites can be astonishingly diverse. "Canvey Wick is one such example [of an open mosaic habitat], which in 2005 was notified a SSSI for its outstanding assemblage of invertebrates associated with open mosaic habitat. At this former oil refinery site in Essex, extensive areas of open mosaic habitat have developed on the sandy soils. Buglife have reported over 1,400 species of invertebrates at the site, including 30 Red Data Book species and three species previously thought extinct in Britain. Elsewhere, in and around Peterborough there has been a rich industrial heritage, especially in the manufacture of bricks, which has resulted in the establishment of significant areas of open mosaic habitat. One such area is Dogsthorpe Star Pit that is notified as a SSSI chiefly for its aquatic invertebrate fauna.

Moreover, there is an understanding in the National Planning Policy Framework (not that that is always followed) that brownfield sites can have great biological value. Under the heading of Achieving Sustainable Development, Paragraph 17, the National Planning Policy Framework sets out twelve core land-use planning principles that underpin both plan-making and decision-taking. One of these is to ‘encourage the effective use of land by reusing land that has been previously developed (brownfield land), provided that it is not of high environmental value Understandably, there is increasing pressure to develop brownfield sites. However, some of these are amongst our most important sites for wildlife, and in particular, invertebrates. Research into Creation of Open Mosaic Habitat for Invertebrates at a Brownfield Site in Peterborough - BSG Ecology (

The land is shingle and mud and was drained for farming in medieval times. However, the land remained wet and, despite being intensively farmed, supported a rich variety of wildlife. The site was designated as a Site of Nature Conservation Importance in 1993. ... Part of the site was reserved for business use but because of the wildlife value, environmental protection was required before it was developed. The result was the Ouse Estuary Nature Reserve, managed by the County Council but funded by the developers and national and European grants. Ouse Estuary Nature Reserve | East Sussex County Council

The following is not a systematic survey of the flora and fauna in the reserve, just photos of what I happened to see, to give a feel of the character of the reserve. A systematic survey of the brownfield part of the reserve would certainly be a good thing to do, to evaluate the degree of flora and fauna abundance and diversity in that part. All my photos are record shots, not great photography. The photographs are in chronological order. Sections of text in italic are quotes, sources given. I reached the site from my home (Brighton) by public transport, using the 12A bus.

Greenfield area (between A259 and McKinley Way)

Walking down the north path, west to East (staring at the A259)


Bird's-Foot Trefoil

Bulbous Buttercup with small hoverflies

View south-west toward Newhaven

Carrion Crows bathing in a water trough

Bufftail Bumblebee on bugle


Meadows protected from humans!

East and West!

Sedge Warbler calling

ESCC Map showing the reserve footpaths, encompassing the brownfield area, east of the port access road (McKinley Road)

Cattle used for conservation grazing

Species of Deergrass ( a form of sedge), like wet ground

Meadow Foxtail (I think)


One of Steve Geliot's sculptures. (Steve Geliot also produced the works of art for the Pulborough Wild Art Trail)

Yellow Ragwort

Looking east to typical Sussex monocultural arable land; farming land with the least diversity of flora and fauna/ Since World War II, the country has lost around 80 per cent of [chalk] grasslands ... In the South Downs they now cover just 4 per cent of the National Park’s area. Over one-third of the sites are less than one hectare in size. Ideally a site of at least 20 hectares is needed to secure the future of this important habitat. The smaller the ecosystem, the less resilient it becomes.


Columbine is an uncommon but widespread native plant in Britain. Its distribution is stable, but this is uncertain, because a large number of garden escapes have become confused with truly wild populations. Other threats are lack of habitat management, loss of damp habitats from drainage and pollution from intensive agriculture.

Did you know?

  • The petals, when looked at from the base, are said to look like five doves sat in a ring and the name Columbine actually derives from 'columba' meaning 'dove'. As such, it was a popular choice to put in church carvings.

  • There are more bird associations since the Latin name, Aquilegia, is derived from aquila meaning eagle owing to an apparent similarity between the petals and eagles' wings.

  • In medieval times, Columbine was apparently thought to be eaten by lions. Rubbing the flower on your hands thus gave you a lion's courage!

  • Common names include Granny's bonnet and Granny's nightcap.

  • It was also venerated by the Romans as Venus' flower. Columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris) (

"English" Marigold

Brownfield area (between McKinley Way and Newhaven, south of the greenfield part of the reserve)

No signage except footpath signs; is this part of the reserve, or land waiting to be developed?

Male stonechat; there were several pairs of Stonechat engaging in poor-bonding behaviour

Path through the sandy hillocks, possibly made of extracted soil from the development of the business park and port access road, or possibly spoil form dredging (similar landforms are at RSPB/Buglife/LandTrust Canvey Wick, which has a very diverse range of invertebrates).

The signs direct you across McKinley Way (port access road) to the brownfield area, mostly used by dog walkers when I was there

More Stonechats (male)

Red Clover, a favourite plant for bumblebees with short tongues like Bufftails

Yellow Ragwort; leaves are main food source for Cinnabar Moth caterpillars; but pollen and nectar popular with many pollinators

Another male Stonechat

Common Vetch

Birds-foot trefoil; the sandy hillocks were popular with wild flowers (and may provide a really useful nesting habitat for mining bees and digger wasps). I saw one mining bee (an Andrena genus species) but no digger wasps on the brownfield site; but I was walking through it quickly

More Red Clover

Building houses south of the brownfield part of the site


The south of the brownfield area

More vetch

Wild flower budding; probably Wild Garlic

Another Male Stonechat

Brownfield site habitat

Green Alkanet

A Poopy; this huge head and orange colour suggests that this maybe from a plant that has self-seeded from a garden cultivar

Concrete pipss left in the brownfield site

There was small flock of Linnets fling from bush to bush; they seemed to particularly like Willow seedlings

Gorse naturalising on the sandy hillocks, giving this part of the brownfield area a heathland feel

A Starling (there were many) eating worms

Red-Legged Partridges

Two beautiful Red-Legged Partridges running away into the industrial estate next to the brownfield part of the Ouse Estuary Nature Reserve, Newhaven. I wonder if they looked at my camera at full zoom and had some genetic innate knowledge that humans with pointy things might kill you!

These birds were introduced to the 18th UK as birds to shoot. They are indigenous to France and Spain. You can still shoot Partridges in England, from September 1st to February 1st, including in the Duke of Norfolk's estates around Arundel in Sussex. Just to remind you of how some how some people have "fun" in the UK, a report of a recent shoot in West Sussex: The Percy boys (Ralph and James) came down from Northumberland recently to join a team of Fitzallan-Howards, and the resulting bag was an astonishing 291 greys [Patridges], 305 redlegs [Partridges], 42 pheasant and 3 pigeon! An observer said that the Percy boys were a joy to behold, as they shot with near clinical efficiency, and modest too. Twenty-one of the Best shoots in Britain by Robert Jarman | The Vintage Magazine – Save the Best for Last. The Percys and the Fitzallan-Howards were powerbroking nobility in the Tudor and Stuart Courts; I don't think their descendants will be walking round with their servants in an industrial estate in Newhaven to shoot Red-Legged Partridges; I think Newhaven's Partridges will be relatively safe.

A ubiquitous Magpie

Another Starling

Walking through the strip of trees that grow beside a brook at the south of the reserve, abutting Newhaven's housing

The light and fluffy seed of Willow, perfect for wind dispersal, on nettles

Looking through the tree to the hillocks of sand and grit

The brook through the trees; water level very low

A species of fly; flies are important pollinators, but it is not doing so here!

A Hoverfly. I think Helophilus pendulous “dangling marsh-lover"

Cow Parsley in the woods.

Germander Speedwell

Fallen tree

Vegetated sand bank, from a distance, photographed from the path through the tress. Plants, I think: Rape (self-seeded from commercial farmed rape?); Euphorbia (self-seeded from a garden?): Greater Celandine, Speedwell and Alkanet

To the south of the trees, industrial Newhaven


A Chiffchaff (I think) in the tress.

White Spiraea (I think); an introduced species

Cow Parsley bordered path

Cow Parsley and Rape (self-seeded from commercial farmed rape?)

Whitethroat on bramble

Female Stonechat hiding in Bramble

The same Stonecat as above, out of hiding

Egg shell; probably Skylark

Red Clover

Seaford Head, greenfield part of reserve and port access road, from brownfield part of reserve

A species of the Andrena genus of solitary bees (a mining bee genus).

There are over 1,500 species worldwide, one of the largest genera of animals; so I will not be hazarding a species level ID! Mining bee, (family Andrenidae), also called digger bee, or solitary bee, any of a group of bees (order Hymenoptera), particularly the genus Andrena. Many species are medium-sized bees with reddish-golden hair and long, prominent abdomens. Females excavate tunnels in the soil that branch off to individual cells that the female stocks with pollen balls and nectar, on which she lays her eggs. There may be one or two generations per year. The adult has a relatively short and pointed “tongue,” unsuitable for general foraging but, within each species, adapted to nectar-gathering from certain types of flowers. mining bee | insect family | Britannica

The road to nowhere. The stub exit from a mini roundabout into the brownfield site, indicating that development on the site is intended?

Fly tipping

The port access road (McKinley Way), looking toward Denton, brownfield area to left (south), greenfield area to right (north)

Reeds through the trees, east path through the greenfield part of the reserve; heading north-east

One of Steve Geliot's sculptures

Looking south from the bottom of the north-east path - the new industrial estate

Swathes of reeds - I heard but did not see many warblers; mostly Sedge Warblers and Reed Warblers I believe, and definitely some Cetti's warblers

The bird watching screen on the left (west) of the path

Signage at the bottom of the east path

Speckled Wood butterfly

Spiny Sowthistle (I think)

Daisy with flies; flies are good pollinators for small plants



Willow blossom


Buttercup with tiny fly pollinator


Tree carving by Steve Giliot

House Sparrows, near the A259 (Newhaven to Seaford)

Female Blackbird in a recently ploughed strip of land, just eat of the reserve, parallel with the A259, toward the Tide Mills bus stop


Woodpigeons in the ploughed field



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