Tuesday, 27 October 2009

On Stanpit Marsh

I had things to do in Christchurch today, but the morning was full of sun and bright clouds, so I set off early and walked for an hour in a favourite place by the sea. Stanpit Marsh is a 96 hectare nature reserve and a Site of Special Scientific Interest on the eastern side of Christchurch Harbour. The marsh floods with salt water on a high tide and is home to many rare saltwater plants. So many species of migrant and resident birds find shelter and food in the marshland or on the mudflats of the harbour. Dragonflies and other insects thrive on summer flowers.

More details about the wildlife of the harbour and the marsh can be found at www.friendsofstanpitmarsh.co.uk and stunning photographs of harbour birdlife can be found on the Christchurch Harbour Ornithology Group website www.chog.org.uk

Christchurch Harbour is the place where the Dorset River Stour and the Hampshire River Avon meet the sea on the eastern edge of Poole Bay.The ancient name for the market town of Christchurch is Twynham, the Place Where Two Rivers Meet.The harbour is sheltered from prevailing south westerly winds and longshore drift by the bulk of Hengistbury Head.

I took the footpath that circles the edge of the marsh, along board walks, over the pebble beach on the water`s edge and over wooden bridges where shoals of tiny fish can be seen in the pools beneath.The mudflats were teeming with seabirds and waders and I longed for a pair of binoculars to see them better. Lapwing,geese, curlew, oyster catchers, knot and numerous other small waders fed and cried across the water. Several pairs of Little Egrets stalked the marsh for prey. Cormorants flew low down the harbour towards the open sea and families of mute swans swam in and out of reeds on the opposite bank. The Priory Church stood sentinal over the water as it has for nine hundred years.

A brisk walk on a clear, fine day. Here are some views of marsh and water taken along the way. Click on photos to enlarge for detail.

Across saltmarsh and river channel to Hengistbury Head.

Over reed beds to the Priory Church at Christchurch.

A Little Egret searching for food in the marsh.

Across the marsh and Christchurch Harbour. Beach huts line the spit of sand that runs eastwards from Hengistbury Head. The harbour mouth is a narrow gap called The Run where fast, deep water rushes between the spit and Mudeford Quay. In the far distance, behind the beach huts, lies the English Channel and the chalk cliff of Tennyson Down on the Isle of Wight, where the white spikes of The Needles rocks stand out of the sea.

The tide comes in.
In the main harbour channel, the fresh water of the Rivers Stour and Avon meet the salt water of the incoming tide.

New Forest ponies sunbathing by the shore. Behind them, exposed mudflats in the harbour were teeming with feeding waders.
The ponies belong to New Forest commoners. This year`s foals will have been rounded up and weaned now, while their dams stay on the marsh to graze.

At low tide, the salt pools in the marsh provide a sheltered nursery for the young of sea fish who spawn and breed here.

The Old Tug - the rusty old boat that has been left high and dry on the Marsh for many years. When my boys were small they called it Noah`s Ark!

The little Mude River, which gives the village of Mudeford its name, flows into Christchurch Harbour through dense shrub and a small area of woodland. I have seen a kingfisher here on previous visits.

Tansy flowers ( Batchelors` Buttons) among wild flowers seeding in the hedgerow.

A feed store for the birds in the wild shrubbery of ivy, rosehip , bramble and wild clematis seed (old man`s beard).

1 comment:

Bovey Belle said...

Oh what a lovely walk, and how I wish I'd been there to keep you company! I am having a baking day instead. I can remember Keith and I walking down by Hengistbury Head when we were still in Dorset, and longingly saying perhaps we could bring our children here . . . Little did I know it, but I was already pregnant then with Tam!