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Article written for 'Kingfisher' - the Newsletter of the Hampshire Ornithological Society by Brian Fellows 28 October 2008

It was love at first sight. That was 40 years ago when I first moved to Emsworth and I am still in love with the place today! It was actually a good 20 years before I got into birdwatching, but now I am making up for lost time and enjoying every minute of it. Emsworth is a small village full of small shops, pubs and cafes, nestling in the far SE corner of Hampshire, with a toe-hold in West Sussex. It has several good natural habitats within easy walking distance of the town centre, namely, a tidal harbour, three millponds, a wet meadow, a chalk stream and two woodlands. It is also within easy reach of Thorney Island and Chichester Harbour to the east, Hayling Island, Farlington Marshes and Langstone Harbour to the west and Stansted Forest and the Downs to the north. What more could you want?

The Harbour

Emsworth is on the northern edge of Chichester Harbour and its harbour is a magnet in winter for migrant geese, ducks and waders (with the exception of Bar-tailed Godwit, which I have never seen here). The seawall of Emsworth Marina is the best place to view the main harbour, in the morning, at low water, with the sun behind you. The harbour to the west of the town as far as Nore Barn Woods can be seen from anywhere along Western Parade.

Of the waders, my personal favourites are Black-tailed Godwits and Greenshank, many of which have been colour-ringed by Pete Potts and his team from the Farlington Ringing Group. Logging colour-ringed birds and conveying the information to Pete and other BW/GK fans has added a new dimension to my birdwatching. I can identify individual birds and I look forward to the return of "old friends" to Emsworth Harbour year after year. Saying that, Godwits appear to have largely abandoned Emsworth this year, preferring the Fishbourne and Bosham Channels in West Sussex.

Greenshank are usually seen feeding actively in the low water channel near the quay. There are so many colour-ringed that it is unusual to find one without rings on its legs! They are all part of the Greenshank Migration Project and for more information about this project see the web site at

Undoubtedly, the star bird in Emsworth over the past three winters has been a very confiding Spotted Redshank which regularly turned up at Nore Barn to the west of Emsworth, providing excellent photographic opportunities. It had not turned up at the time of writing (Oct 28), though we did have a juvenile in early October in the channel beneath the quay, but it did not stay.

We do not get many rare birds (or I don't see them, more likely), but I do remember clearly a Spoonbill which was in the harbour for about 2 weeks at the end of 2002, and actually came onto the town millpond on one occasion.

The Millponds

Emsworth is blessed with three millponds and a marina. The Council-owned town millpond has a resident flock of well-fed Mute Swans and Mallard, enlivened by Tufted Duck, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe and Red-breasted Merganser in winter, plus an occasional exotic species, like Black Swan. The two millponds to the east of the town are privately owned and managed as nature reserves. They are saline lagoons with rare species of Sea Anemone and Lagoon Worm growing on their beds. The local Mute Swan pair that nest on Peter Pond got a reputation a few years ago for producing "Polish" variety cygnets. The reedbeds regularly attract Reed Warbler in summer but no Bearded Tits as yet. In winter Cormorants are attracted by the impressive shoals of Grey Mullet that come in with the tide and Kingfishers can often be seen flying low over the ponds.

Brook Meadow

Brook Meadow is a wet meadow of five acres of grassland, near the centre of Emsworth, surrounded by woodland and flanked by the River Ems. Grid Ref: SU7506. It is easily approached from the car park behind Tesco Express and is well worth a visit, particularly to see the Water Voles that thrive on the river banks. Brook Meadow is now a Local Nature Reserve, though this was inconceivable no more than 8 years ago when it was an intimidating wilderness of impenetrable vegetation, just waiting for the bulldozers to move in. At this time, I and a number of other local residents got together to form the Brook Meadow Conservation Group to protect it from development and conserve its wildlife. And phew, after much hard work, we appear to have succeeded (I hope).

Over the years, we have been busy logging the wildlife of Brook Meadow. The plant list currently stands at a staggering 332 different species, including 4 orchids, 34 grasses and 12 sedges. The bird list stands at 68, with all the common birds well represented. Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Whitethroat are regular summer visitors and this year we had a Turtle Dove for the first time ever. Moorhen, Kingfisher, Grey Wagtail and Water Rail are regular on the river, where Brown Trout can be seen. Little Egrets are ever-present in the area and one even regularly perches on my garden wall to scan the local stream for fish.

For more information about Brook Meadow and the work of the conservation group see the group web site at . . .

Hollybank Woods

Emsworth boasts two main areas of woodland of which Hollybank Woods is by far the largest and most interesting. The woods are best approached from the top of Hollybank Lane; Grid Ref: SU745080. Owned by the local council, there is free access, but note this does not apply to the woodland north of the Emsworth Common Road, marked Southleigh Forest on OS Maps. I recall finding a pair of Wood Warblers in Southleigh Forest many years ago. Sparrowhawk, Tawny Owl and Buzzard all nest in Hollybank Woods and Red Kite has been rumoured. All the usual woodland birds are here with Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Willow Warbler the main summer visitors. Roe Deer are common and I gather Badgers are also resident. There is also free access onto Longcopse Hill (in West Sussex), where there is an area of heathland and a wonderful colony of Early Purple Orchids.

Nore Barn Woods to the west of Emsworth is a much smaller and more heavily used woodland; Sparrowhawk regularly nests there.