Pagham Harbour is one of the few remaining undeveloped areas on the Sussex Coast and an extremely important site of special scientific interest. Being one of the best places for wildlife in the UK, it covers an area of 1550 acres and is made up of saltmarsh, mudflats, lagoons, reedbeds and shingle beaches. The varying habitats of the reserve attract some rare birds either visiting during migration, breeding or residing in the harbour. Regular readers of ‘In Focus’ will no doubt have read the RSPB column which provides some great information on the birds to spot in the harbour depending on time of year.
The harbour is inter-linked with many public and permissive footpaths, that not only takes in the diverse wildlife but also the historical heritage, such as medieval forts and the Selsey Tram, along with some stunning harbour views. The harbour cannot be totally walked around as the opening to the sea is about 50m wide with strong flowing water when the reserve both fills up and empties with the tides.
The best way to take in the reserve’s highlights is to follow the three RSPB suggested trails, that can be walked individually, linked together or extended further afield when following the connecting footpaths.
A good place to park and start the walks is at the RSPB Visitor centre just south of Sidlesham, open most days the centre can provide a wealth of information about the area and its wildlife. Getting lost around the harbour is not generally a problem as most routes keep to the water’s edge, however it is worth considering the tide, because at high tides some of the paths may not be accessible.
The Discovery Trail – Starting from the visitor centre this circular trail is 1.75 miles long and follows the disused Selsey Tramway along the edge of the saltmarsh. Information boards along the route explain the history of the reserve including the tramway, Sidlesham Mill and the reclamation to the sea when the closed harbour wall was breached.
The Church Norton Trail – Parking at Church Norton this half a mile walk follows the western edge of the reserve down to the shingle spit at the sea. Tern island can be seen from this trail and is a home to the UKs rarest seabird the Little Tern. Just off the trail at Church Norton is ‘the mound’, a medieval fort next to the 13thC St Wilfred’s chapel. For a longer walk this trail can be reached from the visitor centre.
The North Wall Trail – From the visitor centre it is about a 4 mile round walk using some of the public footpaths, however starting out from Pagham side this trail is just over half a mile. It is popular with birdwatchers as it overlooks the mudflats one side and many reedbeds on the other. This trail is ideal for a peaceful stroll with magnificent views and beautiful sunsets across the harbour.
You can download a trail map from RSPB site here: