Walks & wildlife
Wildlife in Winter
Article by Dr Colin Pope, Senior Ecology Officer, Isle of Wight Council.
Images below courtesy of Andy Hay, Chris Gomersall, Ben Hall, Mike Richards.(all rspb-images.com)
Bembridge Harbour is a focus for bird life during the winter months and a stroll around the Harbour
can prove both interesting and rewarding.
The path between the Old Mill and Bembridge Angling Club leads across the mill causeway to St Helen’s Duver, and it provides a wonderful vantage point for bird watching at all states of the tide.
The Millpond holds wildfowl including flocks of teal and little grebe or dabchick. This is one of the most likely places around the Harbour to spot a kingfisher sitting on a perch or perhaps to see one of the rarities that occasionally drop in.
At low tide, lapwing and redshank feed in the Harbour muds. As the tide comes up,
some of them will roost on the derelict sea defenses or on pontoons, where they may be joined by dunlin, oystercatchers and cormorant.
At the northern end of the causeway lies St Helen’s Duver, a low lying sandy spit renowned for its rich flora during the summer months. In 1882 the Royal Isle of Wight Golf Club was established on this spot, one of the very first golf courses in England.
The mouth of the Harbour and the St Helen’s foreshore is the best place to see brent geese. They graze on the beds of eel-grass exposed on the shore at low tide and, as the tide comes in, many of them will fly across Embankment Road onto Brading Marshes, an RSPB reserve where they feed and roost on the hayfields.
You can partly avoid the road walk along Embankment Road by taking the path of the old railway track. Access to this starts just after the green metal fence beyond the start of the houseboats. This path leads you past a series of brackish lagoons which are very important for their wildlife. Not only do they attract a range of wintering duck including tufted duck and pochard, but they also hold an eclectic group of rather obscure plants and invertebrates which can only survive in the very specialized half fresh, half salty water that the lagoons provide. One of these is a tiny sea anemone, the starlet sea anemone, which goes by the Latin name of Nematostella vectensis. The second name, vectensis, refers to the old Roman name for the Island, Vectis, which is remembered in the name of the Island’s bus service, Southern Vectis. The name derives from the discovery of this creature, which was first recorded as new to science from Bembridge Harbour lagoon in 1935. Although it has since been found in a number of localities around the south and east coasts of England, it remains a rare and threatened species.