There’s a necklace of wonderful estuarine nature reserves on the south coast of England looking across to The Isle of White. I reach one of the very best through Hampshire’s leafy lanes, passing picture postcard half-timbered thatched cottages reminding me that there’s so much history down here. Approaching the reserve I meander through new housing estates with names telling me that birds are not far away; Cuckoo Lane, Puffin Close, Tawny Owl Crescent. Then roads named after the shipping forecast; Malin, Viking, Biscay, announcing that I’m also near to the sea.
Titchfield Haven is a manmade series of freshwater scrapes at the lower end of the Meon Valley and teems with birds. Islands dot the scrapes and provide safe breeding habitat for the still noisy Black-headed Gull colony, Common and Sandwich Terns, Avocets and Lapwings all of which are feeding or loafing about the reserve. Breeding is more or less over, but chicks of various ages and sizes are still being attended to, alongside a few early autumn migrants such as Redshanks, Black-tailed Godwits and a couple of Ringed Plovers.
Avocets with small chicks are very aggressive towards the Black-tailed Godwits; any godwit coming within 30 or 40 yards is immediately steered away by the noisy adults. How times have changed; a generation ago Avocets bred in small numbers at a few places in eastern England, they’re now spreading rapidly and we even have them in South Wales.
The National Nature Reserve is an exemplar of a partnership and one of the very best examples of how to involve people with wildlife I know. Natural England and Hampshire County Council together with an army of volunteers provide a quite exceptional wildlife experience and without any disturbance to the birds. The interpretation boards and many hides are first class, the enthusiasm and friendliness of the volunteers is a delight, making a visit a really great day out.