Chessel Bay Local Nature Reserve

          a wilderness in a City



About the Bay

Chessel Bay is situated in Southampton City on the eastern bank of the river Itchen, south of Northam Bridge.

The Bay is the only remaining long stretch of undeveloped, natural shoreline in the lower Itchen river. A narrow strip of woodland, with oak, beech, brambles and hawthorn, runs along the edge of the Reserve which is bounded by a railway line to the north east. A parallel strip of shingle and salt-marsh contain iris, sea club rush, reeds and sea asters.  The largest proportion of the site is composed of mudflats, which at low tide provide  feeding grounds for wading birds and wildfowl. The distinctive sight and sound of oystercatchers is common throughout the year, as is the song of birds which inhabit the woodland.

The main entrance is through the end of Quayside Rd. Grid ref SU441 131.


About Local Nature Reserves

Local Nature Reserves (LNRs) are for both wildlife and people. They are places with wildlife or geological features that are of special interest locally.  They offer people opportunities to study or learn about nature, or simply enjoy it.   Chessel Bay was designated Southampton City's first Local Nature Reserve in 1989; a statutory designation under Section 21 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. It is one of over 1050 LNRs in England.

The Reserve is important nationally; the mudflats are part of the Lee-on-Solent to Itchen estuary Site of Special Scientific Interest or SSSI. It is one of four SSSIs in Southampton City. Chessel Bay is also part of the Southampton Water and the Solent Marshes, whose area constitutes a SPA — a Special Protection Area protected under European legislation. 

The responsibility for Chessel Bay lies with Southampton City Council and Natural England (see link below).   Currently, the City Council and volunteers team up twice a year to help maintain and care for the site. See below: What you can do.




Wading birds such as curlew, oystercatcher, redshank and dunlin can often be seen on the mudflats when the tide is low. In the winter months brent geese and godwits can also be spotted.  Egrets, more common in recent years, stalk the shallows, as does the occasional heron.  A blue and orange flash of colour will probably signal a passing kingfisher.  Along the shoreline common shore crabs scuttle through the seaweed.  Fifteen species of butterflies have been observed at the Bay in recent years, these include the gatekeeper, painted lady, large skipper and holly blue.

Details of wildlife inhabiting Chessel Bay will be added to this website as available.  The 'Natural History of Chessel Bay' includes species lists for 1993, both Flora and Fauna, see link to PDF in the section on Books and further reading. The Southampton Natural History Guide 1987 includes a list of Flora for Chessel Bay, see link below.  A 2008 spring survey shows over 130 different plants, mosses and lichen in the Bay. Wood anemone, cow-wheat, bitter-cress and sea aster are among the many plants recorded. Please see link below.  A fungi survey for autumn 2008 and 2009 can be accessed below, see link.  An October 2009 shore survey can also be accessed below, see link. Many thanks to Phil Budd of Southampton Natural History Society for his records. Bird counts for 1995 -2001 and January - November 2011 many thanks to Mark Painter. Autumn 2011 and continuing 2012 bird observations many thanks to Ian Watts. Two kingfishers and a greenshank were spotted in the Bay this February 2012. During July there was a big increase in the number of Redshanks returning to Chessel Bay: with 12 at the beginning of the week to 21 on 20th July; numbers on 24 August reaching 38. A rare sight in the Bay: an osprey on 24 September 2012 - seen on the river daily during the previous week. For more details see Chessel Bay Bird Counts 2011 (and continuing) below.

Flora Chessel Bay 1987  ** from Southampton Natural History Guide - see also below

Botanical Survey Spring 2008

Chessel Bay Fungi 2008/2009

This August (2009), a small group from Southampton Natural History Society visited Chessel Bay. Highlights included a pair of stock doves (unusual here) and on shore 200 plus black headed gulls, redshank and a little egret. Also noted of interest, annual beard-grass Polypogon monspeliensis.

Chessel Bay Shore Survey Autumn 2009   - lower tidal reaches not accessible and not surveyed.

Also observed during autumn 2009 survey: red admiral and speckled wood butterflies, buff-tailed bumblebee queen and dragonfly (species unrecorded).   A record from Southampton Natural History Society for 13th February 2010 - One hundred and seventy dunlin on Bay mudflats.

Chessel Bay Bird Counts 1995-2001

Chessel Bay Bird Counts Jan 2011- Nov 2011 Records January - November

Chessel Bay Bird Counts from 2011  Four sheets, Records from November 2011, continuing through 2015.



A number of management issues need to be considered by the Local Authority when caring for Local Nature Reserves (LNRs). In Chessel Bay, a particular problem is the large amount of litter brought in by the tides. This is unsightly and dangerous to wildlife. Considerable quantities of waste including plastic bottles and polystyrene, which disintegrates into thousands of tiny plastic bobbles and mingles with the structure of the Reserve (See plastic pellet survey below).  The City Council and volunteers team up twice a year to combat this problem by organising litter picks.  Watch this website, and local notice-boards for further dates.  The Southampton Urban Wildlife Centre often organises additional information and activities for children at the site on these days. 

Chessel Bay Plastic Pellet Survey

In November 2012 Friends of Chessel Bay submitted a complaint to the Environment Agency with regard to the number of plastic pellets on the site. This complaint has been acknowledged by the EA who say they will look into it.  Their reply is below:

"Thank you for your e-mail addressed to our enquiries team, dated 14 November 2012, regarding the issue of plastic pellets washing up on Chessel Bay.

We have received several complaints regarding plastic pellets in the River Itchen. We have identified a number of possible sources and measures have been put in place to try to prevent further release of these pellets. We are aware that there are still a large number in the River Itchen which re-mobilise on the high spring tides. We are continuing to monitor this situation both within the river and Southampton’s plastics industry.

We appreciate your concerns and would like to assure you that we will be in contact again in the near future to let you know how we are progressing. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further queries or information that may be useful to us in our investigation."

In the winter months, the mudflats are sometimes dug up by bait diggers searching for ragworms.  This activity impacts on the site disturbing the creatures of the mudland and wading birds whose visits to this precious urban resource are greatly reduced as a result. 

Other management issues, such as erosion of the bank and maintenance of the wooden structures, also need to be highlighted and attended to as necessary.



What you can do

    Photograph below: Staff from the nearby Pipe Center in Quayside road help out with the 2009 Autumn litter pick.

                 Next litter pick: Saturday in autumn 2015 10am - 2pm

If you visit Chessel Bay, keep to the footpath to reduce disturbance & erosion- note end of access.  Please do not disturb birds by walking along or into the mudland. Help to warden the Nature Reserve by watching out for vandalism. If your child goes to Bitterne Manor Primary School take them to the viewing platform opposite the school entrance & show them the swans, ducks and egrets in the Bay.  Few urban schools have such a valuable resource opposite their school entrance.



Friends of Chessel Bay

At present the 'Friends' group is an informal collection of people who get together to care and protect the Bay, usually by helping with litter picks. Please note that if you come to help, parking is limited and their are no toilets on site. Please watch this website, local news and notice boards for further news.  Local contact: Rose Nicole, see email address below. 



Books, further reading & electronic resources

The above are all out of print but copies can be seen in Southampton City local reference library.

*  This report is now available as a PDF — with kind permission of Julian Cremona, then Chairman of Southampton Wildlife Link. Many thanks to Julian and Southampton Wildlife Link team for their hard work and expertise.  The report includes species lists, illustrations and photographs.  PDF size 3MB.

** Part of this report is also available as a PDF. The cover, frontispiece and contributors are included as well as the report on Chessel Bay and a map.  Many thanks to the Schools Conservation Corps, who are now disbanded. The report includes lists of flora (see also above) and illustrations.   PDF size 290K.

Southampton City Council have updated their 1992 Nature Conservation Strategy. The new Biodiversity Action Plan, or BAP, is now published. You can contact the Hawthorns Urban Wildlife Centre for a paper copy.   

                    Southampton Biodiversity Action Plan

Southampton City Council have produced an attractive leaflet about Chessel Bay, also available from the Hawthorns Urban Wildlife Centre and local libraries.  If you would like a copy, and are unable to source one, please contact the website manager, email below.




Hawthorns Urban Wildlife Centre  Southampton City Council

Natural England (includes the former English Nature)

Seashore Ecology Website  Field Studies Council - Dale Fort Field Centre

Tide tables  Printed copies for 2013 are available from chandleries & by post from ABP.

Southampton Natural History Society

Local website: local news Bitterne Park info

Bitterne Local History Society

Friends of Cobbett Road Library  local Library Friends group

Message in the Waves  BBC Natural History Unit film - looks at environmental challenges facing people and wildlife of Hawaiian islands.  Applies through much of the Pacific ocean and elsewhere.  Note the key issue of plastic marine pollution.

Tetrapod Zoology  highly regarded science blog - has three articles on litter picks at Chessel Bay.

Marine Conservation Society charity caring for our seas, shores and wildlife



Chessel Bay LNR  is a valuable space — a wilderness in a City.

Website updated 6th June 2015. Contact website manager: renicole<at>googlemail<dot>com.