Southend Foreshore Local Nature Reserve
About Southend Foreshore Local Nature Reserve
Southend's foreshore at the mouth of the Thames Estuary supports an abundance of habitats and wildlife and is internationally important for migrating birds. Stretching 8.5 miles from Leigh to Shoeburyness, the foreshore is now managed to protect its wildlife and is well worth a visit.
Its wildlife is best viewed when the tide is low. Begin your journey of exploration at any point on the seafront. A circular route is possible by using the frequent train services. Information boards and telescopes are positioned along the seafront to help you discover and enjoy the wildlife. Include a walk along the Pier, which crosses the foreshore, and visit the Sealife Centre to learn more about its wildlife.
As well as the foreshore's mud, sand and shingle, man-made structures nearby also provide important habitats. High buildings, for example, are man-made "cliffs" that provide a nesting habitat for the large, noisy and aggressive herring gulls. The concrete slabs of the sea wall create an environment similar to the upper salt marsh for plants such as sea thrift, sea beet and sea purslane. Look for golden samphire that flowers from July to September, a scarce plant in most of Britain.
The Estuary in winter is an important feeding ground for birds that migrate from colder climates. Perhaps the most important bird is the dark-bellied brent goose as up to a fifth of the current world population come to the Essex coast from Siberia to feed. They arrive in late September to feed on the lush green eel-grass at Leigh. By December the eel-grass is finished and they are looking for alternative food all along the coast.
A good time to watch birds is when the tide comes in across the mudflats. They retreat along the waterline in great numbers, moving towards Two Tree Island at Leigh, the last part of the foreshore to be covered by the rising tide. Flocks of dunlin, small dappled grey birds with white undersides circle and appear to change colour depending on the direction of flight. Look also for teal, mallard, wigeon, ringed plover, grey plover, lapwing, curlew, redshank, oystercatcher, shelducks, turnstone and occasional bar-tailed godwits which like to roost in the salt marsh at Leigh and can be found in the creek behind Leigh's cockle sheds.
On and around the pier, purple sandpipers can occasionally be found, birds which would typically live by rocky shores and not our coastline. Towards Shoeburyness you may see knot circling in tight formation and landing on the mud in large flocks. A good vantage point for terns is the end of the Pier. In summer they are the only birds that can be seen plunge diving for food. In winter the best viewing from the Pier is often on the coldest days. Eider duck, divers and grebes can usually be seen but look also for common scoters, cormorants, skuas, shags, gulls, guillemots, razor-bills and even occasionally puffins and little auks.
Summer has fewer birds than winter but not all birds migrate. Some will choose to roost here and many stay for about two years until they are ready to breed. Arctic Terns can be seen between the end of March until May as they rest on their journey north. Oystercatchers, ringed plover, turnstones, redshank, shelduck, and curlews may still be spotted at low tide as they feed either on the extensive offshore mussel beds or on the crustaceans, worms and shellfish that live on the mud flats.
Beach paddling pools create artificial rockpools that are home to sea anemones, sea squirts, sponges, sea gooseberries, green, red and brown seaweeds plus gobies, shannies and other fish. The Pier's supports provide anchorages for a variety of wildlife, especially mussels. You will also find barnacles that were accidentally introduced from New Zealand in about 1940.
Take care not to venture out on the mudflats they can be dangerous.
Last updated: 11th November 2013