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One of the fastest moving sand and shingle spits in the United Kingdom

Visit one of the last surviving pieces of natural coastline in West Sussex. East Head is an example of the nationally rare and fragile, yet dynamic, sand-dune habitat.

Walk, play and sunbathe on the beach, which is considered one of the best in Sussex. Or just admire the yachts that anchor off the northern end, where you may spot the occasional seal.

Explore East Head’s distinct habitats - shingle, sandy beach and dunes that graduate into salt-marsh. Maritime plants, such as the tough-leaved sea holly and sea bindweed, grow through the sand. In summer, they’re at their vibrant, colourful best. Look too for the distinctive marram grass, which needs the cover of the shifting sands to be able to grow.

Shifting sands and shingle

Aerial photo of east head

The landscape of East Head is constantly changing as the sand shifts with every tide. This movement of sands helps shape the rare and dynamic sand and shingle habitats that are valued so highly.

Doggy days at the beach

A dog playing at Studland Beach, Dorset

Dogs are welcome on East Head. To help everyone enjoys their day out please use the dog bins provided and respect other beach users and their picnics.

50 things to do at East Head

With self-guided activities and events, why not try one of our top five fun activities.

  1. Jump over waves
  2. Go on a barefoot walk
  3. Hunt for bugs
  4. Catch a crab
  5. Track wild animal

Wonderful wildlife - skylarks

Spot the skylarks at East Ham © NTPL / David Tipling

Spot the skylarks at East Ham

Skylarks nest in the inner dunes, finding perfect cover within the prickly marram grass. If you wander along the boardwalk stop to listen to their distinctive song.

Wonderful wildlife - ringed plover

Spot them in spring and early summer © Garth Peacock

Spot them in spring and early summer

Between April and June ringed plovers can be found at the northern end of East Head. They nest on shingle where their eggs are camouflaged perfectly among the pebbles. For this reason we've roped off the area of shingle they use. A single pair can raise two clutches of eggs in a season.

Wonderful wildlife - common seal

Will you spot a common seal basking in the sun? © Lesley Wilson

Will you spot a common seal basking in the sun?

Common seals live in the waters surrounding East Head. At low tide they bask on mud flats and lazily await the returning water. You are more likely to spot a seal at mid to high tide when they are forced off their muddy beds and forage around the harbour and neighbouring beaches for fish.

Wonderful wildlife - sand lizard

Keep your eyes peeled for these rare lizards © NTPL/Ross Hoddinott

Keep your eyes peeled for these rare lizards

Spotting a sand lizard on East Head is a real treat as they are a rare species in Britain. Male sand lizards have bright green markings during the breeding season. Females are a more modest sandy colour all year round. You're more likely to see their footprints in the sand dunes on the western side of the spit. In the early mornings they bask in the sun, leaving their footprints behind. In the soft white sandy dunes look for small train track-like prints.

Precious plants - marram grass

Marram grass helps hold the dunes together © Bernie Brown

Marram grass helps hold the dunes together

Marram grass is the most important plant on East Head. It's long roots bind the sand together and as it grows with every fresh covering of sand, dunes are formed. Perfectly adapted for the harsh coastal environment, its glossy, tightly rolled leaves are excellent for retaining moisture.

Precious plants - ragwort

Spot the colourful ragwort amongst the dunes © Dave Crawshaw

Spot the colourful ragwort amongst the dunes

Ragwort is a food source for many insects including the beautiful cinnabar moth. On East Head we strive to find a balance, allowing enough ragwort to sustain it's dependent foragers without allowing it to spread beyond control. From June to August wander through the dunes and stop to see how many insects love this flamboyant yellow plant.

Wonderful wildlife - insects

East Ham is teeming with different species to see © Malcolm Fisher

East Ham is teeming with different species to see

A host of insects call East Head home. Over one hundred species of moth have been recorded on East Head including the rare shore wainscot and the magnificent elephant hawk moth. Colourful day flying moths are a common sight in summer months along with their caterpillars. Look out for the black and red spotted burnet moth or the stripey yellow and black caterpillars of the cinnabar moth. You might also see some more familiar species such as bumble bees and ladybirds.

Precious plants - wild flowers

East Ham is in full bloom between June and September © National Trust/Beth Heasman

East Ham is in full bloom between June and September

June to September is the perfect time to see East Head in full colour. Among the most noticeable plants is sea bindweed with its large pink and white striped flowers. Other must sees include common centaury, scarlet pimpernel and bird's foot trefoil.

Rare habitats - shingle

The shingle is home to many hardy but colouful plants © Matthew Guilliatt

The shingle is home to many hardy but colouful plants

Vegetated shingle is a scarce habitat in the UK and is home to plants that have specially adapted to this unusual setting. Tolerant of this salty, windswept environment, lacking in both soil and moisture, these hardy plants are surprisingly beautiful. Look out for the tall and elegant yellow horned poppy or the sea green and spiky sea holly. Other familiar plants with a maritime twist include sea rocket, sea spinach and sea beet.

Rare habitats - the salt-marsh

Oystercatchers on the saltmarsh © National Trust/Beth Heasman

Oystercatchers on the saltmarsh

Landward of the dunes lies the salt-marsh, one of rarest habitats in the south. In winter it's home to many migrant wildfowl such as sanderling, redshank, oodwits and oystercatchers. Plants here include lax-flowered sea lavender which covers the marsh in a purple carpet during mid summer. Glasswort is also found here, the ashes of which were once used in the glass making process.

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