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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.
Wonderful wildlife - skylarks
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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.