Wildlife on East Head

A black, grey and white ringed plover bird stands on the open sand at East Head

We’re lucky to have such an array of wonderful wildlife at East Head. From rare habitats to some of our more common visitors, there’s always something to spot here.

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.
 

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.
 

Common seals

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.


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.
 

Marram grass

Marram grass is the most important plant on East Head. Its 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.
 

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 its 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.
 

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.
 

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.
 

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.
 

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, godwits 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.