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Things to see and do at East Head

Two people walking across the sand at East Head in West Sussex with the rough wooden posts of an old groyne in the foreground and the sea sparkling in the distance
The beach at East Head | © National Trust Images/John Miller

Spend the day at one of Sussex’s most popular beaches, with its ever-changing sand dunes and rare salt marsh. East Head is a great place to play, walk and explore the interesting wildlife and plants that have made their homes here.

East Head in the winter

Winter is the best time to wrap up warmly and watch storms roll in across the Solent in this ever-changing spot. Landward of the dunes lies the salt marsh, one of the rarest habitats in the south. In winter it's home to many migrant wildfowl such as sanderling, redshank, godwits and oystercatchers.

As you walk look out for the strange-looking shiny green and red plants of glasswort, which are typically found in salt-marsh areas such as these, and the ashes of which were once used in the glass-making process.

Fun on the beach

The soft sand here is perfect for sand art and beach games, and at low tide there is plenty of space to run around. Low tide is also the best time to explore the many sand bars - but be careful not to get caught out as the tide comes in.

Arriving by boat

Many visitors choose to arrive at East Head on the northern end by boat. It's an ideal spot to moor up and spend the day on the beach. There are no litter bins at this end of East Head so please come prepared to take your litter home.

Walking at East Head

East Head is the perfect place for a sandy stroll. From March to September take the circular East Head to Ellanore route to see the foreshore and salt marsh or walk along the boardwalk to see the dunes. In the winter months follow the waymarked alternative Winter Walk that has been kindly part funded by Bird Aware Solent.

'50 things to do before you're 11¾'

East Head is a great place to tick off some things off your ‘50 things’ list. You could catch a crab, jump over a wave or even track a wild animal. Check the events page for details of organised activities on offer during the school holidays.

Strong currents and deep water

Swimming, surfing, canoeing and paddle boarding are all popular activities in the waters surrounding East Head. Stop on the beach as part of your harbour paddle but please be aware that the currents are strong in deep water and there is no lifeguard presence on the beach.

Some orange and black stripy cinnabar moth caterpillars on a ragwort plant with bright yellow flowers
Stripy cinnabar moth caterpillars on ragwort | © National Trust Images/Matthew Oates

Wildlife on East Head

There is a wonderful array of wildlife at East Head. From rare habitats to some more common visitors, there’s always something to spot here.


Skylarks nest in the inner dunes, seeking cover within the prickly marram grass. As you wander along the boardwalk you might hear their distinctive song. 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 the area of shingle they use is roped off.

Common seals

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

Sand lizards

Spotting a sand lizard on East Head is a real treat as they’re a rare species in Britain. Male sand lizards have bright green markings during the breeding season, whilst females are a 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.


A host of insects call East Head home. Over 100 species of moth have been recorded here, including the rare shore wainscot and the 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 stripy yellow and black caterpillars of the cinnabar moth.

A view of the sea across the sand dunes at East Head, West Sussex with the sea in the distance
Sand dunes at East Head | © National Trust Images/John Miller

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.

Sand dune erosion at East Head

Regular visitors will have noticed that the dunes at East Head have been affected by significant erosion as a result of a high spring tides, storm surges and strong winds at the same time. Sand dunes are rare and fragile habitats, home to unique plants and wildlife.

Please help look after the dunes by not visiting during high tides and avoiding any roped-off sections of the beach. Walking across the dunes tramples the marram grass which, along with the waves, increases erosion.

People walking on the beach at sunset, East Head, West Sussex

Discover more at East Head

Find out how to get to East Head, where to park, the things to see and do and more.

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