Christchurch Harbour is a natural harbour in Dorset, on the south coast of England. Two Rivers the Avon and the Stour flow into the Harbour at its northwest corner. The harbour is generally shallow and due to the tidal harmonics in the English Channel has a double high water on each tide. On the north side of the harbour, east of the River Avon are Priory Marsh, and to the east of this Stanpit Marsh, a Local Nature Reserve. To the west side of the harbour are Wick Fields, the southern flank of the harbour being bounded by Hengistbury Head, a prominent coastal headland.
Christchurch Harbour contains large areas of salt marsh and is protected by a sandbar known as Mudeford Spit which has fine sandy beach on both sides of a walkway lined with beach huts. The harbour is protected by a natural headland (Hengistbury Head) at the start of the sandbanks, and is a special site for sand martins which nest annually in the sandy cliffs. The harbour is only accessible to shallow draught boats drawing up to 4 feet (1.2 m) due to the sandbars at the entrance. The entrance, known as the Run, has Mudeford Quay on one side and the spit on the other. Considerable tides flow here: up to 6 knots (11 km/h; 6.9 mph) during spring tides. The harbour is a protected wildlife refuge and is home to large populations of swans, waders and other bird life. On the south side, the harbour is enclosed by Hengistbury Head which was the site of the earliest settlement here dating back to the Bronze Age. The landward end of the headland has a bank and ditch known as Double Dykes, built in about 700 BC, to protect the ancient settlement.
The harbour was formed around 7000 years ago when the sea level rose at the end of the last Ice Age. Previously the area which was many miles from the open sea was inhabited by Stone Age hunters. Archaeological finds dating from 12,500 year BP have been made on Hengistbury Head and Flints dating as much as 250,000 years BP have been found in the Bournemouth area. The Bluestones used at Stonehenge may have been transported via the harbour and the River Avon (2550 BCE). It is suggested that there may have been an ancient causeway usable at low water running from Double Dykes on the south shore to Tuttons Well located on the north shore near Stanpit villageStanpit Marsh
Stanpit Marsh is a nature reserve situated just below the confluence of the Rivers Avon and Stour, at the Western end of Christchurch Harbour. It was formed as the result of action and deposition of material from the Stour and Avon as they meet with the salt water within Christchurch Harbour.
The site is owned by Christchurch Borough Council and managed by Christchurch Countryside Service. The area known as Stanpit Marsh is a mixture of habitats including areas of salt marsh, reed beds, freshwater marsh, gravel estuarine banks and sandy scrub Together with Grimbury Marsh, it forms one of the largest areas of salt marsh in the county. The highest point of the marsh is an ancient grass covered sand dune named Crouch Hill. It stands 5 metres above sea level. To the east of Crouch hill lies Blackberry Point. In the past this was a small island within the Harbour known locally as Horseshoe Island. Today it has become firmly attached to the marsh.Stanpit Marsh is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and an important nature reserve of about 65 hectares (160 acres), combining both freshwater and saltwater habitats. There are over 300 species of plants growing there and 14 of them are considered to be nationally rare and endangered. It is used by 300 plus species of bird, a few of which breed there. Many others are migratory and use the marsh as an important staging point. In 2001 a successful breeding program for Natterjack Toads was established. Breeding has continued in most years, with around 1,000 toadlets developing in 2009.
A circular path on the marsh uses a prototype Bailey Bridge to cross Mother Siller’s Channel then down to the confluence of the Avon and Stour rivers, thenupriver along the river beach and then back inland over improvised railway sleeper bridges, past an abandoned iron lifeboat, past the back of the golf course and back across the open playing field. The Mother Siller’s Channel is named after an 18th century smuggler, Ma (Hannah) Seller, one time landlady of the Ship in Distress.Stanpit Marsh has a group of local supporters who provide a summer warden and run an information centre for visitors. Find out more at http://www.friendsofstanpitmarsh.org.uk/
For more information about the birds present on Stanpit Marsh and the best places from which to view them visit the Christchurch Harbour Ornithological Group webpage at: http://www.chog.org.uk/
There is a free car park at the northern end of the marsh which is about 50 yards east of The Ship In Distress Public house in Stanpit village. Access to Stanpit Marsh is via Stanpit Recreation Ground, BH233ND