This is a mini Norfolk Broad

Swans having a dibble under a bridge.
Swans having a dibble under a bridge.

I WAS wandering around the seawalls at Emsworth when I came across these two swans having a dibble under the bridge.

This is where the River Ems flows into the sea, on the Sussex and Hampshire border. Here the chalk spring becomes saline as it runs south into Emsworth Channel and past the Great Deeps of Thorney Island.

What a place for birds. I was often surrounded by houses and yacht marinas as I sallied forth, but it hardly mattered. I had parked my car at Thornham Lane, a favourite meeting place for birders, for nearby lies Little Deep, now a forty acre reed bed where teal and widgeon drop in to feed and the little egrets roost like white rooks in the trees. Here too the Cetti’s warbler pipes his exquisite rattle and reed and sedge warblers join the chorus. It is a mini Norfolk broad, with little grebes nesting together with great cresteds.

I was walking north into Emsworth with its mill ponds when I saw the swans. Centuries ago they’d have had ownership markings on their beaks. Those of the Bishop of Chichester perhaps, or the Elizabethan Lumleys nearby at Stansted. Have you ever eaten mute swan? It cuts like corned beer and tastes like corned beer. Years ago I found one shot on the saltings and thought rather me than the fox, but it took a great deal of plucking.

As I followed the footpath on across the A259, or rather underneath it, I came upon a nature reserve, called Brook Meadow. Local people love this place and look after it with great care. I was amazed to find that they had recorded 330 species of flowering plants, which is as good as the Amberley Wildbrooks list. Twelve of these were sedges which is remarkable in about 10 acres of water meadow and wood. That was not all. A healthy colony of water voles live here in the Nore Barn stream, and of course roe deer browse among the bushes. There was a photograph of a spotted redshank on the info board. This is an old bird of eight years at least, that has come back every winter to spend happy days beside the water with ratty. Brown trout live in the stream too, so it must be clean. In summer, turtle doves croon in the trees, water rails skulk about in the sedges along the stream and there the cuckooflower blooms a tiny mauve petal or two, on which the orangetip butterfly caterpillars will feed. It just shows what you can achieve with the habitat clean and tidy, unpolluted even when embedded in the belly of the town. My walk began with a pair of swans, cob and pen, and ended there, for they were still dibbling in the clear water stream. What on earth were they finding to eat?

Richard Williamson