The Rye Harbour Nature Reserve was established in 1970 and covers around 1,100 acres of saltmarsh and wetland habitat. It sits within the Dungeness, Romney Marsh, and Rye Bay Site of Special Scientific Interest. An amazing 4,400 species have been recorded on the Reserve so far, including more than 300 that are considered to be rare in the UK such as the globally threatened curlew.
Rye Harbour is most famous for its birdlife and there are breeding colonies of little, common, and Sandwich terns, as well as spoonbills, cormorants, oystercatchers, ringed plovers, and avocets. Thanks to conservation efforts, the populations of these (and other) birds have increased in recent years. It’s not only birds that can be seen at the Reserve. Marsh frogs can be heard all summer long and Nathusius’ pipistrelle bats can be seen at night. You can also look out for the WW2 Pillboxes dotted around the Reserve.
Average rating: 4.3 (very good)
Average cost: free!
Best time to visit: you can visit year-round, with the Reserve providing a home to ground-nesting birds in Spring and Summer, and migrating wildfowl and waders in Autumn and Winter.
How to get there: you can drive to the Reserve or take a train to Rye Railway Station which is around 2.7 km away. There are a number of footpaths in the Reserve, meaning it can be accessed from Rye Town, Winchelsea Beach, and Rye Harbour. The ground is level and most paths have good surfaces, so it is good for those with limited mobility. There are also five bird watching hides – all of which are accessible to some types of wheelchairs. A new visitor facility, the Discovery Centre, has recently been opened.
Typical activities: bird watching, walking
Number of reports: 3
Last update: 2022
Wildlife in Rye Harbour
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the most popular species that can be seen here are:
curlew – 67% OF WildSide users (2/3) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
The Eurasian curlew is the largest wading bird found in Europe. They can be easily identified by their long, downcurved bills, mottled brown bodies, and long legs. They also have a unique call (which has been likened to crying!). Unfortunately, they are on the UK’s red list for conservation due to worrying declines in the breeding population throughout much of the UK (and the species is threatened globally too). Look out for curlews dotted around the saltmarshes on the Reserve – they can often be found near wading redshank.
Spoonbill – 67% of wildside users (2/3) reported sightings
Eurasian spoonbills are tall, white water birds (similar in size to great white egrets). They have broad rounded bills which give them their unusual name. In the breeding season, adult spoonbills show a splash of yellow on their breast and bill tips. They mainly eat small fish and water-dwelling invertebrates. Spoonbills are a very rare breeding bird in the UK, and are on the UK’s Amber list of conservation concern. Only around 4 pairs breed in the UK, with around 80 birds spending the Winter here! Although still uncommon, you have a good chance of seeing a spoonbill at Rye Harbour (especially in Winter). Look out for them on the Salt Pool near the Discovery Centre.
Avocet – 33% OF WildSide users (1/3) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Avocets became extinct in the UK in the 1840s thanks to egg collectors and taxidermists. However, in the Second World War, a bomb blew a hole in the sea wall at Havergate Island, just along the coast from the RSPB’s Minsmere Reserve. As the tidal river flooded in, it created the perfect conditions for this beautiful bird. Thanks to this and ongoing conservation efforts, they can now be seen in the East and South West of England. They have even become the logo for the RSPB following their successful recolonisation of the UK.
Rye Harbour supports hundreds of nesting avocets. They stand out from other birds in the Harbour due to their upturned bills, striking black and white colouring, and long blue legs – with Chris Packham calling them the ‘Audrey Hepburn of birds‘. Avocets can be found nesting in groups on islands in the Reserve or leading their young chicks to shallow, muddy water.
great cormorant – 67% of wildside users (2/3) reported sightings
Great cormorants are usually found around the UK’s rocky coastline. However, they are becoming more common on lakes and rivers inland, especially in Winter. They are around the size of a goose with large bodies and long necks. Adults are black, with white on their faces and thighs, while juveniles are usually dark brown with pale underparts. Cormorants can be found in abundance at Rye, and large groups can be found resting on the small islands that are dotted throughout the Reserve. Keep an eye out and you may see them drying their wings on the various posts found along the River Rother too!
oystercatcher – 67% of wildside users (2/3) reported sightings
Oystercatchers are large black and white wading birds, with long red bills and pink legs. They breed along the coasts of the UK and have started to breed inland in the last 50 years. In coastal areas, you will likely see them searching for mussels and cockles to eat, while inland they mainly eat worms. Look out for large flocks of them in the saltmarshes to the right of the Discovery Centre. You may even see them flying overhead and landing on nearby Camber Sands to search for food.
ringed plover – 33% of wildside users (1/3) reported sightings
Common ringed plovers are small wading birds, around 20 cm in length. Their backs are a brownish grey, and their stomachs are white. They have distinctive black-tipped orange bills, orange legs, and black collars around their necks. Ringed plovers breed on beaches around the coast, making Rye a good place to see them. Even though they are on the UK’s Red list for conservation concern. At Rye, Ringed Plovers are regular breeders – look out for them on the New Saltmarsh and Flat Beach. Rye is also home to a breeding population of little ringed plovers which look similar although are even smaller at around 15 cm.
Photo credit: Nick Rowland under a Creative Commons licence from Flickr