Chessel Bay Local Nature Reserve

           a wilderness in a City



About Chessel Bay

Chessel Bay LNR is situated in Southampton City on the eastern bank of the river Itchen, south of Northam Bridge.

The Bay is the only remaining long stretch of undeveloped, natural shoreline by the lower Itchen river. Its total area is 15 hectares. This secluded City space comprises: a narrow strip of woodland, with oak, beech, brambles and hawthorn; a parallel strip of shingle and salt-marsh containing iris, sea club rush, reeds, sea asters; and the largest part of the site: the mudflats, which provide  feeding grounds for wading birds and wildfowl.   The main entrance is through the end of Quayside Rd. a quiet residential cul-de-sac. Grid ref SU441 129. Post Code SO18 1DP.


About Local Nature Reserves

Local Nature Reserves (LNRs) are places with wildlife or geological features that are of special interest locally.  They offer people opportunities to study or learn about nature, or simply enjoy it.   Chessel Bay was designated Southampton City's first Local Nature Reserve in 1989; a statutory designation under Section 21 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. It is one of three LNRs in Southampton. 

The Reserve is also important nationally; the mudflats are part of the Lee-on-Solent to Itchen estuary Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It is one of four SSSIs in Southampton City. Chessel Bay is also part of the Southampton Water and the Solent Marshes, whose area constitutes a SPA — a Special Protection Area protected under European legislation. It is also part of a  Ramsar site: a wetland of international importance. 

The responsibility for Chessel Bay lies with Southampton City Council and Natural England.   Currently, the City Council and volunteers team up twice a year to help maintain and care for the site. See below: What you can do.



Redshank, curlew, oystercatchers and other wading birds can be seen on the mudflats when the tide is low. In the winter months brent geese and black-tailed godwits can also be spotted.  Egrets, more common in recent years, stalk the shallows, as does the occasional heron.  Butterflies observed in the Bay include the gatekeeper, painted lady, large skipper and holly blue.

Please see links below for recordings and observations of wildlife inhabiting Chessel Bay.  Bird recorder Ian Watts unless otherwise noted.

Flora Chessel Bay 1987  ** from Southampton Natural History Guide - see also below

Botanical Survey Spring 2008

Chessel Bay Fungi 2008/2009

In August 2009, a small group from Southampton Natural History Society visited Chessel Bay. Highlights included a pair of stock doves (unusual here) and on shore 200 plus black headed gulls, redshank and a little egret. Also noted of interest, annual beard-grass Polypogon monspeliensis.

Chessel Bay Shore Survey Autumn 2009   - lower tidal reaches not accessible and not surveyed.

Also observed during autumn 2009 survey: red admiral and speckled wood butterflies, buff-tailed bumblebee queen and dragonfly (species unrecorded).   A record from Southampton Natural History Society for 13th February 2010 - One hundred and seventy dunlin on Bay mudflats.

Chessel Bay Bird Counts 1995-2001

Chessel Bay Bird Counts Jan 2011- Nov 2011 Records January - November

Chessel Bay Bird Counts from 2011  Four sheets, Records from November 2011, continuing through 2015

Birds of Chessel Bay—an overview of observations 2012–19

Birds of Chessel Bay Oct 2023  Autumn observations - Di Stedman

Greenshank, little egret and oystercatcher below - photos Ian Watts.


Amphipods and Isopods Spring 2020

Photographs and information Dr Tammy Horton.

Litter - and other management issues

Chessel Bay has a particular problem with large amounts of litter, much of it brought in by the tides. This is unsightly and dangerous to wildlife and visitors to the Reserve. Considerable quantities of plastic bottles, polystyrene structures, consumer packaging, marine litter and much else collects at this site.  Large spills of plastic pellets, or 'nurdles', are also a particular problem here requiring the permission and use of specialist equipment to clear microplastics, including pellets, which smother wildlife and vegetation. See item and links  below.

City Council officers and local volunteers team up twice a year to combat litter with organised community clean-ups.  Watch this website, local media and notice-boards for further up-dates.  Ecologists from the Southampton Urban Wildlife Centre and Friends of Chessel Bay provide additional information on these days. 

Chessel Bay Plastic Pellet Survey

Friends of Chessel Bay submitted complaints to the Environment Agency in 2012 and 2019 with regard to the number of plastic pellets on the site. See letter and response below.  See also PDF on Citizen Science carried out in Chessel Bay and elsewhere by Mairin Williams. .  

Nurdles in Chessel Bay—Environment Agency Response 2019

Citizen Science in Chessel Bay

Surfers Against Sewage local reps Katrina and Mairin produced a 2020 "Southampton Nurdle Report". This includes research in Chessel Bay and findings submitted to the Environment Agency.  Link to report below:

Southampton Nurdle Report 2020

Nurdle Nuisance in Chessel Bay   

In 2021, The Environment Agency secured funding to test new technology to trial removal of plastic pellets in Chessel Bay.  This trial took place in August 2021. Scientists from the microplastics department of Southampton University conducted research to assess effects on wildlife and vegetation in the Nature Reserve and wider City river Itchen. See link to presentation below.

The full clean-up took place during January to April 2023, where over 50 million pellets were estimated to have been removed. Photos below show plastic pellets on the ground and social enterprise firm "Nurdle" at work in the Bay - photo below right courtesy "Nurdle". 

During March 2023 Gavin (Friends of the Itchen Estuary) and Rose (Friends of Chessel Bay) visited Siva plastics factory on the shores of the tidal Itchen and outlined the problems caused by pellet loss to the wider environment.  See link to presentation.

Itchen Plastics Problem Presentation by Dr Malcolm Hudson

Siva meeting presentation.


In the winter months, the mudflats are sometimes dug up by bait diggers searching for ragworms.  This activity damages the site, both removing and disturbing the creatures of the mud-land. Feeding time for wading birds are greatly reduced as a result of this disturbance.

Other management issues, such as erosion of the bank and maintenance of the wooden structures, also need to be highlighted and attended to as necessary. Erosion is an increasing problem in the Bay.


What you can do to help wildlife in the Nature Reserve

Come to the litter picks - every bag of rubbish collected makes a difference.  THANK YOU to everyone who helps out at our clean-ups. Over the years, increased awareness about plastic pollution has lead to a high turn-out of volunteers willing to rid the Bay of rubbish - a stupendous effort by all, often in wet weather. Teamwork from the City Council and volunteers all pulling together makes for a successful day. If you'd like to come and give us a hand, please see local publicity.  Meet at the end of Quayside road SO18 1DP. Please wear sturdy clothing, robust foot-ware and bring your own gloves.  Under 16's need to be accompanied by a responsible adult.* 

            Community clean-ups usually take place in Spring and Autumn

Keep to the footpath to reduce disturbance & erosion- note end of access. 

Please do not disturb birds by walking along or into the mud-land. In particular, bait digging in the Nature Reserve damages the creatures living in the mud flats and disturbs visiting birds feeding up to migrate or survive the winter.

Help to warden the Nature Reserve by watching out for vandalism.

Clean up after your dog has a poo.

Please do not cycle in the Reserve. Cycling contributes to erosion of the footpath and woodland vegetation and is dangerous to other visitors.

If your child goes to Bitterne Manor Primary School take them to the viewing platform opposite the school entrance & show them the swans, ducks and egrets in the Bay. Please do not feed the birds bread. 

Friends of Chessel Bay

The 'Friends' are an informal collection of people who get together to care and protect the Bay, usually by helping with litter picks in conjunction with City Council ecologists. Please note that if you come to help, parking is limited and their are no toilets on site.  Surfers Against Sewage have joined in, conducting citizen science surveys and helping clean up the Bay - see links above.

Contact Friends of Chessel Bay email: and

Pictures below:  Friends work hard at the Spring Clean 2017. Surfers Against Sewage bag up rubbish at Citizen Science exercise at Chessel Bay March 2020.



Books, further reading & electronic resources

Southampton Schools Conservation Corps(1987) Southampton Natural History Guide ** Southampton Corporation (1992) Nature Conservation Strategy for Southampton
Southampton Wildlife Link (1993) A report on the Natural History of Chessel Bay Local Nature Reserve*
Tubbs, Colin (1999) The Ecology, Conservation & History of the Solent

The above are all out of print but copies can be seen in Southampton City local reference library.

*  This report is now available as a PDF. With kind permission of Julian Cremona, then Chairman of Southampton Wildlife Link. Many thanks to Julian and Southampton Wildlife Link team for their hard work and expertise.  The report includes species lists, illustrations and photographs.  PDF size 3MB.

   The Natural History of Chessel Bay Local Nature Reserve  

** Part of this report is also available as a PDF. The cover, frontispiece and contributors are included as well as the report on Chessel Bay and a map.  Many thanks to the Schools Conservation Corps, who are now disbanded. The report includes lists of flora (see also above) and illustrations.   PDF size 290K.

   Southampton Natural History Guide   (part)

Southampton City Council have updated their 1992 Nature Conservation Strategy. The new Biodiversity Action Plan, or BAP, is now published. You can contact the Hawthorns Urban Wildlife Centre for a paper copy.   

   Southampton Biodiversity Action Plan

Southampton City Council have produced an attractive leaflet about Chessel Bay, also available from the Hawthorns Urban Wildlife Centre.  If you would like a copy, please contact the Friends email above.




Hawthorns Urban Wildlife Centre  Southampton City Council

Natural England (includes the former English Nature)

Friends of Riverside Park Caring for one of Southampton's best loved open spaces

Tide tables 

Southampton Natural History Society

Local website: local news Bitterne Park Info

Bitterne Local History Society

Friends of Cobbett Road Library  local Library Friends group

Message in the Waves  BBC Natural History Unit film - looks at environmental challenges facing people and wildlife of Hawaiian islands.  Applies through much of the Pacific ocean and elsewhere.  Note the key issue of plastic marine pollution.

Tetrapod Zoology  highly regarded science blog - has three articles on litter picks at Chessel Bay.

Marine Conservation Society charity caring for our seas, shores and wildlife.

Surfers Against Sewage Campaigning against plastic pollution on our shores and in our seas. Citizen Science in Chessel Bay in 2018, 2019 and 2020, includes bottle pollution data, brand audit report, plastic audit report and "Southampton Nurdle Report 2020".

Nurdle Social enterprise firm using specialist kit to clear coastlines of plastic pellets. Used in Chessel Bay in 2023.


Chessel Bay Local Nature Reserve - a wilderness in a City.

Many thanks to all who have submitted records for this website and to all who have worked hard to care for Chessel Bay.     Website updated November 2023.

Friends of Chessel Bay logo