(To skip to the South Hayling map and text click South Hayling)
The only access to Hayling Island, other than by boat or ferry, is over Langstone Bridge and we will describe the features of North Hayling starting from here. To cover the area in detail we will assume you are on foot after a brief note of the few places where you can park a car.
Car parking is possible at:-
1. The Ship Inn, Langstone, before crossing the bridge. As you drive south from Havant the carpark is the last thing on the left before the bridge - it is a free public park but gets very congested when the weather is good, and getting out again across the traffic is always a problem. If you are stuck here at least there are public loos, a good pub, and often very good bird-watching from the carpark which is on the 'quay-side'. If you do use this as a base for walking on Hayling note that you will walk more than 1 km just getting across the bridge and back.
2. Stoke Bay shore carpark (also called 'North Hayling Halt' as there was a station here for the Hayling Billy line trains). To go here drive over the bridge and straight on for 1,200 metres until you see an Esso garage on your right. Turn right just beyond the garage down a narrow road leading to the shore where you have a choice of parking on a small part of the old railway or using a carpark behind the Esso garage, both free of charge but very crowded by wind-surfers when the tide is high.
3. The only other carpark on North Hayling is the one serving the public open space behind Northney marina. To use it turn left at the southern end of the bridge. (200 metres along this road there is a roadside pull-in with space for three or four cars but it is not to be used as a long term carpark). Continue along this road round two very sharp bends, then past a row of houses on your left. There is a break in this row of houses where a small stream flows across under the road and the carpark is on your left immediately beyond this stream, entered under a height barrier. There are no other parking places in North Hayling.
Wildlife features and public paths are as follows:-
1. Hayling Coastal Path (the old Hayling Billy rail track)
Until the line was closed in the 1960s it joined Havant station to West Town station in South Hayling, crossing the main road at Langstone (where there was a level crossing) and going over the water by a bridge whose footings you can still see just west of the road bridge, then running south along the west shore of Hayling without crossing any further roads. The whole length of the line, other than the bridge and a short section of railway land where it reached Havant station, is now a public path with the mainland section owned by Havant Borough and known as the Hayling Billy Leisure Trail and the Hayling section owned by the County Council and called the Hayling Coastal Path.
From the south end of the road bridge you reach the old rail line by keeping close to the shore, first along a crumbling section of the old main road, then along a new path allowing a continuous footpath, bridleway and cycle track from the road bridge to West Town station. In North Hayling the path gives access to the Oysterbeds on the seaward side, and on the landward side to the main road by the Esso garage and to West Lane at the sharp bends where it comes close to the shore. From the path you have many good views over the harbour and pass fields and small copses with a varied wildlife.
2. The Oysterbeds, the 'Brick Field' and Stoke Common
The oysterbeds have existed since the 19th century and until 1980 they were sheltered artificial pools surrounded by shingle banks submerged at high tide. In the 1980s, when the oyster business had ceased, Havant Borough was persuaded to allow a firm to re-start it, and the first thing they did was to dump 800,000 tonnes of builders rubble over the old shingle banks. They then asked permission to construct a building on the edge of the pools for their business, but this was refused as being unsuitable on the shore of Langstone harbour, and at this point the new firm folded (some people said that it had achieved its purpose, which was not the culture of oysters but the acquisition of a free tip for rubble). In the mid-1990s, with the rubble crumbling into and polluting the mud and water of the harbour (as well as being unsightly and dangerous) Havant Borough negotiated a new contract with another firm who took the major part of the rubble to grind down into small pieces suitable for road-building material, and Havant Borough then carried out works to give more public access and tidy up the area for which the engineer in charge has won an award for 'best conservation engineering project'.
We now have the original outline of the oysterbeds delimited by low banks covered at the highest tides and composed of the original shingle plus some left overs of rubble that were not good enough for the road material. In the interests of wildlife (mainly birds roosting or nesting on the bunds, and feeding in the relatively sheltered water) and 'public safety' the landward ends of all the bunds have been removed and the outerbunds have thus been greatly improved as wildlife habitat - the birds now have a chance of using them rather than being driven off by bird-watchers, fishermen and dog-walkers. The majority of the pools now fill and empty with the tide but the two southern pools (nearest the carpark) have a weir that retains water in them at all times, and this has resulted in several birds nesting successfully on the central bar which separates them (Little Tern, Ringed Plover and Oystercatcher have all raised young on what was previously a prime dog-walking path)
Access to the area has been much improved by the creation of a path following the whole of the landward side of the pools and connecting with the coastal path at both north and south ends (previously there were no steps to enable access at the north end and the way in was barred by a fence which you had to climb). The mound of unwanted soil and grit left after the grinding of concrete blocks into road material has also been made into a useful feature as a smooth mound left with a thin covering of topsoil to grow its own natural vegetation. This mound provides a good viewing area for the pools and the harbour.
Between the oysterbeds and the coastal path are two substantial land areas. To the north is an enclosed 'meadow' which is owned by the County Council but which is not managed by the Countryside Service (don't blame the Rangers for its crop of Ragwort!). South of this is an even larger area of grass, brambles and some trees which was in the past a landfill site (rubbish tip).
The 'Brick Field' is still in private ownership with no public access. It is low-lying having had its top layer of clay removed make high quality bricks, and attracts Egrets and Green Sandpiper to areas which have been or are flooded, while Stonchats and Whitethroats can be seen in the bushes scattered around the higher southern end.
Stoke Common is also private land mostly covered by a good oak copse with blackthorn scrub separating it from the coastal path and with a small area of unimproved grass at the southern end.
All the land to the west of the coastal path as far south as the path connecting it to the West Lane bends is already owned by either the County Council or Havant Borough, as is some land just east of it - in particular the unimproved meadow immediately north of the path to West Lane (this is familiarly known as the 'Hoopoe field' as it has been visited by these birds in several years, and once it had a short stay Sub-Alpine Warbler and a passing Golden Oriole). There is a serious proposal to designate the whole of this area (from the southern end of the old rail bridge down to the West Lane bends) as a Local Nature Reserve, and a management plan has been prepared, but the proposal now awaits a source of funds for its management and also (if it is to cover the whole area proposed) the acquisition of some land which is still in private ownership.
3. Stoke Bay
In the past this was part of the Victorian oysterbeds and the shingle bar stretching across much of the mouth of the bay represents what the Oysterbed bunds would have looked like had they not been built up with rubble. The sheltered seabed within the bar has not suffered the pollution by rubble and grit which the other pools have endured and the much larger number of birds which chose to feed there when the tide is out is a good indication of the damage caused to the rest of the area by the rubble. You will also see that as the tide comes in the waders often roost in large numbers on the bar (particularly at its north end) and my interpretation of their preference for that place rather than the other bund walls is simply that it is the only part of the bund walls which has not been constantly walked in recent years (there may well also be an element of the birds preferring the increased camouflage offered by the weed covered shingle rather than the exposed background of concrete blocks).
Stoke Bay is by no means free of human activity - it is a mecca for windsurfers and at windy winter high tides the bay is full of them but they keep a goo distance from the roosting waders and do not seem to cause disturbance to the birds.
4. Knotts Marsh and the 'Hoopoe Field'
South of Stoke Bay the shingle forms a triangle between the sea and the coastal path, and this area is shown on large scale maps (not normal OS maps) as Knotts Marsh. Inland of the coastal path at this point is an oak copse in which Turtle Doves can be seen throughout most summers, and behind the trees is the Westcroft Riding Stables from which the riders ofter seen along the coastal path emerge - the stables natural add to the food supply for birds. South of this copse an unimproved meadow runs along the east of the coastal path, mainly separated from it by blackthorn and gorse but open to view at one point where a pool of standing water (almost a pond) persists through most of the year. The field is known locally as the 'Hoopoe Field' on account of several visits by these birds over recent years, and other unusual species turn up there. Although the meadow (owned by the County Countcil Countryside Service) is still let for grazing it has more Dyers Greenweed than grass growing in it and a few Green Winged orchids can be found there.
If you turn left after coming south over Langstone Bridge the road takes you to Northney village. For the first 400 metres the road follows the tide line and is subject to flooding at the highest tides (proposals to build a seawall to prevent this have been rejected as being out of keeping with the natural shoreline and because a small stretch of good quality saltings would be lost under the wall). One result of having an open shoreline here is that cars can pull in at one point and enjoy the view north to Langstone and Warblington, and if you get out of your car you can wander among Sea Lavender, etc in the summer or enjoy close views of waders roosting along the outer edge of the salting (or feeding close to it) in the winter.
This pull in spot is where the 'Wadeway' from Havant comes ashore (until around 1820 this was the only route to Hayling and followed the 'watershed' between Langstone and Chichester Harbours, allowing dryshod access from the Royal Oak at Langstone during low tide. After that time the route was broken by the digging of the 'New Cut' that was an essential link in the Portsmouth to London canal route created at that time (presumably the first bridge was built at the same time).
From this pull-in you can also walk south over a network of footpaths marked on the map. Around Bridge Farm there are trees and high hedges. The path continuing south from Bridge Farm goes first through pony fields, then through a housing estate before taking you west to Stoke Bay and the Oysterbeds. If you turn east at Bridge Farm you walk around the perimeter of the open hedgeless plain of the North Hayling fields where large flocks of Brent, Curlew, Lapwing or Golden Plover can sometimes be seen. The southern part of this plain, around Northwood Farm, again brings you to hedges and trees and Barn Owls have been seen here in the past.
If you continue east from the bridge into the hotel and marina complex you will not be prevented from walking the shore line until stopped by the mouth of the marina. From this shore you get good views over the 'Northney saltings' which are only covered by the highest tides and which have substantial numbers and variety of shorebirds both roosting and feeding round the edges, with Merganser and Goldeneye fishing in the New Cut close to you if you are lucky in the winter.
The Northney Open Space, south of the marina, is mainly land acquired after the demise of the Northney Holiday Camp which was at the east end of this area. Planning permission was given to develop 6 acres of the original land for new housing, the remaining 30 acres or so becoming 'public open space'. The only formal access to this land is from the carpark shown on the map but there is an informal path leading west along the shore which connects to a southern perimeter road (presumably a 'fire road' not in normal use) of the hotel and there is nothing to prevent people using this on foot. If you enter from the carpark and turn left at the shore you will find an area of Hawthorn scrub and marshy grassland (close cropped by many rabbits) in which some interesting plants can be found ranging from a large stand of Wood Small Reed (Calamagrostis epigejos) to the largest colony of Lesser Centaury which I know of. If you go straight ahead along the west bank of the marina area you will have a muddy basin on your right which was once a 'boating lake' for the holiday camp, but the sea has long ago broken through to claim it for the harbour. Many Teal , Shelduck and waders feed in this sheltered 'bay' and a substantial roost (mainly of Redshank) occurs on the inside of the north eastern wall. If you turn right a path takes you along the south end of the old boating lake, then round another bay onto an area of grassland which is quite good for butterflies and I have found a marvellous colony of Grass Vetchling (Lathyrus nissolia) here as well as much Strawberry Clover. One speciality here that could be overlooked is the large colony of white flowered Goats Rue to be found in the 'valley' south of the path taking you west and east of the path coming from the carpark - nowadays you have to find a way through a great forest of Teasels to find the plants, but it is well worth the effort.
South of the road into Northney, from opposite the entrance to the carpark until the road turns south, is a large meadow with two large tree circles in it. These trees house a large rookery and also provide homes for both Tawny and Little Owls (both seen here regularly in the 1998 breeding season). Following the road south through the village you come to St Peter's church (you are discouraged from using its carpark or that of the village hall a little further south) and opposite it Church Lane leads west into the fields of Northney Marsh. Although not indicated on the OS Maps there is now a permissive path continuing from Church Lane to the seawall, going south for a short distance and returning along St Peter's Avenue. You are unlikely to see anything spectacular on this path but it is well worth taking as a very peaceful contrast to the bustle of South Hayling in the summer. The shoreline fields have not been improved, and are classified as an SSSI mainly on account of the rarity of such coastal meadows, and this north east corner of Hayling is also included in the Chichester Harbour protected area. I hope anyone who walks here will share my view that it would be a very great loss if a 'round the island path' were ever created to bring the human activity of the west and south shores of the island into this haven of peace.
Continuing south there is nothing to be gained by going down the dead end of Gutner Lane, but it is well worth going down Woodgason Lane on foot as you can get onto the north shore of the Mill Rythe area opposite Verner Common and can make an interesting circular walk described in the South Hayling section. If instead of turning down Woodgason Lane you continue down Copse Lane past Upper Tye Farm you can then take to the fields by a path heading to Northwood Farm (already described).