Langstone Harbour

Found between Hayling Island and Portsmouth, Langstone Harbour is a large tidal bay and the centre of three linked harbours on Hampshire's south east coast. Charlotte Tomlinson-White unearths some interesting facts about the area

Found between Hayling Island and Portsmouth, Langstone Harbour is a large tidal bay and the centre of three linked harbours on Hampshire's south east coast. Charlotte Tomlinson-White unearths some interesting facts about the area

Locked up

Floating prisons, known as Prison hulks, were moored in Langstone Harbour back in the day. Utilising ships which were too worn out to use in combat, these hulks were conveniently located in harbours with convicts awaiting extradition to Australia and other penal colonies. Conditions aboard prison hulks were said to be appalling, with overcrowding and disease rife. Prison hulks were very popular with the British Government during the 18th century but decommissioned by the mid 19th century. Rather interestingly, the practice was brought back recently with HMP Weare operating as a prison hulk in Portland, Dorset, to relieve overcrowding in the UK prison system.

Nature, nature, everywhere

Did you know Langstone Harbour contains four nature reserves? Farlington Marshes Local Nature Reserve, managed by the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, lies in the north-west of the Harbour. With habitats of grazing marsh, freshwater and scrub, Farlington is the best place for bird watching in the Harbour. In the north and central area sits the RSPB Nature Reserve comprising of intertidal mudflats, saltmarsh and islands. The Kench Local Nature Reserve lies in the south of the Harbour. This area of intertidal mudflats, saltmarsh and shingle is administered by Hampshire County Council. Finally, Havant Borough Council designated the old oysterbeds, surrounding grasslands and scrub at West Hayling a local nature reserve.

Take a hike

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Langstone Harbour is almost unique in having a level footpath around most of its 14 mile shoreline. Using the ferry to cross the entrance, the Harbour can be circled in just over four hours if walking at pace, however if you want to take things a little easier, it can also provide a more leisurely day’s walk. There are numerous car parks plus public transport that run along route allowing the shoreline to be walked in stages. The walk provides an excellent opportunity to do a spot of wildlife watching and there are many pubs along the way to stop and refuel.

All about the aggregate

Did you know that each year over half a million tonnes of marine aggregates are imported through the two commercial wharves at Langstone Harbour? Sea-dredged aggregates, comprising of sand and stones (shingle), are ‘hoovered’ off the sea bed in tightly controlled areas of the Eastern Solent and then cleaned and graded according to type and size – for example building sand. It is then discharged either by a grab on a shore crane or with the vessel’s own self-discharging system, where the material is put ashore over a conveyor belt – a process that typically takes between an hour and a half and three hours. There are about 300 vessels who currently deliver aggregates.

Dodgy goings on

The secluded coastline between Langstone and Chichester Harbour provided smugglers with ample opportunity to make inconspicuous landings. Strong tidal currents running through the narrow harbour entrances were ideal for floating tubs of spirits while the soft subsoil of South Hayling was perfect for excavating huge storage depots for banned goods. In a bid to avoid taxes, contraband included alcohol, tobacco, tea, and even Roman Catholic priests following The Reformation. The villages of Langstone and Milton were said to be popular haunts of the smugglers and the locals would tell stories of their escapades.

Something special

Langstone Harbour has many accolades. Not only has it been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, it’s also a Special Protection Area (SPA). The area is recognised as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance as well as part of the Solent European Marine Site, plus a candidate Special Area of Conservation (cSAC). Such importance is placed on the Harbour because of its highly organic mud, undisturbed havens and unique plantlife to name a few – supporting thousands of birds, invertebrate and fish. In fact, the habitats and birds of the Harbour are protected in both national and international law.

To serve and protect

Langstone Harbour has taken on several military roles throughout history. During World War II the Harbour, along with Hayling Island, were successfully used as bomb decoys, luring the enemy away from Portsmouth and mimicking Portsea Island. Sections of the artificial Mulberry Harbour (pictured), which played a vital part in the D-Day landings, were towed through Langstone Harbour on their way to France. One of the concrete caissons developed a fatal crack and was eventually abandoned on a sandbank in Langstone Harbour. Causing disruption to shipping traffic, it was refloated

New addition

Three thousand years ago Langstone Harbour didn't exist; the area was simply marshy wetland with a series of river channels running through it where people would bury their dead, collect flint, and hunt. The Harbour has also changed shape over the years. The sea-levels were much lower during the last ice age, and the English Channel was non-existent, but as the ice sheets and glaciers melted, the sea level slowly rose flooding the Solent. Various areas, for example Milton Common and Farlington Marshes, have been reclaimed from the Harbour by 'in-filling' and man-made barriers but as the sea-levels continue to rise the area continues to evolve.

Mud, mud, glorious mud

To the uneducated eye, Langstone Harbour looks like a muddy wasteland surrounded by a few scrappy marshes – nothing special you would think. The Langstone Harbour Board, together with the help of other conservation bodies such as RSPB and Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, are working hard to educate others, ensure appreciation and protect one of the finest natural areas in southern England. Environmental events, guided walks, talks and fun-days are held regularly to promote awareness, plus the Portsmouth Watersport Centre runs educational classes as well – and has introduced many school children to the delights of Langstone Harbour mud.

Fascinating finds

Did you know that a 1,500 year old logboat was discovered in the mudflats of Langstone Harbour? The boat, which was exposed by local enthusiasts searching for prehistoric flint tools, was excavated from the intertidal zone of Langstone Harbour back in September 2003. Made by Saxon ancestors who hollowed out an oak tree to form a simple wooden canoe, the boat is only the second to be discovered in the Solent region, and is currently the oldest watercraft remains from the area. It has taken residence at Portsmouth City Museum and will be part of a permanent display new for 2011. More recently, an archaeology student discovered a human skull in the Harbour.

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