East Head is the sand dune spit situated at the eastern side of the entrance to Chichester Harbour. It is a stunning example of a natural and dynamic coastal feature which is of great interest to environmentalists and ecologists because of its fragile nature. It is an SSSI (site of special scientific interest) and a Ramsar site (a wetland site of international importance).
East Head is approached from the far western end of the West Wittering beach car park and has been managed by The National Trust since 1966 when it was gifted to the Trust by the West Wittering Estate, via the West Sussex County Council. Throughout this time volunteer wardens and student placements have played a valuable role in managing the feature and today it has the services of a full time warden, who is a National Trust employee sponsored by West Wittering Estate Plc.
The sand dune spit is about 1000 metres long and 400 metres wide at the widest point and covers about 10 hectares. It is joined to the mainland by a very narrow strip at the car park end which is known as the 'hinge'. The sea broke through at this point in October 2004 but the effect of the breach is being mitigated by the sand & shingle recharge which was positioned in 2005 and 2009. The beach on the western (seaward) side is mostly of fine sand with shingle at the northern end and East Head has been formed from this sand washed along the coast from east to west by a process known as longshore drift. The sand is deposited on the shallow area on the seaward side of the feature which at times of low tides can be dried and blown by the wind onto the shore to form the dunes, which over time become stabilised by plants such as the marram grass. The chestnut paling fences which you can see there assist this process and also help to prevent people, and especially children, from damaging the fragile dunes.
On the seaward side an extensive area of sand, mud and shingle amounting to about 100 hectares and known as the Winner is exposed at low tide. On the landward side an area of 30 hectares of salt marsh has been formed between East Head and the mainland. The sand dunes and the salt marsh are rare habitats that are home to a wide range of specialised coastal flora and fauna. East Head is also a popular site for bird watchers especially during the winter months when the whole area is teeming with over-wintering East Head, West Wittering migrants.
Uncluttered by coastal defences, East Head's natural sandy beaches are a precious 'wild' resource treasured by many. Situated in the heart of the predominantly defended coastline of the South East, East Head is a unique example of a natural and dynamic coastal feature. It is a feature prone to constant daily change resulting from the influences of the wind direction and strength, the height of the tides and the resulting effect of the waves.
In its management of East Head the National Trust seeks to improve the conservation value and to promote the quiet enjoyment of this very delicate and important property by the public. The Trust regards the provision of information for visitors and educational establishments as a high priority.
More information on the National Trust can be found on their website: www.nationaltrust.org.uk and further information about East Head is contained in an excellent little booklet available from the Chichester Harbour Conservancy office at Itchenor entitled 'East Head' details of which are available on their website: www.conservancy.co.uk