Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve covers the lower floodplain of the River Meon on the eastern side of Southampton Water. It is a wetland nature reserve with varied habitats including river, reedbeds and scrapes. The site was purchased by Hampshire County Council in 1972 and expanded later in the 20th century; it now extends from Titchfield Village south to the shore. Barry Duffin was warden there for many years and came to talk to Lymington & District Naturalists’ Society about the creation and management of the reserve and the wildlife that now uses it.
The reedbeds are good for both wintering birds such as Snipe and Water Rail and also for summer migrants which use the beds for nesting. The Reed Warbler, a small summer migrant which constructs its nest halfway up the reed stems, is the most numerous nesting bird at the reserve. Unfortunately for the Reed Warbler its nest can sometimes be used by a female Cuckoo which lays a single egg then abandons it to be incubated and the chick subsequently raised by the Reed Warbler pair.
Otters now live on the Meon and are now regular visitors to the reserve being caught on cameras usually at night. In previous years the presence of Mink along the river was a problem as they predated many of the Coot and Moorhen chicks and ducklings as well as Water Voles. However both the reserve and adjacent landowners made concerted efforts to eradicate them and together with the return of Otters this has resulted in no Mink being detected for the last two years. Water Voles have now been reintroduced and are breeding successfully.
In winter the meadows adjacent to the river are a valuable feeding resource for the wintering waders and wildfowl such as Wigeon, Lapwing and Black-tailed Godwit; the reserve holds internationally important numbers of the latter. A traditional method of water meadow management has been reinstated: in freezing weather when birds would be prevented from feeding water is allowed to run gently over the meadow thus raising the temperature of the soil and preventing the formation of ice.
Scrapes are shallow depressions with gently sloping edges which hold water and remain damp for much of the year. They support a wide variety of invertebrates and can provide important feeding areas for breeding wading birds and their chicks. The large scrapes at Titchfield Haven provide nesting areas for over 1000 Black-headed Gulls. They are an ideal roosting site for waders when the tide is high and the sea-shore is inaccessible.
The reserve is very reliant on volunteers, of whom there are over 80, for the management of the site, for wardening and for running the information centre. Volunteers also run an autumn bird-ringing programme under BTO regulations which frequently catches rare visitors from eastern Europe and Asia.