Although mention of the Sussex coast might conjure up images of seaside resorts – Brighton, Bognor Regis, and Eastbourne to name just a few – there are also plenty of rich opportunities to view the region’s wildlife. One location that should not be skipped by walkers and nature lovers is the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve. This 465 hectare site, voted Britain’s best-loved nature reserve in one 2016 poll, is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. It is also a Special Protection Area for birds and a Special Area of Conservation. Countryside and shoreline meet here with miles of peaceful walking trails and some stunning views.
The reserve’s bird population is its primary draw. Birdwatchers come from near and far in the hope of spotting bitterns, terns, marsh harriers, and more. At the time of writing, more than 280 different bird species have been recorded within the boundaries of the reserve. Of these, at least 90 species have nested here. Five hides are available for use, and all are wheelchair accessible. The Sussex Wildlife Trust, which manages the site, organizes regular workshops and events for those wishing to learn more about the feathered residents.Also within the reserve is Camber Castle. Henry VIII constructed many fine castles along this part of the coast, and this one sports a similar round Tudor Rose design to Deal Castle, further along the coast in Kent. Camber Castle is only open to the public a few days a year. Nearby is Castle Water. The former gravel pit has found new life as a wetlands conservation site.
Beyond the wetlands and the reclaimed saltmarshes lies the beach. The shingle extends for about 2.5 miles (4 km), from the mouth of the River Rother, which separates the reserve from Camber Sands, all the way to Winchelsea Beach.
An extensive network of footpaths crisscrosses the reserve. Dogs and cyclists are welcome, but should take care, particularly near grazing livestock and nesting birds.
The harbour is 2 miles (3.2 km) south of Rye’s town center. Free parking and public toilets are at Rye Harbour, just a short walk from the reserve. Stop for a bite and a drink at The Bosun’s Bite or The William the Conqueror.