A saltmarsh site, notable for wading birds and rare flora, within Christchurch Harbour SSSI.
Stanpit Marsh is situated on the north side of Christchurch Harbour, just below the confluence of the rivers Avon and Stour. The 65 hectare site has an unusual combination of habitats including salt marsh with creeks and salt pans, reed beds, freshwater marsh, gravel estuarine banks and sandy scrub. It was designated as a Local Nature Reserve in 1964 and in 1986 as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The Marsh is home to over 300 species of plants, 14 of which are nationally rare and endangered.
Stanpit Marsh has a 7000 year history of human activity. In 1969 excavations on the eastern shore of Mother Siller's channel revealed artefacts left by Mesolithic coastal wanderers (3000 BC). As well as flint fragments, traces of Purbeck Limestone and stone from Portland were found (evidence of human movements across Dorset. At that time, the sea level was lower than today so there are likely to be more Neolithic remains now under water.
By the early Bronze Age, technology was more advanced as indicated by the 2000 year old artefacts found, including a well preserved skull (now in the Red House Museum). After the iron age, material evidence of human activities is scarce. It is likely that, thereafter, people did not stay here for lengthy periods of time and consequently did not leave many artefacts. However, one may presume that hunting activities continued.
The Doomsday book entry for Stanpit village (1086) reveals that Stanpit was once known as 'Stanpeta' (meaning 2 estates with meadows). More recently, in the late 18th Century, Stanpit Marsh was notorious for smugglers. Contraband was landed at Mudeford Quay, brought across the harbour and up the narrow channels that still criss - cross the marsh to this day. Mother Siller's channel used to stretch as far as the Ship in Distress, providing a quick and easy route through which goods could be landed and left in the care of Hannah Siller, the 'protecting angel' of smugglers. The climax of smuggling was the occasion of the locally famous battle of Mudeford on the 15th July 1784. Today the scout hut on Stanpit Recreation Ground is named 'Orestes' in memory of the customs 'lugger' sent to confront the smugglers.
100 years ago in the 19th century, agriculture dominated the marsh, as well as turf cutting for use as fuel, parts of the Marsh were kept relatively well drained. At one time Priory marsh was dry enough for Christchurch and Mudeford Cricket Club to play its first season there. A painting of this event now hangs at Lords cricket ground.
From the Victorian times up until the 1960s a great proportion of the marsh was regrettably lost. Both the golf course and recreation ground were formerly marsh. Today the marsh is very popular with dog walkers, fishermen, bird watchers, joggers and amateur naturalists.
A visitor caravan has been located on the site for the last twenty years and is now reaching the end of a very useful life. Approved plans are now in place for a purpose built visitor centre on the site and construction is planned to start during autumn 2005.
The diversity of plants supports a strong community of wildlife: invertebrate fauna includes a great number of butterflies and dragonflies and there have been 313 bird species recorded, some of which breed on Stanpit but most arrive with the spring or autumn migration. For more information about the birds present on Stanpit Marsh and the best places from which to view them please visit the excellent Christchurch Harbour Ornithological Group (CHOG) Web page.
Following the construction of several artificial ponds on the area of Stanpit Marsh known as Crouch Hill, thousands of Natterjack toad spawn were transferred from Hengistbury Head in each Spring from 2001-2004. After monitoring their development from spawn to tadpole and then from tadpole to toadlet, thousands of individual toadlets were moved from the ponds by the Stanpit Marsh Warden to various locations across the marsh. It had always been hoped that this programme would allow a self sustaining population of this nationally rare species to develop at Stanpit and in May 2005, the first natural breeding success was recorded.