From Titchfield to Gosport once stretched the vast heathy wastes of the ancient manor of Crofton. Through it in a broad marsh-filled valley, the River Alver flowed south until at the sea it met a dam of shingle flung ashore by storms on this windswept coast, and was diverted eastwards to emerge into Portsmouth Harbour at Haslar. Behind the shingle its pent-up waters formed Alverstoke Marsh and a great mere known as Gomer Pond, a riot of freshwater plants-White Water-lily, Royal Fern, Bogbean and Saw-sedge.
Today only a fragment of this wetland paradise remains; in the fen north of Browndown Road still grow the aromatic Sweet Gale, Bush Grass, Saw Sedge, Purple Small- reed and Bog St. John's Wort. Cyperus Sedge has retreated up stream, but the tiny insectivorous Pale Butterwort has recently disappeared altogether, and the whole area is in danger of drying out.
To the north the Alver valley winds as far as Cherque and Rowner, a wilderness of marsh, reeds and scrub, with little side valleys full of sedges and Alder and Willow Carr, where wild Blackcurrant, Tussock Sedge and Yellow Flag all grow. These small valleys have steep gravelly sides, the heathy plateau edge marked by great spreading oaks leaning out over the marshes of the floodplains. In the east, the Wildgrounds is a strange stand of ancient twisted oaks on a former grazed common, now in the care of Gosport Borough Council.
South of Browndown Road, at Browndown Ranges, is an unusual shingle habitat, like nowhere else in southern Britain except perhaps Dungeness. Until recent years this has been used by the forces as a firing range, but now the Solent Way Coastal Path follows the shore line on the section between Lee-on-the-Solent, and Gosport.
A taste of the history of the site is given in the Solent Way Guide book by Barry Shurlock:
"Ahead is the Browndown firing range, a scene of military desolation with rusty narrow-gauge railways leading to huge shingle butts. It is an eerie landscape which has been used for military training for more than 300 years. Perhaps it is appropriate that it is the site of the last recorded duel between Englishmen, when Lt Hawkey of the Royal Marines fired at and mortally wounded Capt Seton of the 11th Dragoons to settle a matter of honour."
In more recent times Browndown has been used by the army for trials of hovercraft.
Here a series of low parallel shingle ridges, created by storms, carries a patchy cover of silty peat with Ling and Gorse and occasional stunted Oaks. Pebbles and bare peat carry a rich assortment of ground-living Cladonia lichens.
There is an unusual flora too, with Burnet Rose, Slender-flowered Thistle and a plentiful population of Nottingham Catchfly with its delicate drooping white flowers. The red threads of Lesser Dodder can also be found, parasitic on the Ling and producing tiny pink flowers in summer. Further along the coast, at Gilkicker Point, another area of stable shingle has different specialities, including Pale Flax, Pale Toadflax, Sheepsbit, Carline Thistle and the annual Hare's-tail Grass. These are absent at Browndown, for each of these fragile coastal habitats differs in some way from the others. Gilkicker is also a good place to find rare and uncommon coastal sedges; Distant Sedge, Dotted Sedge, Long-bracted Sedge and Divided Sedge all grow here.
Much of the south west shore of Gosport and the hinterland of the Alver Valley is therefore of very great importance as a habitat for many very uncommon plants and, in all probability, insects, and would doubtless repay further study.
- Pay and display car park adjacent to site
- Mown paths on level ground
- Access through kissing gates - not suitable for wheelchairs
- Dogs allowed, dog bins adjacent to access points
- No facilities