Hamble Common, near Southampton
Hamble Common is 55 acres of coastal heath of special scientific interest managed by the Countryside Service of Eastleigh Borough Council. Much of this area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of its wide range of habitats.By following the way marked trail the visitor can discover heathland, woodland, meadow, salt-marsh, mudflats and a shingle beach. Along the shore are the remains of Iron-age settlements, a Tudor castle and a Napoleonic gun battery. Together with the second world-war gun, these provide clues to the fascinating history of the common, which is also a scheduled Ancient Monument
.Bell heather and purple moor-grass cover much of the common, with occasional patches of gorse providing ideal nest sites for stonechats and linnets. This coastal heathland is now very rare in Hampshire, so the fenced areas are grazed to stop bushes and bracken from spreading over the whole common. On the pond, the tall reeds provide cover for nesting moorhens and mallard ducks. At low tide you may see wading birds such as oystercatchers, turnstones and ringed plovers feeding on shellfish and worms from the mud. Brent geese spend the winter here before returning to the Arctic to breed.
Redshanks and herons can often be seen on the mudflats of the creek. At high tide birds rest on the surrounding salt-marshes which are covered in sea lavender.
Rhododendrons and other ornamental species were planted in this ancient oak woodland in Victorian times, when it formed part of the garden of a large house. The Great Storm of 1987 blew down nearly half the wood, but it was replanted with native trees including willow, oak and hazel. Today the copse supports a wide range of wildlife, especially birds such as nuthatches, blackcaps and sparrowhawks.
The earliest evidence of life on the common is the ditch and bank running right across the site which probably protected an iron-age settlement. Other smaller medieval earth works can also be seen. At the start of the 12th century the copse belonged to the nearby Priory of St. Andrew. In autumn and winter, pigs were allowed to feed on fallen acorns, a practice known as pannage. Timber from the copse was used for local housing and to supply the shipbuilding industry on the Hamble estuary.
Since Tudor times the common has been used to help protect Southampton Water. In 1543, King Henry Vlll had St. Andrew's Castle built here, one of several sited along the Solent to defend against possible French invasion. All that remains today are a few foundation stones exposed at low tide. During the early 19t century a gun battery was constructed on the same site, this time to fend off Napoleon's forces.To help protect Southampton and the nearby oil terminals during World War II, an anti-aircraft gun was sited near Hamble Point. This was removed after the war ended, but was replaced in 1989 by a similar Bofors gun, to indicate the site's defensive importance in times past. Today the common is much quieter, and an ideal place to walk and relax.