Hook-with-Warsash comprises wetland and grazed pasture LNR, wooded valley, common and parkland, and adjoining farmland and paddocks and is bordered by Southampton Water to the south and the River Hamble to the west. The area is criss-crossed by numerous public footpaths which are heavily used by walkers and cyclists, much of it falls under the management of Hampshire County Council and unfortunately the pressures from local council under-funding are beginning to show. Free parking is available at various points of access.
The area is located south of Warsash and is accessed by either walking south along the Solent Way coastal path from Warsash, or by taking Newtown Road and using the limited parking in Hook Park Road just south east of where the road crosses Hook Lake reedbed. Further parking is also available at the end of Hook Park Road (before it turns into a bumpy track) at the western end of Workman’s Lane, or Cowes Lane to access the eastern end of Hook Links.
Hook Spit is fenced in spring to limit canine interference with the irregularly breeding Ringed Plovers. Cold weather usually brings an increase in wildfowl numbers and sawbills also occur (even two redhead Smew one icy morning on 3rd December 2010!) and Snow Buntings have occurred here in the past.
Much of Hook Lake has now deteriorated to thick reedbed with the reeds spreading through pasture (known locally as Ford’s Field) to a small scrape with limited viewing from the seawall. However the scrape can attract several wader species in autumn and in winter is frequented by wildfowl. The reedbed regularly holds small numbers of dispersed over-wintering Bearded Tits and, now less than annual, Bittern. Water Rail appear to be resident and probably breed most years, Spotted Crake have visited in the past. Inter-tidal mud between Hook Spit and Warsash can hold good numbers of winter waders and wildfowl, particularly Brent Geese and Wigeon which also graze Ford’s Field at high water. Cetti’s Warblers breed in the scrub around the reedbed and numerous Reed Warblers can be heard in spring/summer with perhaps one or two Sedge Warblers.
To the south of Hook Lake is Hook links (so named after its previous usage as a nine-hole golf course) running south-east from Hook Spit to Chilling sub-station (actually the under-water tunnel entrance to the now-redundant Fawley Power Station) and comprising pasture, scrape, meandering ditches (the meander pools) and large patches of gorse and scrub, viewable from the Solent Way. One or two pairs of Dartford Warblers breed in most years and the scrape was the first breeding site in Hampshire by Avocet back in 2002 but have only been occasional breeders since. Spring migrants, including irregular Garganey, are attracted to the area but it is better known for autumn migrants with good numbers of chats, Yellow Wagtails and other passerines including almost annual Wryneck; a Red-backed Shrike was recorded here in 2001, Red-breasted Goose and Crane in 2011, Brown Shrike in 2013, Siberian Stonechat in 2015 and Great White Egret in 2016. Autumn wader passage is dependent on scrape water levels but on occasion attracts Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Wood Sandpiper and Spotted Redshank as well as less scarce species such as Common and Green Sandpipers and Little Ringed Plovers. Grey Phalaropes are occasional visitors too after stormy weather and in 1999 both Grey and Red-necked Phalaropes graced the site together. Other notable visitors include Red Kite, Osprey, Marsh Harrier, Short-eared Owl and Raven.
Offshore in the appropriate season, Southampton Water attracts divers (particularly Great Northern) and grebes, auks and occasional skuas, scarcer terns and in stormy conditions storm-petrels, with records of Leach’s Petrel in both 2009 and 2010 and Storm Petrel in 2017.
Accessed from Hook Park Road, south and north of Workman’s Lane is good habitat for passerine migrants along the various fence lines and hedgerows, the area to the north of Beam Cottage usually being the most attractive to Redstart, Whinchat, Stonechat (which also breed here), Wheatear and Tree Pipit and scarcer birds such as Great Grey Shrike have occurred. Yellow Wagtails are attracted by livestock stirring up insects for them to feed upon, so look out for the cows! Spotted Flycatcher is regular in autumn and Pied Flycatcher has appeared on a few occasions. North and south of the Lane can be good for visible migration with numbers of finches, larks and pipits putting in an appearance in the right conditions. Little Owl is resident in the area and is best looked for in early spring, notably in the tree lines running south-west from Workman’s Lane. Brent Geese graze the fields south of the Lane, usually in late winter and raptors often use the pylons as observation towers. A flyover Glossy Ibis was here in February 2012. Arable farming activity recently ceased on the north side of the lane and unfortunately there are no longer weedy fields and much has become a grass monoculture for the horses which now graze there for several months of the year.
Hook Valley/Hook Park/Warsash Common
Access points include Church Road, Warsash or Hook Park Road, or the south end of Fleet End Road for Warsash Common and twenty years ago would have been a regular site for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, sadly this is no longer the case. However Firecrests are now regularly observed here as well as common woodland birds and autumn migrants such as Redstart and Spotted Flycatcher. In winter occasional flocks of Siskins with perhaps a few Redpolls can be found. Note, it is a very popular dog-walking area!
Words by Bob Marchant
Hampshire County Council – Hook-with-Warsash LNR