Oyster fishing has been practiced in a number of locations on the shores of Hayling Island since Roman times.
The Oyster bed site at the north west of Hayling Island was developed in 1863 by the South of England Oyster Company, on re-claimed mud land created in the construction of Hayling Branch line by the Hayling Railway Company. More on this can be found here.
When the Hayling Branch line was completed, Oysters were transported by rail between the Hayling beds and Whitstable, Kent. More can be found here.
The Victorian development comprised a series of lagoons, formed by embankments of London Clay enclosing parts of the intertidal area, topped by chalk, shingle and brickearth. Seaward the embankments were reinforced with timber palisades. The lagoons were filled by tidal overtopping of the embankments, with outflow regulated by sluices and wind pumps.
Following the First World War pollution and disease forced the closure of the fishery, and the site fell into dereliction. Being in deep water, the embankments eroded, the sluice gates collapsed and, by 1963 when the railway line was closed and the Urban District Council purchased the area for refuse disposal and highway purposes, the Victorian embankments consisted of little more than strips of shingle snaking across the tidal mud flats of the Harbour.
Developments post 1963
Council use to 1974
Two areas of marshland to the west of the former railway line were reclaimed with domestic refuse in the period to 1969, tipping then being abandoned. In 1974, when the Urban District Council lost its status as the Highway Authority and Havant Borough Council was formed, the route of the former railway, held for highway purposes, was transferred to Hampshire County Council. The adjacent reclaimed land and mud flats (including the former Oyster beds) remained in Borough Council ownership.
Commercial proposal 1980-87
The Oysterbeds remained untouched until 1980 when a private company wishing to reintroduce the shellfish farming industry approached the Borough Council. Planning permission was given to reinstate the Victorian embankments, construction commenced in 1981 and placed new material (derived from building rubble) directly on top of the eroded shingle embankments. Drainage between the various lagoons was now to be achieved by including 600mm diameter steel pipes, with control structures at each end, into the new embankments. A total of 100,000 tonnes of material was imported until in 1982, rather belatedly, it was realised that the Planning Consent had erroneously quoted the permitted level as being 5 m above Ordnance Datum. It had been intended that the banks should have been at a level approximating to high tide (+5m above Chart Datum). The banks were thus some 2.7 m above the anticipated level.
After a period of claim and counterclaim the operating company ceased trading in 1987, before finishing works such as the placement of protective shingle to the seaward face of the embankments, and the placing of topsoil to landscape the site, had been completed, thus leaving the site overall in breach of the Planning Consent. The Borough Council as landowner was left with a dangerous legacy. Access by the public had became unrestricted for recreational use in the intervening years; however the new material, which had only been end tipped from lorries, consisted of an apparently firm crust that could overlie voids between large masonry blocks and was thus inherently unstable. Reinforcing rods and other metal waste contained in the rubble represented a hazard. Exposed to wind and wave action, the embankments eroded and quickly grew to present a very real danger to any members of the public walking upon them.
The sluices and flaps on the pipes that passed through the embankments were stolen and sold for scrap, giving rise to spectacular but deadly whirlpools as tides flowed and ebbed around the lagoon complex. The Council tried to control the risk to the public by erecting fencing and signs, but these were repeatedly vandalised.
More information can be found here WEST HAYLING LOCAL NATURE RESERVES