Dorset, England
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Fleet, Dorset, England         OS Map Grid Ref: SY603811
 The County of Dorset
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The remarkable Fleet is an eight mile long body of brackish water on the West Dorset coast which is cut of from the sea to the south-west by the smooth scythe-like arc of the equaly remarkable shingle bar known as Chesil Beach. Its north-east boundary is much more irregular and the only connection between this shallow lagoon and the sea is into Portland Harbour at its eastern end beneath the 'Isle' of Portland.

 Chesil Beach and the Fleet

At eight miles, the Fleet is a long body of water but it is very narrow. 810 metres (2,700 feet) at its widest, the Fleet is only 63 metres (210 feet) wide at its narrowest. It is also comparatively shallow, only some 4.5metres (15 feet) at its deepest points and frequnetly half that depth. It is connected to Portland Harbour, and thus the tidal sea, by the Small Mouth, a channel only 90 metres (300 feet) wide.

The narrowness of Small Mouth limits the amount of salt-laden sea water which can enter or leave the Fleet during the twice daily cycle of the tides. The salinity of the Fleet is thus restircted and, although it is brackish everywhere, the influx of fresh water causes the salinity to decrease steadily westwards towards Abbotsbury.

It is this gradation of the salinity of the water from east to west which is followed by salt and fresh water marshes providing this small area with the varied ecology which makes it both famous and important as a nature reserve and is a grade I Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

There is some controversey about the extent of Chesil Beach to the west but it is universally recognized as an entity between West Bexington and 'Isle' of Portland, it is spectacularly defined for eight miles at its eastern end where it is seperated from the mainland by the Fleet.

Legend has it that Chesil Beach was created in the space of a single long night by a mighty storm, the likes of which has not been witnessed since. The sea threw up the shingle bar so fast that it trapped a portion of itself behind it, the Fleet, and lost the Isle of Portland.

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It is the gradation of the salinity of the water from east to west which is followed by salt and fresh water marshes providing this small area with the varied ecology which makes it both famous and important as a nature reserve and is a grade I Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

The smooth arched contour of Chesil Beach, the shingles of which are inhabited by groups of hardy plant colonists such as sea campion, sea holly, sea kale (a relative of the edible variety) and the yellow-horned poppy - typical shingle species. The Fleet has its own collection of plants and contains vast beds of reeds and eelgrass. The eelgrass serves as food for large numbers of waterfowl which have made this stretch of water famous.

Over a hundred species of plants have been identified in the area including Chesil Beach - a remarkable number when one considers the harness of this exposed maritime environment. The waters of the Fleet support over twenty species of fish while about 150 species of birds have been recorded in the area.

It is the wildfowl and waders of the area which are of particular interest; the ducks and geese feed on the large beds of eelgrass, the waders on the invertibrate animals of the water.

At Abbotsbury, near the northern extremity of the Fleet is Abbotsbury Swannery with its herd of Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) kept down to about 800 pairs by the Swanherd, a remainder of the Middle Ages when swanswere regularly served at banquets. This herd of Mute Swans is probably the second largest in Europe.


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The western part of the Dorset coast has always been hazardous to shipping since the first nautical records were kept. During the days of sailing ships, the huge arch of shingle which is Chesil Beach and the Isle of Portland were most feared by mariners; if they entered West Bay driven by a south-westerly storm they had little hope of avoiding the roaring boulders of the great beach or of rounding Portland to reach more sheltered waters beyond. The shingles of Chesil Beach have brocken up many hundreds of vessels and claimed thousands of human souls.

The sloop Ebeneezer was cast onto the crest of the shingle. Hauled into the Fleet after the storm, the Ebeneezer still floated sufficiently to allow her to be towed to Portland for repairs.

In 1824 a great storm known locally as "The Outrage" pumelled the south coast. The waves rolled over Chesil Beach and reached half a mile inland; Fleet church and village were wrecked and hundreds of bodies were left on the beach.

During the Second World War the lagoon was used for the practice runs of the Dambuster squadron.

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The South West Coast Path (formerly the Dorset Coast Path) follows the northern shore of the fleet faithfully from the northen side of Small Mouth to a point to the south-west of Langton Herring. From here it takes a more northerly course into Abbotsbury before turning south-west to join the beach again.

Below Small Mouth, near the southern extremity of the Fleet is a Visitor Centre, parking and telephone kiosk adjacent to the A354, Wyke Regis to Portland road .

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Little Tern
Small fish such as the sand eel and goby form an important part of the terns' diet. The Little Tern is locally known as the "potter" because of the way it hovers around the shoreline to pick off unsuspecting fish by plunge diving.

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At least 25 species of fish have been identified in the Fleet lagoon. The sheltered Portland Harbour contains many more species.

Bass is the most commercially important species and a small-scale fishery nets Mullet at Ferry Bridge.

The large variety of fish at Ferrybridge has attracted the attention of Weymouth's Sea Life Centre staff, who have collected specimens to display in their viewing tanks.

The young Bass enter the Fleet lagoon to feed and grow and it has been designated a Bass Nursery Area.

The gobies form an important part of the diet of the local terns.

(Mugil capito)
A small-scale fishery nets Mullet at Ferry Bridge.

Sand Eel
(Ammodytes spp.)
The sand eels form an important part of the diet of the local terns.

Sand Smelt or Silversides
(Atherina presbyter)
Because of concern about the huge numbers of this small shoaling fish which were being lost in the intakes of cooling water at Southampton Power Station, they were studied in the Fleet in 1983 to gather information on its early life.

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Chesil Beach
isle of Portland
  Towns & Villages of Dorset

Links to Other Sites

. . . . . the inclusion of these links to other sites is for the interest and convenience of visitors to this site only and does not imply any endorsement of the products or services offered by the individuals or organisations involved nor the accuracy of the information contained therein . . . . .


The RNLI is funded entirely by voluntary donations and legacies. For it to continue to save lives at sea and fund its plans for the future of this invaluable service, it needs your help - please support it - for details click on the picture below.


  Royal National Lifeboat Institution
    The RNLI in the South-West


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  Dorset, England
4.7 km NE
  Dorset, England
5 km SW
  Dorset, England
3 km SW
Langton Herring
  Dorset, England
1.7 km NW
  Dorset, England
4.5 km N
  Dorset, England
4.9 km SW
Wyke Regis
  Dorset, England
7.1 km SW

Chesil Beach
  Dorset, England
The shingle bar protecting the Dorset coast is a unique feature
0 km
Maumbury Rings
  nr. Dorchester, Dorset, England
The Late Neolithic henge became a Roman ampitheatre, and Civil War fort. The last witch executed in Britain was burned here and 13,000 attended the execution of Mary Channing
12.3 km NE
High West Street
  Dorchester, Dorset
The display rooms tell the story of local wildlife, rocks and fossils, archaeology, and Dorset writers including Thomas Hardy. In the atmospheric Victorian gallery you can see the story of Maiden Castle and walk on Roman mosaics.
12.7 km NE
Kingston Maurward Gardens and Animal Park
Kingston Maurward, Dorchester, Dorset DT2 8PY
Edwardian Gardens, amongst 35 acres of classical 18th century parkland with a 5 acre lake from the from the Georgian house built for George Pitt in 1720, include a croquet lawn, r
12.7 km NE
Old Crown Court & Cells
West Dorset District Council,
Stratton House, 58/60 High West S
Located within the offices of West Dorset District Council, the Old Crown Court is famous for the trial of the Tolpuddle Martyrs and Judge Jeffreys Bloody Assize. Experience four centuries of gruesome crime and punishment in a setting little changed over
12.7 km NE
Teddy Bear House
Antelope Walk, Dorchester, Dorset DT1 1BE
A visit to Teddy bear House is in fact a visit to the home of Mr Edward Bear and his large family of human-size teddy bears! Here in a quaint old house in Antelope walk, in the picturesque town of Dorchester, these unique bears live and work and would lov
12.7 km NE
The Dinosaur Museum
Icen Way, Dorchester, Dorset DT1 1EW
Acclaimed as one of Britains top hands-on attractions, the Dinosaur Museum is unique. The incredible world of dinosaurs comes alive in a new way that visitors of all ages will love and enjoy. Actual fossils, skeletons and life-size reconstructions combine
12.7 km NE
The Keep Military Museum
  The Keep, Bridport Road, Dorchester, Dorset DT1 1RN
This modern military museum has computers and creative displays to tell stories of courage, humour, tradition and sacrifice of those who served in the Devon and Dorset regiments for over 300 years. Spectacular views from the battlements.
12.7 km NE
The Tutankhamun Exhibition
High West Street, Dorchester, Dorset DT1 1UW
This internationally acclaimed exhibition spans time itself. Extensively featured on television throughout the world. Full school service plus specialist Egyptian shop including books.
12.7 km NE

Public Houses
Victoria Inn
Knights In The Bottom, Chickerell, Dorset   DT3 4EA
3.1 km SW
The Turks Head Inn
6 East St, Chickerell, Dorset   DT3 4DS
4.2 km SW
The Kings Arms
2 Front St, Portesham, Dorset   DT3 4ET
4.5 km NW
Swan Inn
Rodden Row, Abbotsbury, Dorset   DT3 4JL
4.6 km NE
Alexandra Inn
408 Chickerell Rd, Weymouth, Dorset   DT4 9TP
5.4 km SW
The Marquis of Granby
Chickerell Rd, Weymouth, Dorset   DT4 9TW
5.7 km SW
The Albert Inn
2 High St, Wyke Regis, Dorset   DT4 9NZ
6.8 km SW

Chesil Beach

The village of Fleet lies to the north, it is the "Moonfleet" of Meade Faulkner's novel of the same name (Faulkner was a Weymouth man).


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