Anyone who has visited the Solent coast cannot have missed its variety of landscapes. It moves from unspoiled countryside to urban waterfront, industrial refinery to historic castle and sites of conservation interest to busy marinas. The coast is rich with natural, environmental and cultural assets and is protected by designations for its wildlife, habitats, landscape character and cultural heritage values. Designations can be either international, national or local and each provides an area, site or building with a certain level of protection from destruction, development or interference. They may overlap.
Nature Conservation Designations
Marine Conservation Zones
Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) are a new form of Marine Protected Area (MPA) under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. By protecting specific species and habitats, as identified in the Ecological Network Guidance, MCZs will contribute to the MPA network in the UK. MCZs will protect areas that are important to conserve rare, threatened and representative habitats and species. The Solent was part of the Balanced Seas MCZ project that looked to identify sites on the south coast. For locations of MPAs in the Solent visit JNCC's Interactive Map.
European Marine Sites
European Marine Sites is an umbrella term describing the marine areas of sites designated under the European Habitats and Birds Directives. These sites are called Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs). SACs protect particular marine species or habitats of European importance and SPAs protect areas which support large populations of birds. These marine sites, together with terrestrial sites, form part of the European Natura 2000 network of internationally important protected areas. Site selection boundaries must be based completely on scientific evidence and socio-economic considerations cannot be taken into account. European marine sites are identified by statutory conservation agencies; JNCC and Natural England, Countryside Council for Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage and Northern Ireland Environment Agency.
For the Solent there are two sites, the Solent European Marine Site which covers the harbours, estuaries, areas of open coast and inshore water around the Solent. The site stretches from Hurst Spit in the west to Chichester Harbour in the east and includes areas along the north coast of the Isle of Wight from Yarmouth to Bembridge Harbour, as well as the mainland shores. A second site lies along the South Coast of the Isle of Wight and is known as the South Wight European Marine Site.
Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)
SSSI's are designated as the best examples of wildlife habitats, geological features and landforms. The SSSI designation applies throughout Great Britain and in England notification of site designation is carried out by Natural England. Sites are chosen to be representative of British habitats with each site seen as an integral part of the national set. The aim being to maintain the present diversity of animals and plants. For biological sites designation is based on an established set of criteria which include naturalness, diversity, typicalness, size, fragility and rarity. They are primarily land-based, but some sites extend below the low water mark.
Local Nature Reserves
Local Nature Reserves (LNRs) are for both people and wildlife. They are places with wildlife or geological features that are of special interest locally. They offer people special opportunities to study or learn about nature or simply to enjoy it. There are over 1050 LNRs in England. They range from windswept coastal headlands, ancient woodlands and flower-rich meadows to former inner city railways, long abandoned landfill sites and industrial areas now re-colonised by wildlife. In total they cover almost 40,000 ha - an impressive natural resource which makes an important contribution to England's biodiversity. There are 10 local nature reserves in the Solent which cover the full range of coastal habitats.
National Nature Reserves (NNR)
National Nature Reserves (NNRs) were established to protect the most important areas of wildlife habitat and geological formations in Britain. The aim is to secure protection and appropriate management of the most important areas of wildlife habitat, to provide a resource for scientific research and to provide a resource for recreation so long as this does not compromise the wildlife habitat. Natural England has powers, from the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, to designate land as NNR. Every NNR is "nationally important" and are among the best examples of a particular habitat. NNRs are carefully managed on behalf of the nation, they are either owned or controlled by Natural England or held by approved bodies such as Wildlife Trusts. There are 3 NNRs in the Solent: Titchfield Haven; the North Solent; and Newtown Harbour on the Isle of Wight.
Wetlands of International Importance (RAMSAR sites)
Ramsar sites are wetlands of international importance designated under the Ramsar Convention. Sites proposed for selection are advised by the UK statutory nature conservation agencies, or the relevant administration in the case of Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies, co-ordinated through JNCC. In selecting sites, the relevant authorities are guided by the criteria set out in the Convention. These are detailed below:
- Good representative example of characteristic wetland;
- Hosting an assemblage of rare, vulnerable or endangered species;
- Regularly supports more than one percent of waterfowl species;
- Regularly supports 20,000 wildfowl;
- Special value for maintaining diversity.
In the UK, the first Ramsar sites were designated in 1976. Since then, many more have been designated. There are 3 Ramsar sites in the Solent which cover similar areas to the areas designated at SPA under the Birds Directive; details can be found on the Ramsar site database.
England's finest countryside is designated by Natural England as National Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. These areas are protected by law to ensure conservation and enhancement of their natural beauty not just for the present, but also for future generations. In addition, Heritage Coasts represent stretches of our most beautiful, undeveloped coastline, but do not enjoy the same statutory status as the other two designations. Together all three are often referred to as 'protected landscapes'.
National Parks are designated under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 in order to protect beautiful areas of our nation. They are specified by reason of their natural beauty and the opportunity they afford for open-air recreation. The New Forest National Park covers part of the western Solent coast.
Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)
An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is exactly a precious landscape whose distinctive character and natural beauty are so outstanding that it is in the nation's interest to safeguard them. Each AONB has been designated for special attention by reason of their high qualities. These include their flora, fauna, historical and cultural associations as well as scenic views. AONB landscapes range from rugged coastline to water meadows to gentle downland and upland moors. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act, 2000 (the "CRoW" Act) added further regulation and protection, ensuring the future of AONBs as important national resources. In the Solent, half of the Isle of Wight has been charatacterised as an AONB as has the whole of Chichester Harbour.
Thirty two percent of the English coastline is conserved as Heritage Coast. In the Solent, the Island has two stretches of coast, which have been formally designated as Heritage Coast and fall entirely within the designated AONB. These coastal areas have particular characteristics because of their natural landscape beauty, distinctive flora and fauna and their heritage features of archaeological and architectural interest.
The Tennyson Heritage Coast, named after the Poet laureate who lived in Farlington House overlooking Freshwater Bay, begins at Totland on the Solent and stretches along the southwest shore of the Isle of Wight nearly to Ventnor. The Hampstead Heritage Coast stretches along the northwestern (Solent) shore of the Isle of Wight from Yarmouth harbour to Thorness Bay, near Cowes. At Boulder, near Hampstead, these cliffs are especially rich in fossils - it has been claimed that this exposed deposit of Oligocene fossils embedded in the clay is the richest on earth.