The Solent is a huge single estuarine system which contains in excess of 9,000ha of intertidal sediment, and includes over 6,000ha of mudflats, 7,000 ha of sandflats, 400ha of ancient saltmarsh and nearly 1,800 ha of Spartina marsh. The mudflats are rich in invertebrates and are consequently important feeding grounds for waterfowl and waders. Specific habitats include grazing marsh, vegetated shingle, sea cliffs, saltmarshes, mudflats, sand flats, rocky shores, lagoons and a variety of types of sea-bed. This includes unusual examples of natural gradations from maritime to coastal and marine habitats, that have been lost from other areas of the south coast. Most of the Solent coastline and its waters has been designated as a Marine Protected Area, against a backdrop of intensive human use for housing, industry and recreation.
Nationally and locally, there have been extensive historic losses of intertidal habitats, chiefly due to human activities, mostly related to land claim, and the construction of sea defences, ports and harbours. It has been estimated that some 100,000 ha of British saltmarshes were lost between 1600 and 1900, mainly for land reclamation for agricultural production. More recent losses in saltmarsh have been attributed to coastal squeeze, isostatic tilt, sea level rise and/or increased storminess.
To help share and promote work on this key issue of importance in the Solent, the Solent Forum has set up this Hub to collate information. We have also worked with partners to produce The Solent to Sussex Bay Seascape Restoration Inventory. This is the first publicly accessible inventory of seascape restoration activities covering the Solent to Sussex Bay region. It provides interested stakeholders with the key information needed to engage with all restoration practitioners and researchers in the Solent to Sussex Bay area.
The Solent Seascape Project is the first of its kind in the UK to initiate seascape scale recovery. Its long-term vision is to protect and restore at least 30 per cent of the Solent’s seascape. The project will actively restore 8ha of saltmarsh, 7ha of seagrass, 4ha of oysters, and 10 breeding seabird nesting sites to increase habitat extent and catalyse recovery across the wider seascape, improving ecological connectivity. It will also assess ecosystem service benefits (carbon, biodiversity, nitrates), creating an evidence base of the wider benefits of seascape restoration. As well as looking at active restoration, the project is looking at passive restoration; this requires the removal of pressures to habitats, in particulary recreational activties, and will produce in partnership with stakeholders a Seascapes Recovery Plan.
Seagrass is a flowering plant that forms a lush underwater meadow on the seabed. It’s a critically endangered EU red-listed habitat and a UK habitat of principal importance. Seagrass beds support a diverse ecosystem which provide food and shelter for fish and other animals, from tiny invertebrates to marine mammals and waterfowl, are spawning, nursery and refuge areas for fish, including commercially important plaice. It stabilises sediment with its roots, absorb nutrients and cleans the surrounding seawater, it also stores carbon helping to prevent climate change. There are three projects on seagrass currently underway in the Solent. Whilst each project remains independent, they work together to ensure seagrass restoration efforts in the Solent are coordinated and information on the health, distribution and extent of the seagrass beds as well as best practice methods for seagrass restoration are shared.
The Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust have launched a partnership with Boskalis Westminster Ltd to undertake a seagrass restoration project within the Solent, starting with an important research and development phase. The Solent Seagrass Restoration Project, aims to identify the best methodology for restoring this hugely important marine species within the Solent, whilst also monitoring the habitat as a provider of carbon sequestration.
Seagrass Ocean Rescue is a project involving WWF-UK, Project Seagrass and Swansea University; it works with local partners in different areas across the UK to halt and reverse UK seagrass loss. The project target, through a series of partnerships with local to regional stakeholders, is to support the restoration of 30 kilometres squared of seagrass across the UK by 2030. Environmental scoping work, to facilitate future seagrass restoration, is currently being undertaken by the project team in the Solent to identify potential sites that might be suitable for restoration. This has included extensive surveys of the flowering and seed production of meadows around the Isle of Wight and the assessment of the underwater light environment.
LIFE Recreation ReMEDIES is a £2.5 million, four-year marine conservation partnership project at five Special Areas of Conservation, including the Solent. ReMEDIES is planning to restore a total of eight hectares of seagrass meadows – four hectares in Plymouth Sound National Marine Park and four hectares in the Solent Maritime Special Area of Conservation. The first planting effort began in summer 2020, when the project collected around 800,000 seagrass seeds from healthy meadows off the Cornish coast during a series of collection dives. The project has produced a wonderful infographic all about Seagrass in the Solent.
ReMEDIES is also working to protect existing seagrass habitat by reducing pressures from recreational activities such as boating. Through its partners the Royal Yachting Association and their environmental programme with British Marine, The Green Blue, the project team are working with recreational boaters to highlight the importance of sensitive seabed habitats and advise how their boating methods, particularly anchoring and mooring, can play a role in protecting them. Advanced Mooring Systems (AMS) were installed at Yarmouth, designed to have less impact on the seabed. There are plans for more to be installed in Yarmouth and Cowes Harbour Commissioners are currently looking at suitable AMS locations within their jurisdiction.
In December 2021, Natural England published a report that shares findings on understanding the behaviours of recreational boaters in selected sites on the south coast of England. This evidence is intended to inform the project's approaches to working with local communities, including recreational boaters, to restore the sensitive seabed habitats at these sites and reduce recreational impacts on them.
Blue Marine is creating a model for restoration of this key habitat by relaying millions of oysters into the Solent. Blue Marine’s team has placed mature “brood stock” oysters at high densities in cages hung in the water beneath pontoons, facilitating the release of millions of larvae into the Solent. The cages have been shown to provide a refuge for other marine life, with 97 different species having been found living within the cages so far, including critically endangered European eels, juvenile spiny seahorse and sea bass.
To promote natural recruitment and re-establish wild oyster beds, Blue Marine’s Solent team is also re-seeding protected seabed sites with juvenile oysters. These sanctuary sites will be created on a large scale in areas closed to commercial fishing and will be allowed to flourish and develop.
REACH (Restoring Estuarine and Coastal Habitats) is an initiative that brings together international experts from the UK, Overseas Territories, the North Sea, and Irish Sea border countries working in academia, government, NGOs and industry to work collaboratively to restore estuarine and coastal habitats. Ten overarching principles have been developed by the Environment Agency and Natural England as part of the initiative:
ReMeMaRe is an initiative within REACH that is dedicated to Restoring [seagrass] Meadows, [salt] Marsh and [oyster] Reef around the English coastline.The Defra's arms length bodies have formed a Steering Group who are driving ReMeMaRe forward. The Coastal Partnerships Network has been contracted to write the ReMeMaRe communications and engagement strategy.
ReMeMaRe project outputs include: