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, this is 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.
Coastal habitats have an important role to play as nature based solutions in the future. Protecting exisiting habitats and restoring those that have been lost can help to protect coasts from flooding and erosion, provide a carbon sink, provide 'blue health' locations and help to improve water quality. Natural England have published a report on Carbon Storage and Sequestration by Habitat 2021 (NERR094) that includes coastal habitats.
The National Planning Policy Framework states 'development whose primary objective is to conserve or enhance biodiversity should be supported; while opportunities to incorporate biodiversity improvements in and around developments should be encouraged, especially where this can secure measurable net gains for biodiversity.'
To help share and promote work on this key issue of importance in the Solent, the Solent Forum have set up these pages to help collate information. This will be an ongoing task with new material added once available. We have focused on five key themes, set out in the list below.