The Solent Forum

Working in partnership for the future

Protected Areas

Anyone who has visited the Solent coast can not 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 marina. Our coast is rich with natural, environmental and cultural assets.   Therefore much of the coastal zone is protected through conservation designations for its wildlife, landscape character or its cultural heritage value.  Designations can be either international, national or local and may overlap.

Nature Conservation Designations

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)

The government is committed to delivering a Blue Belt of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) around our coasts. This Belt is made up of different types of MPAs. These are:

The MMO is the government’s principal regulator for most activities in English waters. It manage many marine activities affecting MPAs including:

The Fisheries Act 2020 extended MMO byelaw making powers from January 2021, allowing it to create byelaws to protect offshore MPAs (12 nm to 200 nm) as well as inshore (0 to 12 nm).

Other government bodies also manage activities within the marine area, for example: Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs) manage fishing from 0 - 6 nm and Local authorities manage some shore-based recreational activities.

Where necessary the MMO makes byelaws to control the relevant activities, it can also make emergency byelaws. The MMO is responsible for monitoring and assuring compliance with the new byelaw, as well as reviewing its effectiveness.

European Marine Sites

Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) contain marine habitats or species of European importance. Special Protection Areas (SPAs) contain populations of particular species of birds of European importance that depend on the marine environment.  SPAs and SACs are together termed ‘European marine sites’.  In the Solent we have the Solent Marine Site (SEMS).  To the South of the Isle of Wight there is a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) known as the South Wight Maritime SAC.  Detailed conservation advice packages for European Marine Sites (EMS) are available on Natural England's Designated Sites System.

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.

Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC)

Many areas contain habitats or features that cannot be recreated and it is important to ensure that these sites are not lost and that they continue to be managed for their wildlife interest.  To help safeguard these sites for the future, they are identified and recorded as Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINCs). SINCs represent a legacy of good management and rely upon continued stewardship by landowners and managers. 

Wetlands of International Importance (RAMSAR sites)

In the UK, the first Ramsar sites were designated in 1976. Since then, many more have been designated. Compared to many countries, the UK has a relatively large number of Ramsar sites, but they tend to be smaller in size. The initial emphasis was on selecting sites of importance to waterbirds within the UK, and consequently many Ramsar sites are also Special Protection Areas (SPAs) classified under the EU Birds Directive.

National Character Areas (NCA)

NCA profiles are guidance documents produced by Natural England which will help to achieve a more sustainable future for individuals and communities. The profiles include a description of the key ecosystem services provided in each character area and how these benefit people, wildlife and the economy. They identify potential opportunities for positive environmental change and provide the best available information and evidence as a context for local decision making and action. Importantly they put the landscape in a context that goes beyond administrative boundaries.

Landscape Designations

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.  Heritage coasts cover stretches of our most beautiful, undeveloped coastline, but do not enjoy the same statutory status.  Together all three are often referred to as 'protected landscapes'.

In January 2022, the government announced its response to the Glover Review of National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs). This found that nature has been in long-term decline in England’s protected landscapes, it set out 27 proposals for change which the government has now responded to with its own proposal of “a new national landscapes partnership to build on the existing collaboration between National Parks England and the National Association for AONBs, complemented by roles for the National Trails and National Parks Partnerships.” 

Defra has also proposed a rebrand of AONBs, with a possible name change to ‘national landscapes’. This will sit alongside a review of their purpose, and an alignment of a single set of statutory purposes for both National Parks and AONBs. Defra also committed to bringing forward a new national landscape strategy that will provide clearer strategic direction for protected landscapes.

By January 2023, the plan is for new ambitious outcomes for the role of protected landscapes in delivering on the government’s goals for nature recovery and climate. Natural England will monitor and evaluate progress against the key indicators and outcomes and will also support individual protected landscapes to translate these targets into their management plans.

National Park

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 coast lies within the New Forest National Park.

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)

An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is 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 characterised as an AONB as has the whole of Chichester Harbour.

Heritage Coast

A Heritage Coast is a strip of UK coastline designated for its notable natural beauty or scientific significance.  It is a non-statutory, and designations can only be made with the agreement of local authorities and land owners.  In the Solent, the Isle of Wight has two stretches of coast, which have been formally designated as Heritage Coast.   The Hamstead Heritage Coast stretches along the north western (Solent) shore of the Isle of Wight from Bouldnor to Thorness Bay, near Cowes.   Bouldnor cliff, near Yarmouth, remains the only submerged Mesolithic settlement in Britain.

UNESCO Biosphere

In 2019, the Isle of Wight became a UNESCO Biosphere. The designation was based on previous action, but the focus is now on increasing understanding and awareness of the features of the Biosphere, two thirds of which are underwater. The limited understanding of the marine and coastal environment will be addressed by further data collection, community engagement and education through partnership. The principles of the Biosphere are also being embedded into Isle of Wight Council policy.

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