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. Our designations are either international, national or local and each provides an area, site or building with a certain level of protection. Designations may overlap.
Nature Conservation Designations
Marine Protected Areas
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:
- Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs)
- Special Areas of Conservation (SACs)
- Special Protection Areas (SPAs)
- Sites or Areas of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs/ASSIs) Ramsar sites
Defra is seeking to fill the remaining gaps in the Blue Belt through a final third tranche of MCZs. It announced in January 2016 that it will be consulting on a third and final tranche of sites to complete the network in 2017, with plans to designate by 2018.
The MMO, along with other authorities, has specific responsibilities for the management of marine protected areas in English waters. This includes specific consideration of marine protected areas when assessing marine licence applications, and powers to make byelaws to control activities, which do not require marine licences, that may affect marine protected areas (section 129 of MCAA). The MMO also has powers to enforce general offences of damaging marine conservation zones under section 140 of MCAA. In addition, the MMO works with stakeholders to develop voluntary measures to ensure protection of the marine protected areas.
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 European 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 the Defra website.
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.
England's finest countryside is designated by Natural England (before October 2006 by the Countryside Agency) 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 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.
A Heritage Coast is a strip of UK coastline designated by the Countryside Agency in England and the Countryside Council for Wales as having 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 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.