The Solent Forum

Working in partnership for the future


In winter, the Solent coast attracts large numbers of wading birds, ducks, geese and other wetland birds that are collectively referred to as waterfowl or water birds. These birds are migratory and mostly breed at high latitudes from Greenland and Iceland east through Scandinavia to northern Russia. They migrate to the coasts of western Europe during the late summer and autumn. The Solent attracts an internationally important assemblage of wintering waterfowl that is important both for the total number of birds and the diversity of species that comprise the assemblage. In addition, the Solent and Southampton Water SPA attracts internationally important numbers of four individual species of waterfowl; Dark bellied brent geese, Teal, Black-tailed godwit and Ringed plover. Although the greatest numbers of birds are present in the Solent during the mid-winter months, the autumn and spring are also important for birds passing through the Solent on migration to wintering and breeding grounds. The Solent provides a vital stop-over for these passage migrants at these times of year when the turn-over of birds present on the Solent’s coast can be very high. The wintering and passage migrant waterfowl feed over large areas of intertidal flat at low tide as well as freshwater marshes, grassland and arable fields around the coast. At high tide, wading birds have to move from the intertidal flats to undisturbed roost sites above the high tide level. These high water roost sites include natural shingle islands and saltmarshes as well as artificial structures such as sea walls, jetties and pontoons or farmland near to the coast.

The second important group of birds are those listed on Annex 1 of the EU Birds Directive that visit the Solent to breed in spring and summer. The Solent is internationally important for five species of Annex 1 birds at these times of year; Common tern, Sandwich tern, Little tern, Roseate tern and Mediterranean gull. This group of birds nest on sand and shingle beaches, spits and islands and associated saltmarshes.

The RSPB reserve at Langstone occupies one third of Langstone Harbour - a muddy estuary that attracts large numbers of birds all year round. Terns, gulls and wading birds descend to breed on the islands in spring and summer, while thousands of waders and brent geese migrate from the Arctic to feed and roost in safety here.  The reserve occupies one third of the Langstone Harbour tidal estuary and consists mostly of intertidal mud but includes five small islands composed of saltmarsh and shingle ridges. Apart from a landing area for recreational boat users on one of the islands, access to the reserve is restricted, thereby allowing birds to breed, feed and roost in an undisturbed state and the fragile habitats, with their specialised fauna, to develop naturally. The invertebrates and vegetation of the mudflats are a rich food source for wildfowl and waders, while the islands are used for breeding by gulls, terns and waders and as a roosting site during high-tide periods.

In the last five years, Langstone Harbour supported an average of 37,593 birds, while North West Solent supported 14,922, Portsmouth Harbour supported 14,324 and Southampton Water supported 13,039 (source, RSPB).  The biggest UK colony of Mediterranean Gulls also nest in Langstone Harbour during the summer among the giant colonies of Black-headed Gulls and important numbers of their slimmer cousins, the fork-tailed Common, Little and Sandwich Terns.

There are approximately 67 ha of seagrass beds in Portsmouth Harbour, which are found mainly in the north-west of the harbour. These beds include both Zostera marina (found on the low shore) and Zostera noltii (on the upper to mid shore). The seagrass beds are amongst the most extensive in Britain and are an important food source for dark-bellied brent goose. The saltmarsh areas are mainly comprised of cordgrass (Spartina) swards and provide feeding and roosting areas for overwintering birds.

On the Isle of Wight, the RSPB’s Brading Marshes Reserve covers most of the beautiful valley of the lower River Yar running from the village of Brading to the sea at Bembridge Harbour. The extensive series of footpaths around the site provide the chance to see a wide range of birds including buzzards, little egrets and green woodpeckers. In 2012, Natural Enterprise was commissioned by the Isle of Wight Council to bring together, into one database, the available published survey information on the numbers and locations of selected winter birds feeding at low tide on Ryde Sands SSSI. The purpose of this work is to aid the identification and delivery of mitigation requirements for the European and equivalent Ramsar site within the Ryde Area Action Plan. A second report provided an Assessment of the Recreational Impacts on the European Sites of the River Medina and Ryde Sands with Recommendations for Mitigation.

All this richness combines to make the Solent one of the most important places for wetland birds in Europe, protected under international law, and a delight for visitors.  For more information please visit the websites of the RSPB, Wetland Bird Survey and the Hampshire Ornithological Society.

Bird Aware Solent

Bird Aware Solent raises awareness of internationally protected birds that spend the winter on the Solent.

Every winter 125,000 ducks, geese and wading birds fly to the Solent from places as far away as Iceland and Siberia. To survive the winter, birds such as turnstone and sanderling need to feed, rest and build up enough energy to be strong enough to fly back to their breeding grounds each summer. Their survival relies on preventing bird disturbance and the Bird Aware team help people understand the impact of this by engaging with visitors and communities along the Solent.

Everyone can help by looking out for birds and keeping your distance from them, by staying on paths and by making sure dogs are always in sight.

Solent Recreation Mitigation Strategy (SRMS)

Under the strategy housing developers are required to make financial contributions to mitigate the impacts from increased recreational use of the coast.

The developer contributions are used to fund Bird Aware Solent which provides:

The strategy came into effect on 1 April 2018.

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