Restoring the Solent seascape for people, nature, and climate

The Solent, one of the most heavily used waterways in the UK, is composed of a complex network of harbours, islands, spits, estuaries and vast sandbanks. These threatened habitats provide refuge to a range of ecologically important and threatened species including the thresher shark and critically endangered European eel, as well as a wintering ground for over 125,000 ducks, geese, and waders. The Solent Seascape Project will reconnect the Solent into a functioning seascape by improving the condition, extent, and connectivity of key marine and coastal habitats using protection and restoration initiatives. This in turn will create habitat for fauna such as nesting seabirds and fish, and allow the area to contribute further to carbon sequestration. This innovative project is one of the first of its kind in the UK to initiate seascape level recovery.

The Solent

This project covers 52,200 ha of coastal and marine areas in the Solent, a straight of the English Channel between mainland UK and the Isle of Wight. Habitats in the area include seagrass meadows, mudflats, rivers and estuaries. The Solent is around 32 km in length and varies in width between 4 and 8 km.

The Solent waterway is one of the most heavily used in the UK, with 79,000 annual shipping movements, a quarter of coastal marina berths in England and a major naval base. However, the area is of high value to nature with important saltmarsh, seagrass and mudflat habitats providing refuge to species such as the critically endangered European eel (Anguilla anguilla).

Over 80% of the coastline in this area is already designated for nature conservation. This includes the Solent Maritime Special Area of Conservation, Portsmouth Harbour and Chichester & Langstone Harbour SPAs, RAMSAR sites, SSSIs, four Marine Conservation Zones and the Isle of Wight UNESCO Biosphere.

Project context and opportunity

The Solent has been heavily degraded over the years, with over 50% of the area’s saltmarsh being lost since the 1860s and oyster populations declining by 95% leading to the collapse of the fishery. Moreover, all 650 hectares of seagrass meadows in the Solent are in poor condition, congruous with the UK wide seagrass meadow decline of 49%. Nesting islands for seabirds and high tide roosts are being lost to erosion and sea level rise. This large-scale habitat degradation has led to a loss of connectivity between coastal habitats, further exacerbating their decline.

Despite this high level of degradation, the Solent still exhibits high levels of biodiversity and provides an important habitat for many species. Restoration efforts in the area are building momentum, for example the first in a network of native oyster reefs was created in 2021 and is now home to 36,000 oysters, as well as various other efforts to restore seagrass through the Solent Seagrass Restoration and ReMEDIES projects.

The strait is integral to the communities surrounding the Solent, through providing employment in shipping, cruises, fishing, and the navy as well as recreation in the form of swimming, walking and boating. The Isle of Wight community relies on the Solent for the shipping of essential supplies, support for the agriculture and tourism economies. This project will ensure that coastal tourism, bird watching, water sports, health and wellbeing, education and connection to the sea remain possible. Restoration will also improve ecosystem function, mitigating against coastal erosion and improving the area’s carbon sequestration potential.

What the project will do

The Solent Seascape Project is an ambitious venture which will bring together and build on existing restoration efforts to catalyse seascape scale recovery across the 52,200 ha that make up the Solent. The project will better manage existing marine and coastal habitats and restore the ecosystem, reconnecting fragmented habitats, recovering populations of associated species, facilitating resilience to climate change, and demonstrating the measurable benefits to the people who live and work in the area.

On top of this, the project will pioneer and monitor the impact of large-scale blue carbon restoration in the UK, and act as a test site for implementation and further development of blue carbon methodologies.

To deliver its aims, the project will:

  • Work with local stakeholders and communities to develop and co-create a long-term seascape recovery plan, that supports better management of existing Solent marine and coastal habitats.
  • 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.
  • Assess ecosystem service benefits (carbon, biodiversity, nitrates), creating an evidence base of the wider benefits of seascape restoration.
  • Work with government and regulators to develop key interventions and financial mechanisms to upscale the potential for seascape restoration in the longer term.
  • Empower local communities and build capacity to ignite and improve understanding of seascape processes, catalyse behavioural change, and increase involvement in seascape recovery.

Project Partners

Blue Marine Foundation
University of Portsmouth
Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust
Chichester Harbour Protection and Recovery of Nature (CHaPRoN)
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)
Natural England
Environment Agency
Project Seagrass
Isle of Wight Estuaries Project
Coastal Partners

Quick Facts

Project lead:

Blue Marine Foundation

Project location:

Solent, southern England

Country:

England, UK

Key habitats:

Saltmarshes, seagrass meadows, oyster reefs, seabird nesting habitats

Focal species:

Thresher shark, European eel, nesting seabirds, native oysters, seahorses, king scallop, cuttlefish, Brent geese

Project Gallery

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