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Solent Marine Sites (SEMS)

The Solent contains seven international nature conservation sites: a maritime Special Area of Conservation (SAC); three Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and three Ramsar sites. These designations have varying levels of overlap. The areas within these designations that lie below Highest Astronomical Tide (HAT) have become known collectively as the Solent European Marine Sites (SEMS). The illustrative map shows the areas of the SACs, SPAs and Ramsar sites that are included in the SEMS.

For definitive boundary designations please use Defra's online Magic Map. More detailed information on specific sites and their reason for designation is available on Natural England's Designated Sites System.

The JNCC mapper can be used to locate sites with marine components.


Solent and Dorset Coast SPA

This SPA seeks to protect the internationally important populations of:

This SPA will protect close to 1,000 pairs of terns and will span an area of more than 891 km2. This area is particularly important to these birds as much of the sea around their breeding colonies is the ideal habitat for plunge diving for food.

Solent Maritime Special Area of Conservation

The Solent Maritime SAC has been selected for the following habitats:

Special Protection Areas and Ramsar sites

There are three Special Protection Areas and three Ramsar sites within the Solent.

The Solent and Southampton Water SPA and Ramsar site boundaries differ in places, however the boundaries for the Portsmouth Harbour and Chichester and Langstone Harbour SPA and Ramsar sites are concurrent.

Chichester and Langstone Harbours SPA/Ramsar

Chichester and Langstone Harbours SPA 

Both Chichester and Langstone Harbours contain extensive intertidal mudflats and sandflats with areas of seagrass beds, saltmarsh, shallow coastal waters, coastal lagoons, coastal grazing marsh and shingle ridges and islands. These habitats support internationally and nationally important numbers of overwintering and breeding bird species. At low tide the mudflats are exposed, the water is drained by channels and creeks which meet to form narrow exits into the Solent. The sediments support rich populations of intertidal invertebrates, which provide an important food source for overwintering birds. There are more than 300 ha of seagrass beds (Zostera noltii and Zostera marina) in the SPA which are an important food source for dark-bellied Brent geese. Overwintering birds also feed and roost in the saltmarsh areas, which are dominated by cordgrass (Spartina) swards, as well as on coastal grazing marsh.

Chichester and Langstone Harbours Ramsar site has been selected for the following:

Solent and Southampton Water SPA/Ramsar

Solent and Southampton Water SPA

Estuarine sediments within the site support rich populations of invertebrates that provide an important food source for wintering birds. The Solent as a whole exceeds 90,000 waders annually and the mudflats, coastal lagoons, shingle and saltmarsh provide vital feeding and roosting grounds for these. The shingle banks also provide important breeding grounds for terns. The Solent also supports 10-13% of world’s population of dark-bellied Brent geese, and 30% of the UK population.

Solent and Southampton Water Ramsar site has been selected for the following:

Portsmouth Harbour SPA/Ramsar

Portsmouth Harbour SPA

The harbour has been classified as a Special Protection Area (SPA) due to internationally and nationally important numbers of birds and specifically protects the following features: dark-bellied Brent goose; red-breasted merganser; dunlin; and black-tailed godwit. There are approximately 77 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.

Portsmouth Harbour Ramsar site has been selected for the following: