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SEMS Review 2011

ABP Marine Environmental Research Ltd (ABPmer) reviewed the Solent European Marine Site (SEMS) Management Scheme in 2011 in consultation with the Management Group and the Strategic Stakeholder Group.  The Solent Forum provided recommendations to the Management Group on a way forward for implementation of the review.  This Summary and Implementation Plan was accepted by the Management Group in November 2011.  
The original Management Scheme was produced in 2004 to ensure that the European site is managed in line with the Habitats and Birds Directive and to prevent damage or deterioration to the habitats and species for which it is designated.

The key objectives of the review process were:

A copy of the the Summary and Implementation Plan can be downloaded as a pdf file.  The Annual monitoring using the new system commenced in March 2012.

The 2011 report comprised undertaking a review of the current environment, in the context of climate change. This included undertaking an appraisal of climate change projects and programmes relevant to the SEMS area. In summary, the effects of climate change will have implications when planning for future sea defences and in turn for the management of the SEMS. Spatial planning and integration of the range of plans and strategies concerning the coast, in particular the North Solent and Isle of Wight Shoreline Management Plans (SMP) and ensuing work of the Regional Habitat Creation Programme, will be of fundamental importance for ensuring that a consistent approach is applied to protecting and enhancing the SEMS, whilst creating new areas for biodiversity that will survive in a changing climate.

Any updates and changes in legislation and associated strategies, plans and projects relevant to the SEMS area were reviewed. One key change to the legislation was the 2009 Habitats Regulations Amendments which extended the provisions of Special Nature Conservation Orders (SNCOs) from land to water, providing an additional mechanism for restricting certain marine operations within European sites. All the legislative drivers and the application of associated strategies, plans and projects will continue to contribute to the management of the SEMS. This falls in line with one of the principles of the SEMS MS to integrate the sustainable management of the site wherever possible with both existing and future plans and initiatives (statutory and non-statutory) to avoid duplication of effort. The management measures identified in other plans and initiatives will remain the mechanisms through which these are implemented.

Natural England’s draft condition assessments identified that the ‘seagrass’ attribute of the Solent Maritime SAC sub-feature, ‘intertidal muddy sand communities’ was in unfavourable condition. This unfavourable condition has been maintained in the Western Solent since the baseline status was established and has shown a decline at Chichester and Langstone Harbours and Southampton Water. The reasons attributed to this change in trend were green algae pollution (from eutrophication), shellfish dredging and bait digging. The only other SEMS qualifying interest features with confirmed unfavourable condition status were Shelduck and Sanderling at Chichester and Langstone Harbours SPA (Natural England, 2010c).

There are two other Solent Maritime SAC features that have been identified to date as unfavourable, although the draft condition assessments for these features are incomplete. These are ‘Atlantic salt meadow’ and ‘Salicornia and other annuals colonising mud and sand’. Based on available evidence, the reasons for this draft unfavourable judgement were considered to be saltmarsh erosion and coastal squeeze mostly due to coastal defences along the coast, and water pollution (and excessive algal growth) from agriculture and discharges.

Localised changes in Special Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI) condition comprising the SEMS have been reported within the annual SEMS monitoring reports. Overall, where deterioration in site condition has occurred, this has been primarily attributed to coastal squeeze, diffuse pollution (resulting in eutrophication and green algae pollution), bait digging and public access/disturbance issues.

A key piece of work that informed the SEMS MS review is Defra’s EMS risk review. Defra commissioned Natural England to undertake a strategic review of risks from all ongoing activities within EMS, in order to identify and prioritise actions required to ensure site features are maintained or restored to favourable condition. Activities were classified as those which could pose a high, medium, low, or no risk to EMS features. Activities which could pose a high risk were those which have been prioritised by Natural England as potentially requiring additional management measures to avoid deterioration and disturbance in line with the obligations under the Habitats Directive. High risk activities that have been identified to be an issue in the SEMS are bait digging, clam dredging and recreational activities causing disturbance. Activities classified as a medium or low risk were considered to have existing management systems in place and/or less potential to pose harm to site features.

New and/or changes to existing activities occurring within the SEMS were identified by undertaking a review of SEMS annual monitoring reports and interviewing each of the RAs. New activities that were highlighted as potentially damaging the SEMS and have been monitored intermittently are kite surfing and hovercrafting. The main impacts that are likely to result from these recreational activities are noise and visual disturbance to birds and physical disturbance to habitats.

As part of the review, members of the Strategic Stakeholder Group (SSG) were invited to a meeting in January 2011. The emerging findings of the work were presented and members were invited to raise any questions and comments.

The information that was reviewed and presented in the 2011 report, in particular Natural England’s draft condition assessments and Defra’s EMS risk review, indicates that features of the SEMS have deteriorated since the sites were originally designated and that certain high risk activities need further management consideration as part of the SEMS MS. Opportunities for updating the existing SEMS MS tables and bringing them in line with Defra’s strategic EMS risk review were explored in detail as part of Deliverable 2 for the SEMS MS review. Additional management considerations or delivery mechanisms that might be required to manage key high risk activities and ensure that the conservation objectives of the SEMS are met were also discussed and presented. It is important to note, however, that recommendations have been made based on available evidence and ultimately Natural England will need to advise as to whether these are sufficient to ensure that the SEMS MS continues to meet its legislative requirements to protect the SEMS.