Pollution in its many forms

During the past year the Solent Protection Society (SPS) has been investigating the impact of pollution on the Solent. This is a huge subject covering everything from shipping to plastic, sewerage to chemicals, noise to pleasure craft disturbance. We have looked particularly at how pollution gets into the Solent and what action is being taken by the various agencies involved. This has also meant looking at what comes down the rivers and out of the many outfall pipes that discharge into Solent waters.

Water Quality

We are all familiar with beach water quality monitoring by the Environment Agency (EA) which is the prime government body charged with checking water quality round our shores and in rivers. These reports, usually available weekly online (except in this Covid year where they started late and are monthly at present), are produced between May and September. The beaches are not monitored at other times and there are large stretches of the Solent where there are no designated bathing beaches; the western Solent for example. Here some monitoring is done by the EA but the results are usually contained in annual reports published retrospectively. They do however give a guide to trends. England’s rivers, lakes and coastal waters are as polluted as they were four years ago, with only 16 per cent achieving good ecological status, according to government data published in September.

Drainage Systems

Combined Sewer Outfalls (CSOs) are largely part of the sewerage system controlled by Southern Water though some may be private. There are hundreds of these CSOs around
the Solent. Most of the drainage systems in the Solent area are combined systems, that is sewerage water and rainfall flow through the same pipe. Consequently when there is a
discharge, say during a storm or if there is a malfunction, then diluted sewerage comes straight into the river or sea causing pollution. As summer storms have increased, this has been happening more frequently and may on occasions breach the legal limits on the number of times this is allowed. Many of these outfalls are not monitored. Southern Water monitors the main ones and has to report on discharges which are picked up in annual reports by EA. We still await the Water Company Performance reports for 2019.

The main culprits are increased levels of nitrogen and phosphorous, with nitrates in particular enriching the water too much causing green algae blooms. These starve the water of oxygen with the inevitable knock on effect on marine life and plants. Not only does this pollution come from sewerage but even greater amounts come from current and historic fertilizer use on farmland and other sources, all of which eventually washes into watercourses. According to reports commissioned by the Solent area local authorities, the bulk of the nitrate content of the Solent waters comes from unspecified ‘coastal background sources’. While much of that background will be from natural sources, we suspect that a significant proportion is likely to emanate from the long sea outfalls which discharge into the Solent. In the case of Langstone Harbour, we understand that it takes eleven tidal cycles to completely flush and with the overall flow of water eastbound through the Solent relatively slow, much of the material dispersed from these outfalls will remain in Solent waters for many days, moving backwards and forwards as it slowly disperses on the tide.

Nitrate Neutrality

House building in the Solent area has been on hold for most of the year while councils look for ways to make new development ‘nutrient neutral’. Natural England produced guidance in June for how new developments could theoretically achieve “nitrate neutrality”. It does not, of course, do anything to improve an already bad situation but it is better than nothing.

We remain seriously concerned about the volume of new housing proposed. The direction set by the new white paper on Planning for the Future, currently under consultation, suggests that house building in the Solent area will both increase and accelerate. Without significant upgrades to the waste water treatment network and the adoption of sustainable drainage systems on new developments, the risk of unconsented storm discharges from outfalls will only increase.

Addressing the Nitrate Pollution Issue

There are a number of potential options identified this year.

  • Acquire farmland in a river catchment area and take lower lying fields out of agriculture and ‘re-wild’ it. This method has been championed by the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust (HIWWT) who have already used a government loan to acquire a farm on the Island. This will be taken out of production to generate “nitrate credits” which HIWWT can sell on to developers to offset the nitrate produced by their development. The profit made will enable HIWWT to pay back the loan and generate funds for the charity.
  • Increase the capacity and efficiency of the wastewater treatment network, improving the capability for handling peak storm water discharge events.
  • Continue to improve farming methods to reduce nitrate runoff. Over recent decades the farming industry has made significant progress in improving the sustainable use of fertilisers on farms and it is likely that much of the farm sourced nitrate load entering the Solent is historical. The nitrates being released into the ground from agricultural land take years or decades to finally leach through into the watercourses.
  • Strengthen Planning policy to ensure that more areas are protected and that building of housing is more tightly controlled with infrastructure contributions increased to assist with the improvement of CSOs.
  • Increase the mud flats and sub-sea plants like sea grass which, along with oysters, are proven absorbers of marine pollution, by vigorously protecting and perhaps expanding the marine protected areas around the Solent coast.

This is an extremely complex issue both legally, environmentally and technically, and there are certainly no quick and/or simple solutions. Each of the above options will play a part, but more effort and investment is needed if we are to turn neutrality into a positive decline. Some of this will require further legislation by government and some of it will inevitably mean increased water bills.

The ‘rewilding’ of farmland to generate nitrate credits has already been used by Fareham and Havant Borough Councils to kick start new housing development and in September 2020, the UK government approved the investment of £3.9 million to set up a first-of-its-kind national online ‘nitrate trading’ auction platform. This is a worrying development since SPS believes that any mitigation actions for housing development around the Solent should be taken for the benefit of the local area.

While the objective of ‘re-wilding’ farmland is admirable, the benefits are unlikely to be seen in our lifetime. What we will see, however, is the impact of the additional development which the ‘nitrate credit’ approach will now permit. The problem for the Solent and its wildlife will get worse, not better, for the foreseeable future.

What actions can SPS take?

SPS has limited resources but we can continue to monitor the reports that are produced by the various agencies and apply pressure where we find objectives are not being met.

We can press for further legislation along with the many other specialist conservation groups who share the same goals.

We will try during the coming year to draw our monitoring into a form which illustrates the trends we find around our precious Solent.

The Proposed English Coast Path (South)

Our progress report

The English Coastal Path (South) is part of the proposal by Natural England (NE) to achieve as full a coastal path as possible (as required by the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009) along the area bordering the Solent. It is part of the coastal path project which
covers the whole of England.

Click on the image to view full size.

In our last newsletter we set out progress on four of the six sections that border the Solent. This left Section 2 – Calshot to Gosport and Section 3 – Isle of Wight to be published for consultation in late 2019 and early 2020.

This report brings the developments up to date. Calshot to Gosport came out for consultation in July 2019 and the Solent Protection Society (SPS), submitted comments by the deadline of 11th September. 2019. Our comments are set out below.

In March 2020 the Isle of Wight section came out for consultation but left out the tricky section between East Cowes and Wootton which is due later this year. The final consultation date for the published section was delayed by Covid but SPS submitted detailed comments in June. These comments are also set out below.

This year we have included the progress map for the whole of England as well as the progress map for the Solent area which puts the Solent progress into context.

Our sections are 15 to 21 on the “All England” map and you will see that some sections have been partially approved. These are in the Calshot to Gosport, Gosport to Portsmouth and South Hayling to East Head sections. However these partial approvals are often very short stretches within the section, so approval by the Secretary of State is fragmented. Having said that, any approval is better than none if it means some of the proposed improvement works, which can be extensive, can get under way.

We believe that the experience Natural England has gained, as the progress of the path consultations has developed over the years, has improved both the information available in the documents and the degree of protection for the many Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) around the Solent coastline. That is not to say everyone will agree, either as a landowner or a conservationist, but generally we feel Natural England has found a fair balance. In some sections we have disagreed with the proposals and suggested alternatives to get a path closer to the coast, in others we have supported them. Our guidance has been to make the Solent shore as accessible as possible without unduly affecting the protected sites of which we are rightly proud.

The task of defining the Coastal Path is a mammoth one and the complexity of our Solent coast has meant a great deal of research and very detailed proposals for which Natural England is to be commended. Of course parts will be controversial but overall we hope it is successful and the new sections and various improvements will come to fruition in the not too distant future.

There remains the East Cowes to Wootton section on the Isle of Wight where there is presently no access to the shore line on a very significant part of the Solent. We hope Natural England and English Heritage and other land owners can find a suitable route through.

Our Comments

Calshot to Gosport:

Generally the Society supports the proposals and is pleased with the links that have been proposed to join up various sections of path and create a more continuous route. It would indeed be nice to find a seaward route past Fawley oil refinery and we would hope NE would keep such an option in mind should circumstances change. Similarly the small detours required on the eastern shore of Southampton Water at Netley and the Holiday Park are a pity. SPS would not favour the alternative routes proposed in various places but would support the proposed line.

SPS accepts that the best of the three options and has been chosen at the three estuary crossings. We support the decision to use the pink ferry at Warsash and the Hythe ferry and note and support the reserve position that Natural England reconsider the matter in the event that either of the ferries cease to operate.

Finally SPS supports the proposed S25A designations proposed throughout the route to exclude the public from the seaward coastal margin in these extensive and important protected areas. We would hope that adequate signage is proposed throughout the route to inform the public of the exclusions and that in critical areas fencing is proposed to physically restrict public and particularly access by dogs.

This will be important if the proposed Fawley Waterside development takes place which will put increased pressure on the path and its margins at the south west corner of the route, but we strongly support the path going on the seaward side of the proposed development.

Isle of Wight Wootton to East Cowes:

IOW-2-S017 and IOW-2-S018. Quarr Abbey Section. There is too long a section of the path between Kite Hill and Ryde where there is no view of the sea. We sympathise with Quarr Abbey as quiet contemplation and prayer is the reason for their being there. Quarr is an important and historical Abbey. However we think there is an important opportunity here to improve the view of the sea. If it is not possible to go along the foreshore, even with a winter exclusion using Quarr Road as the alternative, then perhaps a fenced route through Fishbourne Copse would be possible.

The path could then proceed past the heronry (with adequate conservation safeguards) to return up to Quarr Road to the west of the private properties.

Priory Woods. Map 2g. IOW-2-S089 to end of IOW-2-S092. We would strongly support the proposals through Priory Woods. The path at high level becomes very muddy and sticky in winter so a board walk is needed.

Nodes Point. Map 2g. IOW-2-S093 to end of IOW-2-S097. Strong support again for this section with adequate steps due to the underlying ground.

Ferry Point. Map 2h. IOW-2-S113. Remove this section. We suggest the path should not pass in front of Ferry House to avoid trampling on developing shingle spit with interesting floral assemblage. Suggest short fenced path between the end of IOW-2-S112 and the start of IOW-2-S114. Information board sited at end of IOW-2-S112

Yar Quay Bridge. Map 2h. IOW-2-S125 and S126. We draw your attention to the current Planning Application P/00637/14 for nine houses to be built on IOW-2-S126. Suggest Coastal path to follow the current route to join the B3395 about 150 yards to the West unless a route past the housing can be agreed.

From the “Crab and Lobster carpark” to Bembridge Boarding Campus IOW-2-S150 to S158. This section is frequently closed due to cliff slumping. The option is either to roll back or take Howgate Road (suburban with no view of the sea) so roll back provision is important here.

IOW-7-S025-S112 Hampstead to Porchfield.
Maps 7b ,7c, 7d & 7e. It is clear that NE have tried hard to improve the Coastal Path around the highly sensitive waterside at Newtown and this is welcomed. The section at Western Haven will cut out a long and uninteresting inland section of track on the Hampstead trail and the proposed 7 month exclusion is appropriate for wildlife. As this is a new path we are not familiar with it and more fencing may be required both here and through the nature reserve to ensure there is no access, particularly for dogs, between the path and the water’s edge. Similarly the section through Walters Copse, past Clamerkin and through to Porchfield removes a long section of road walking.

The protections at S095 to S097 seem appropriate and essential but we have no direct knowledge of this section. We are generally pleased with the detailed work on the Isle of Wight path to identify the places for restrictions and signage.

IOW-7-S119-S122 MOD land and Burnt Wood 7f, 7g & Directions Map IOW 7B
We are less happy with this section. While the revision from Porchfeld to Thorness cuts out a section of road which is welcome it does nothing to improve access to the shoreline.

The approximately 1.5 mile section of coast from Newtown to Thorness is the second largest gap in the coastal path fronting the Solent after East Cowes to Fishbourne. The Solent on this stretch has beautiful views across to the New Forest and is an area of water with lots of recreational activity to observe.

We would strongly support the proposal put forward by NE under the option S119 –S125 to align the trail to Brickfields Farm via Shepherds Hill or north of it to return to Burnt Wood, fenced if necessary and following field boundaries. We would ask that this is revisited with the MOD to seek a permissive path which can be closed by the MOD where it leaves the Public Right of Way (PRoW) whenever necessary. A similar arrangement has been made for the ECP at Thorney Island in Chichester Harbour.

We would also support the proposal put forward by NE under the option S120 –S124 to align the trail through Burnt Wood, preferably in conjunction with the MOD land so that it is available when the permissive path is closed. We recognize that there are sensitivities in going through Burnt Wood rather than the cliff edge but would suggest that this option must be included in the proposals for the future. The route could be fenced back from the cliff edge with explanatory signage, a resited badger set could be provided if there was no way round it and the path could return to S123 if there was problem with erosion through to S124.

In the meantime there needs to be a link across the southern end of Burnt Wood from the Public Right of Way (PRoW) to the proposed route at S121 on the east side of Burnt Wood. This would also provide an alternative to the PRoW going through Elmsworth Farm. If the connection through Burnt Wood could be achieved rapidly then there would be no need for the path to the east of the wood.

IOW-8-S001-S014 Thorness to Gurnard Maps 8a & 8b This section of path has fine views of the Solent but does become almost impassable in winter due to the muddy clay conditions. The proposed surfacing works will be a big improvement. The roll back proposals are essential as the cliff is prone to frequent erosion. In at least one section of S011 steps will be required cut into the path.

Just before S014 we would ask that a spur is created and steps provided to the beach in lieu of the path reverting to the old route even though the path would not then go behind Marsh Cottage and would use the present permissive path.

IOW-9-S014 to S021 Spencers Wood. Map 9a
SPS supports the proposal to take the ECP down through Spencers Wood. Replacement steps will be required at S014 and new steps by the slipway to allow safer access to the beach at S022.

IOW-10. Generally Maps 10a to 10f
SPS supports the tidal River Medina being included in the coastal path and are pleased to see that all the land in the coastal margin between the path and the water’s edge at all states of the tide are to be excluded under a S25A direction as set out in 10.2.15.

IOW-10-S070 to S074. Whippingham. Map 10f.

While the reason for following a more inland route from Folly Works is understood, we wonder if a route from just north of the boardwalk and proposed kissing gate could follow the field boundaries to run North to join Saunders Way at S074 and so avoid road walking on Beatrice Avenue and be a more pleasant path and somewhat closer to the water’s edge.

The Isle of Wight coastal path from Gurnard looking across Thorness Bay

There is no access beyond the bay to Newtown in the distance. SPS have asked that this 1.5 mile section be reviewed to provide a permissive path through part of the MOD land similar to arrangements at Thorney Island.

Coastal Path South – General and Isle of Wight Consultation.

Report of progress 27 May 2020

Due to Covid 19 all consultation dates had been put on hold until further notice so we did not submit our comments on 13th May as planned. It has now been announced that all consultations should be submitted by 9th June 2020.

While Natural England (NE) have improved access in a number of areas with appropriate protections there is an important 1.5mile stretch from Newtown to Thorness Bay which could be improved, again with safeguards,( MOD land  and a wood of archaeological / environmental interest) There is also a section past Quarr which could be better and there is a small section at Bembridge which may be better routed slightly inland at the point.

Apart from the Newtown to Thorness section the other long and important gap on the Solent Shore is between East Cowes and Fishbourne but this is not yet out for consultation.

NE have issued further information on how they are dealing with the Coastal margin which is set out below. As far as we can see they now tend to restrict all public access in the coastal margin in any area that has a Marine Protection  designation of any sort including birds, which is a change from earlier sections of the path and welcomed, even though they do not say explicitly below. They have also produced a map of where they have got to all round the country which you may find interesting and which I have attached. Click on the map image above  if you want to look more closely.

Coastal margin

As part of this work a ‘coastal margin’ is being identified. The margin includes all land between the trail and the sea. It may also extend inland from the trail if:

  • it’s a type of coastal land identified in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CROW Act), such as beach, dune or cliff
  • there are existing access rights under section 15 of the CROW Act
  • Natural England and the landowner agree to follow a clear physical feature landward of the trail

In the coastal margin, you’ll usually have new rights to enjoy areas like beaches. Some areas will not have such rights because they’re:

  • excepted land, such as cropped land or buildings and their courtyards or gardens
  • not suitable for public access, such as a saltmarsh or mudflat

Other parts of the coastal margin may be steep, unstable and not safe to access. You must take care of your own safety and look out for local notices.

Coastal Squeeze and Rollback

It is generally accepted that sea-levels are rising in Britain, although there are many opinions about the causes and the rates. Most scientists believe that the rate of sea-level rise has already accelerated and will continue to do so until levels of atmospheric carbon-dioxide start to be reduced.

Regardless of the cause or rate of sea-level rise the effects are the same, in a natural system land is “lost” and becomes sea. With a high coastline this manifests itself as erosion of the cliffs, but with a gently rising coastline the result is a slow movement of the shoreline inland – so over time a particular piece of land will change from dry land to shoreline shingle or mud, then foreshore and eventually to sea. The rate of change will depend on sea-level rise, but also on how “dynamic” the environment – how exposed it is to tide and waves.

In the case of a defended coastline if defences are maintained and increased to take into account the sea-level rise (Hold the Line in SMP’s etc) this results in the seaward side of the defence continuing to develop naturally – ie change from foreshore to sea, but the landward side remains the same. The result, known as “Coastal Squeeze” is that the foreshore (Sand, shingle or salt-marsh) is slowly lost together with the natural transition zone from land to sea.

The habitats of these ephemeral transition zones are both rare and important and as a result many are designated under international, European and National designations which require them to be protected.

We are very fortunate locally as the New Forest Coastline contains some of few areas where there is natural gently rising coastline. This is rare, particularly in Southern England, where most of coastline is heavily managed and defended to provide flood and erosion protection. These areas show a natural graduation from farmland, often to a narrow strip of woodland, then to a foreshore, often with the remains of fallen trees, to foreshore and salt-marsh.

The narrow strip of woodland provides a unique habitat, and the tree-roots will slow, and control the rate erosion. The fallen trees also provide a unique habitat and make the shoreline interesting and very different from most other places.

Within the Solent Protection Society we believe that these unique habitats should be maintained, by natural processes, and that they cannot be maintained by traditional engineering works. The most effective way to maintain the habitat is to allow natural roll-back. This should be done by allowing natural regeneration of indigenous vegetation, particularly woodland, along a margin between farmland and the coastal strip.

We would welcome members opinion of how these habitats should be managed and whether this should be funded by public authorities, or whether the landowner should be expected to manage appropriately.

Langstone Sea Defences

SPS was made aware of concerns regarding the imminent preach of the sea defences and lack of action at Southmore Lane, Langstone.

Havant BC had released a press notice last week announcing £376,000 funding had been secured for options appraisal for coastal defence study at Langstone because of flood risk for 86 homes and Hayling Bridge. It has been agreed by the SPS Couincil that a member would join the Eastern Solent Coastal Partnership stakeholder working group and will monitor activities.

As part of this activity, we will take note of any potential impact on the National Coast path.

City of Portsmouth – Flood Defences

Proposals for new sea defences for the island city of Portsmouth are gaining increasing visibility among local residents, with two seemingly opposing views both now being publicly debated.  This work is in response to the Environment Agency Flood Risk Assessment, which predicts the sea level rising by up to 1.2 metres within the next one hundred years.  The “Old Portsmouth and GunWharf” Neighbourhood Forum meeting last night was treated to presentations by the Eastern Solent Coastal Partnership and Portsmouth University School of Architecture lead Walter Mendeth on their respective proposals for improved flood defences for Portsea Island.  It was clear from the reaction of more than one hundred residents present that this essential program of work on the North Solent shore will attract high profile and high quality debate in coming years.  The SECP spokesman gave a comprehensive presentation on the process being followed by the organisations concerned, essential for the securing of appropriate central government funding of a ‘Hold the Line’ approach, while Walter Mendeth offered a more visionary, but as yet un-costed solution to this significant requirement for Portsmouth.


Solent Protection Society are watching these proposals with keen interest and would support a collaborative approach to the evolving design. While the ‘Hold the Line’ approach provides the essential backbone to a program of work which will attract the essential government funding, the lateral thinking introduced by the broad academic team which made up the ‘Elephant Cage’ project will inject an element of flair into the upcoming design stages which could give the final outcome the global appeal which it surely deserves.

Recognising the importance of Portsmouth as the United Kingdom’s only island city puts it on the same level as a small but historically significant island cities built worldwide from which significant maritime history has evolved. Placing Portsmouth on the same level as Venice may appear to be stretching the point, but we believe that it is critical that the plans for the city’s sea defences pay due regard to its heritage.

The new IPCC report.

The new report from the International Panel on Climate Change substantially confirms previous findings. Full details are available here. You can read the summary here.There is no disagreement among the authors about the confidence of the predictions.

Only one dissenting author expressed disappointment at the lack of emphasis on mitigation and adaptation. There is no doubt that action at government level to reduce emissions needs to be vigorously encouraged, but we will have to learn to cope with significant climate change impacts already built into the system.. But that is at a global and international level. Locally we need to think what  can be done to alleviate the effects of flooding, prolonged drought and potential changes in weather patterns.

For the first time, the IPCC have clearly acknowledged that in addition to vigorous measures to reduce the effect of emissions on the climate, there is already so much change built nto the climate system that we are going to have to learn to adapt to inevitable changes at some level. The SPS Council will be considering the report when the promised third part of its review is published. This part should cover ,inter alia, the action that the IPCC believes is necessary to adapt to climate change. Such action is likely to have implications for the Solent and could eventually become the subject of legislation

In the Solent we are already seeing changes that maybe attributable to changes in weather patterns. It is not good enough to simply allow changing weather to wipe out important features such as the saltmarsh areas of the West Solent and Portsmouth Harbour. Already we are seeing rapid declines in some Solent bird populations. compensation projects such as Medmerry are welcome, but not enough on their own.

Protection of the environment needs to have a human context.

Having conveniently ignored sound science for the past sixty years, we are sadly now only able to address ‘damage limitation’  (adaptation and mitigation) rather than ‘damage avoidance’ (prevention).  However while there are many other coastal areas of the world far more fragile than the Solent, that does not mean we should continue to ignore the topic –  it won’t go away and will become increasingly critical.


Can we create saltmarsh?

Hannah Mossman’s presentation to the SPS Council and invited guests on 3rd March bubbled with enthusiasm for the subject, and clear technical understanding.It was yet another step in the efforts of SPS to understand the issues arising from saltmarsh loss in the Solent. This interest was focussed in a conference that SPS organised in 2008. (click  here to view the conference proceedings)

Hannah Mossman
Hannah Mossman

Many of us have heard of grand coastal realignment schemes such as that £25 million project at Medmerry near Selsey. Such things are way beyond the scope of small charities such as SPS. But Hannah’s efforts to improve the quality of newly created saltmarsh were on a much more modest scale-but no less important. She is trying to re create the conditions in which marsh flowers can thrive so that the new saltmarsh can reproduce that which is being lost to coastal squeeze.

It was fascinating, and may even have shown a way in which local people con collaborate to help get the best from Coastal projects.

The slideshow from Hannah’s presentation can be viewed by clicking here.

MCZ tranche 2 update

The RYA have published details of a DEFRA announcement of the next tranche of MCZs to be investigated. We agree with RYA that the decision to include the management measures in the consultation process is to be welcomed.

Sites at Bembvidge; Norris to Ryde ( Osborne Bay); Yarmouth to Cowes; and the Needles are all included in this tranche. Although not in the Solent, the proposed MCZ at Studland is of particular interest because it has already been the subject of research that may give a guide to the management measures that could be applied to the Solent MCZ sites.

The designations are due to be determined by 2015. Full details of the process, and the list of the 37 sites to be reviewed is included in the RYA announcement

Habitat Creation Conference presentation downloads available

The presentations given at the ABP Mer Conference in November (and the formal proceedings) are now available for download via Linked In. The conference report is available from the Resources section of this website (go to Proceedings where SPS is a sponsor or participant)

The conference, for which Solent Protection Society was one of the sponsors was titled “Habitat Creation: Are we Delivering?”. It was aimed at environmental professionals and reviewed a number of recent and current habitat creation projects. A full report of the conference has already been published as a blog item .
Solent Protection Society has arranged a follow up meeting to be held in Lymington on 20th February.There has been growing concern about the rapid erosion of saltmarsh in the West Solent, compounded by the alleged effect of the new larger ferries. Several compensatory projects have been undertaken in the area, and ABP Mer have been involved in several of them. So it is singularly appropriate that Colin Scott from ABP Mer will be delivering this, the third in the SPS series of Winter lectures.

For more information, and to book, click here