A Postcard from Bembridge and St Helens.

The Bembridge and St Helens area has an interesting history. The Harbour has been known historically as Brading Haven. In Roman times, small trading ships were worked up the Eastern River Yar to the quay at Brading. The estuary was much larger and extended across the area which is now Brading Marshes, forming a much larger inlet or estuary. In early medieval times Bembridge village grew from a few dwellings on the point to become a collection of hamlets and Brading was an important port for the Island. The Bembridge peninsular was cut off from the main Island by water or a marshy area near Brading, at the top of the Haven, and was known as “Binbridge Isle”.

The topography of the harbour we know today is largely due to the draining of a major portion of the old Brading Haven for agriculture. The drained portion forms Brading Marshes, now a nature reserve. There are four documented attempts to drain the Haven, the most recent of which was completed in the 1870s and shaped the current harbour. The main embankment was eventually built for the railway and lies inland of the current embankment road. The result was disastrous for the future of the harbour; the smaller area has a reduced tidal prism (the amount of water flowing in and out on each tide) and most of the flow of water from the Eastern Yar River was blocked with sluice gates. The reduced tidal prism, combined with the sluice gates, limited the capacity of the tide to transport sediment through and out of the harbour estuary, causing the serious silting with which the Harbour Company and harbour users struggle today. Dredging is essential to keep the harbour open. Silting is further exacerbated by the north westerly longshore drift along the beach on the Bembridge side of the entrance some of the beach protection groynes are over 100 years old and have been allowed to fall into disrepair. Sand is carried by both wind and longshore drift along the beach in the direction of the harbour entrance. Currently there is an organised initiative to raise money to rebuild the groyne on Bembridge Point on the
south easterly side of the harbour entrance. Without a major seawall or strong groyne reaching from the harbour entrance out towards the St Helens Fort, total prevention of the longshore drift would be impossible, but the rebuilding of the main Bembridge Point groyne may well be successful in reducing the build-up of sand inside the harbour entrance. This is a large undertaking and estimates are nearing a quarter of a million pounds.

Currently the harbour is privately owned and the owners have recently invested in a dredger which will greatly assist in keeping the harbour open, hopefully ensuring the continued success of Bembridge Harbour as a sailing, fishing and watersports venue.

The Solent Protection Society (SPS) maintains a strong policy regarding the view of coastal land from the sea and this includes maintaining the wooded aspects of the Island shore, minimising development and associated lighting in the coastal woodland areas. The SPS therefore responded strongly to the planning application by Aria Resorts, which has bought the Priory Bay Hotel and who applied for a number of “tree houses” and chalets to be built in the woods immediately above Priory Bay. SPS is pleased to report that the campaign was successful in preventing houses being built in the woodland.

The Bembridge and St Helens area has much of interest to the naturalist. The harbour is a Ramsar Site and the immediate area lies within the Solent European Marine Sites conservation zone. The recently designated Bembridge MCZ (Marine Conservation Zone) covers the offshore coastal area and is considered one of the most biologically diverse marine reserves in the country. The RSPB Brading Marshes Reserve has been under a major management programme for some years to create and maintain the area primarily for waders. The proximity of the relatively peaceful and organically rich mudflats, combined with the careful management of the invertebrates and water levels on the marsh, has provided an important habitat for overwintering and breeding waders. Bitterns were heard booming in the reedbeds last year and are believed to have bred this year, and a recently released white tailed eagle (sea eagle) was photographed on the marsh at
the end of August.

The harbour, marsh and coastal area comprise a mosaic of interesting SSSIs including the St Helens Duver fixed dune and grassland, several saline lagoons and the Whitecliff Bay to Bembridge Ledges SSSI with its interesting limestone tidal rock formations and clay outcrops. This all makes for a wonderful yearround birding, botanical and general natural history experience for all ages and levels of expertise.

The historian is spoilt for choice. The Roman Villa at Brading is very well curated and presented. The huge Bembridge Fort on Culver Down (National Trust) was completed in 1867 to deter attack from the French under Napoleon lll. It was active in both world wars. There are also the remains of the World War ll gun emplacements on Culver Down, all of which speak of more recent history. In previous centuries the fleet would anchor off St Helens to collect local water which was proven to stay fresh for longer than mainland fresh water on extended voyages. Nelson is rumoured to have spent time in St Helens! The Solent offshore forts were also built to protect the Solent from the French fleet. St Helens Fort was built in 1859 to give protection to ships in St Helens Roads anchorage. Fortunately a major attack by Napoleon lll never came.

Reconfiguration of Buckler’s Hard Yacht Harbour

The Beaulieu River marina at Buckler’s Hard will, over the next two winters, undergo major reconfiguration with a £2m investment. The project will be carried out in two out of season phases, with the first beginning this October and offering improved facilities and a greater number of more convenient walk-ashore berths by March. The second phase will begin the following autumn, with completion of the extended marina providing an extra 66 berths and additional large moorings by March 2021.

Since opening in 1971 and with one subsequent extension, the yacht harbour has remained largely unaltered. The new plans, which have been approved by the Marine Management Organisation and New Forest National Park Authority, will accommodate current market requirements while continuing to preserve the harbour’s unique character.

The private custodianship of the Montagu family has protected the Beaulieu River for over four centuries, as one of the few privately owned rivers in the world. The Beaulieu Estate is working with agencies including Natural England and the Environment Agency to continue to protect its unique habitats and species. Beaulieu Enterprises Managing Director Russell Bowman said: “The reconfiguration will keep a similar look and feel to the existing yacht harbour, while providing a greater choice of berths and better accessibility in the future. We recognise that the Beaulieu River is a very special place and are committed to undertaking the project in a sensitive and sustainable way. Its unique character remains of paramount importance to us.”

A restaurant, bar and tea shop are nearby at the 18th century shipbuilding village of Buckler’s Hard, with its Maritime Museum. Reconfiguration of Buckler’s Hard Yacht Harbour Specialist marina consultancy Marina Projects, based in Gosport, has been appointed to manage the project and the work is being carried out by locally based Walcon Marine. The project designs have included environmentally friendly features. Walcon fitted the first pontoons for the original marina nearly 50 years ago and much of the current infrastructure remains in good enough condition to re-use for the future. New designs will also enable existing piles to become a key part of the refurbishment, where they are able to be re-used. The project will also trial the replacement of some of the river’s swinging moorings with environmentally friendly alternatives, disturbing less of the river bed and using floating ropes instead of chains.

The South Marine Plan in a wider context

David Attenborough recently brought the issue of the sustainability of marine resources to all our attention.  A Marine Plan is a framework document and a tangible step towards sustainable seas.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAOver many years there have been increasing and multiple pressures in coastal waters from dredging, windfarms, communications cables, pipelines, bottom trawling, shipping, leisure activities and many other activities. Much of this activity was insufficiently regulated and often uncharted, with a lack of formal channels of communication between either authorities or perpetrators, and with little thought to sustainability. The associated infrastructure can blight our coastline if cooperation in good planning is lacking. The Solent in particular is under pressure from increased development, both marine and terrestrial.

Concern as to the sustainable use of natural resources worldwide, the decline of biodiversity, food security and climate change led to the ground breaking UN “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 where the Convention on Biological Diversity (also known as the Biodiversity Convention or CBD) was adopted. It entered into force in December 1993. The Biodiversity Convention, to which the UK was a Party, was the first global treaty to provide a legal framework for biodiversity and conservation. Part of this Convention laid the foundation for a worldwide process of Marine Planning to promote sustainable use of marine resources and to halt the decline in biodiversity. The UK commitment to the Biodiversity Convention marine initiative is embodied in the Marine and Coastal Access Act (2009), Parts 1, 2 and 3 of which covers Marine Planning. The UK coastline was divided into tranches and an inshore and offshore Marine Plan was created in each tranche. The South Inshore Marine Plan, which covers the Solent area, became law on 17th July 2018.

Marine Plans are not development documents such as terrestrial Local Plans. They are policy documents. In respect of the South Marine Plan, stakeholders were invited to consultations and workshops to discuss the desired strength of each policy so that a sensible, effective and acceptable level of governance and management could be achieved. Comment on the policies and their local effects, as well as The Solent Protection Society’s role in the consultation process, is covered by another article in this newsletter. Geographically, the South Marine Plan area stretches for 1000 kilometres of coastline from Folkestone to the River Dart. It is one of the most complex and used areas of the English coastline. As elsewhere, there are separate offshore and inshore sections.

To understand the concept of the Marine Plan more clearly, it is worth examining the legislative steps from the “Rio” Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) to where we are today. There are many daughter conventions to the UN “Rio” Convention on Biodiversity (1992) and the more significant conventions relevant to Marine Planning include the OSPAR Convention (1998) which is the UN Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North East Atlantic under which authority the UK marine area falls, and also the more familiar UNCLOS (1982), the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Nineteen years after the “Rio” Convention, the UK Marine and Coastal Access Act (2009) created a new Agency within Defra called the Marine Management Organisation (MMO).

The MMO operates as the competent marine planning authority on behalf of UK Government, delivering marine functions in English territorial waters. The MMO has overall responsibility for Marine Planning, Licensing, Environment, Marine Conservation Zones and Marine Protected Areas, Fisheries (offshore and inshore), and enforcement. It carries out these duties with advice from other appropriate government agencies, mainly within Defra, such as the Environment Agency or Natural England, depending on the relevant issue.

Confusion may arise between the United Nations initiative (UN OSPAR Convention etc.) behind Marine Planning, and European Directives (where transposed into UK law) which are used to enforce the actions of the MMO, for instance the use of the Habitats Directive (UK Habsregs 2010) to enforce Marine Conservation Zones.

Further confusion may have arisen in July 2018 when the South Marine Plan became law just as Defra was consulting on the designation of Marine Conservation Zones, two of which are in the Solent area, the subject of another article in the Newsletter.  To explain the relationship between the two issues, we have to return to the Marine and Coastal Access Act (2009) where, as already mentioned, Parts 1,2 and 3 deal with the creation of the MMO and Marine Planning, while Part 5 covers Nature Conservation. This Part 5 gives the ultimate responsibility for the enforcement of the Marine Conservation Zones to the MMO, although the advisory agency for the science behind MCZs lies elsewhere in Defra, namely Natural England. The MMO also has the mandate to create local regulations where habitats may be suffering damage, and when considered necessary.

The Marine and Coastal Access Act (2009) also gives responsibility to the MMO for all Marine Licensing between High Water and the extent of UK waters. There was a need to clarify and simplify marine licensing and the MMO has responsibility to speed up decisions and to introduce transparency into the system by publishing all marine licensing requests. Marine licensing applications can be found on the MMO website. The overlap with Local Authorities between HW and LW was a deliberate ploy to require Local Authorities and the MMO to cooperate in the tidal zone. Under the Marine and Coastal Access Act (2009) the MMO also holds ultimate responsibility for fisheries management and enforcement. Inshore Fishing Conservation Authorities (IFCAs) have been created to manage and enforce fisheries. At sea, IFCA vessels may assist other patrol boats with for enforcement on different issues, including the contravention of regulations regarding MCZs.

Part 9 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act concerns Coastal Access and the Coastal Path.
The South Marine Plan is the second Marine Plan to be created in English waters (the Eastern Marine Plan was the first), and its birth seems to have been long and complex. The initiative brings together the plethora of authorities and stakeholders for whom MMO has a duty to provide a “one stop shop” to coordinate the many authorities and demands on our waters.

There may be teething problems but the future of this initiative is encouraging.

New Cowes Harbour restrictions

The following guidance has been received from Cowes Harbour

A breakwater Exclusion Zone marked by IALA buoyage will be established off Cowes during the construction period from May 2014 and will vary in size and shape from time to time.  Boats, whether racing or preparing to race or have finished racing and in whatever direction they are sailing, shall always remain outside of the  breakwater Exclusion Zone, passing to the north of the red No 2 fairway buoy and the North Cardinal Marks.The diagram below shows the maximum extent of the Exclusion Zone.”

CowesOuterHbrRestrictions

 

Americas Cup demolition derby

Have you seen the amazing video of the Louis Vuitton trophy? The easiest way to keep up with sailing news is to visit our Solent Now page. At the bottom of he page, you will find news relays from YBW and the RYA Cruising Division. Between them, they pick up most of the key stories of the boating world.

There have been quite a few Solent connectiions with this Americas Cup series. Currently, Sir Ben Ainslie is helming the stalking horse for the defender, Oracle. Indeed that race is probably the most fascinating part towards the end of  the video of race 1 (see the link above).