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Solent Disturbance and Mitigation Project

Project Overview

The Solent coastline provides feeding grounds for internationally protected populations of overwintering waders and wildfowl, and is also extensively used for recreation. In response to concerns over the impact of recreational pressure on birds within protected areas in the Solent, the Solent Forum initiated the Solent Disturbance and Mitigation Project (SDMP) to determine visitor access patterns around the coast and how their activities may influence the birds.

The project was divided into two three phases.

  1. Phase I collated and reviewed information on housing, human activities and birds around the Solent, and reviewed the potential impact of disturbance on birds.
  2. Phase II has involved a programme of major new data collection to (i) estimate visitor rates to the coast from current and future housing, (ii) measure the activities and distances moved by people on the shore and intertidal habitats, and (iii) measure the distances and time for which different bird species respond to different activities.
  3. Phase III resulted in an Avoidance and Mitigation Plan.

The project evidence conducted by Footprint Ecology and Bournemouth University, concluded that recreational pressure along the Solent coastline was causing an adverse effect on designated birds. The final report within phase 11 showed primary data to predict whether disturbance may be reducing the survival of birds. Predictions were derived for wader species by developing detailed computer models of birds and disturbance within Southampton Water and Chichester Harbour. These models create a virtual environment within the computer incorporating the intertidal invertebrate food supply of the birds, the exposure and covering of this food through the tidal cycle, disturbance from human activities, and the energy requirements and behaviour of the birds as they avoid humans and search for food. The invertebrate food supply of birds in the models was derived from previous intertidal surveys, and the exposure of intertidal habitat predicted from a tidal model of the Solent. The models incorporated the costs that birds incur when avoiding human activities (e.g. increased density in non-disturbed areas, reduced time for feeding and increased energy demands when flying away), but also their abilities to compensate for these costs (e.g. by feeding for longer or avoiding more disturbed areas). The predictions indicated how disturbance may be effecting the survival of waders throughout the Solent. The findings of phase 11 were fully disseminated in a workshop, hosted by the Solent Forum on 24th April 2012.

Solent Recreation Interim Mitigation Strategy and Partnership

Once the SDMP concluded adverse effect, the Local Authorities within the Solent formed their own partnership to coordinate implementation and monitoring of the strategy. An interim mitigation strategy was prepared by the local authorities within 5.6 kilometres of the Solent coastline in collaboration with Natural England and key stakeholders. The strategy document and information about the Partnership can be viewed on the Partnership's website.


Project Detail

Natural England’s Position

Natural England endorse the project evidence, and support the Avoidance and Mitigation Strategy.

Given the large volume of previous studies and the relative complexity of the modelling work used to explore the impact of future housing, Natural England commissioned a scientific peer review of the Solent Disturbance and Mitigation Project. This review (ABP Marine Environmental Research Ltd. 2012), was finalised in December 2012. Download the Review.

Natural England has written to the relevant local authorities and in the letter concludes “Our advice is that the likelihood of significant effect, in combination arising from new housing development around the Solent cannot be ruled out.” The Solent Forum understands that Natural England wish to work in partnership with local authorities to develop effective solutions.


Phase I

Phase I of the SD&M Project, comprised a Desk Research Study on Recreational Disturbance to Birds, 2009 (pdf file) and a Methodology for phases II and III.


Phase II

Phase II, primary research, included:

  1. Results of Bird Disturbance fieldwork: 2009/10. Bird Surveys assessing disturbance to overwintering birds - 1st Year Report 2009 (Jonathan Cox) and 2nd year report Dec 2010 (Footprint Ecology).
  2. Visitor Surveys - 2010 by Footprint Ecology.
  3. The Household Survey work main report by Footprint Ecology main report and Data Tables and Map Annexes, Final report September 2011. The Visitor Model main report 2012.
  4. Modelling the impact of disturbance to birds, awarded to Richard Stillman. Work started July 2010 and was completed in 2011. A workshop held in November 2010 disseminated preliminary results and developed mitigation scenarios that can be used for modelling. Download workshop mitigation ideas tables. Natural England gave a presentation on the implications for Habitats Regulation Assessments at the workshop. 

Excel Data Sets

There are two Excel data sets to support phase II. These should be interpreted using the published reports from the SDMP, which contain copies of the surveys and the methods of the survey data were handled. The two sets are a Solent Visitor data set and a Solent household data set.

Phase II Final Report

The report below represents the culmination of Phase II, in which the primary data are used to predict whether disturbance may be reducing the survival of birds. Predictions are derived for wader species by developing detailed computer models of birds and disturbance within Southampton Water and Chichester Harbour. These models create a virtual environment within the computer incorporating the intertidal invertebrate food supply of the birds, the exposure and covering of this food through the tidal cycle, disturbance from human activities, and the energy requirements and behaviour of the birds as they avoid humans and search for food. The invertebrate food supply of birds in the models was derived from previous intertidal surveys, and the exposure of intertidal habitat predicted from a tidal model of the Solent. The models incorporate the costs that birds incur when avoiding human activities (e.g. increased density in non-disturbed areas, reduced time for feeding and increased energy demands when flying away), but also their abilities to compensate for these costs (e.g. by feeding for longer or avoiding more disturbed areas). The predictions indicate how disturbance may be effecting the survival of waders throughout the Solent.

Workshop to Disseminate Phase II

Following the completion of Phase 2, the Solent Forum hosted a workshop on 24th April 2012 to disseminate the results. Download the meeting notes. Presentations included:

  1. Solent Bird Modelling (April 2012)
  2. Solent Forum Feedback Report
  3. Graylingwell Recreational Disturbance Mitigation Project
  4. Project Level HRA at Tipner
  5. Isle of Wight Council Island Plan Projects
  6. The Developer Point of View
  7. Gosport Borough Council Point of View
  8. Natural England Perspective 

Phase III

The third and final phase of the work provides a suggested avoidance and mitigation strategy. The work was conducted by Footprint Ecology. Natural England, as part of the Project Group, wholly supports the project. The phase 3 report has two two parts. Firstly identifies a short-list of potential suitable mitigation measures, including “quick wins,” which could be delivered quickly and easily. The second part develops a strategy which responds to the evidence base and Natural England’s Position Statement. The Phase III report has now been released, for endorsement and adoption by the Local Planning Authorities.