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Condition Assessments

Under the EC Habitats Directive the United Kingdom was obliged to report on the conservation status of the habitats and species listed under Annexes I and II of the Directive every 6 years. There are similar reporting requirements under the Birds Directive. Now we have left the EU, the submission of these reports every six years will be to the Secretary of State and there are specific targets being developed for the condition of protected sites in the Environment Bill. Under the Marine and Coastal Access Act, there is also a need to assess the achievement of conservation objectives for Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs). Alongside these reporting requirements, the ability to provide a current view of feature condition within protected sites is crucial to underpin advice on site management and casework.

A condition assessment is a collation of data and evidence from variety of sources including Nature Conservation body monitoring programmes, citizen science projects, academic institutions, designation verification surveys, casework history, and activities and pressure mapping. There are six reportable condition categories: favourable, unfavourable recovering, unfavourable no change, unfavourable declining, part destroyed and destroyed. The assessments are carried out by Natural England and can be found on their Designated Sites System.

Condition assessments are prepared to support decision making for MPA management. Using condition information can:

In 2018 and 2019, Natural England undertook a number of condition assessments of the features of the designated international sites around the Solent (the Solent Maritime SAC, Chichester and Langstone Harbours SPA, Portsmouth Harbour SPA, Solent and Southampton Water SPA) as well as the nationally designated SSSIs that underpin these international designations. For the Solent Maritime SAC the condition assessments completed considered the SAC features across the site as a whole and found the condition of these features (estuary, mudflat & sandflats, sandbanks) to be unfavourable. The unfavourable assessment is based on a number of attributes failing, including the nutrient water quality attribute. Other attributes were also found to be failing, such as, for seagrasses, their extent, distribution, rhizome structure and reproduction as well as biomass, and for the intertidal mud and sand features their infaunal quality. These failures are considered to be in part due to impacts from elevated nutrients.

Condition assessment for the SPAs and Ramsar sites have yet to be undertaken, but a number of bird features are declining as highlighted by recent Wetland Bird Survey alerts. A comparison with regional and national trends indicates that several of the declines are likely to be due to site specific reasons rather than reflecting wider national or regional population trends.

The published Condition Assessments for sites in the Solent can be viewed below: