Poole has become such an important site for certain species of bird that Natural England wants to extend the Special Protection Area to cover the whole of Poole Harbour.

Figures show that the numbers of sandwich terns, little egrets and Eurasian spoonbills using the waters and shoreline around the harbour have increased to significant numbers.

Poole has the second largest over-wintering spoonbill population in the UK and the 13th largest over-wintering sandwich tern population, at 181 breeding pairs.

Sandwich terns were not mentioned when the harbour was first classified as an SPA in 1999 because there were not enough birds to warrant it. 

But since then, up to 213 pairs a year have been seen nesting at Brownsea, the most south-westerly colony in the country. 

The number of little egrets in the lagoon has risen from 83 per year to 113 per year, making it the 11th most important site in Britain (and the most important SPA.) 

And the number of spoonbills, also not significant in 1999, has risen to 20 per winter - almost half the GB population.

Poole Harbour is also considered the most important SPA in the UK for Mediterranean gulls, which have seen a tenfold increase since 1999.

To protect these birds, Natural England wants to extend the existing SPA to cover all the waters of the harbour (hatched purple on the map) and a small section of land near Lytchett (hatched blue on the map).

Natural England says the area northwest of Lytchett Bay has become subject to tidal inundation, improving its value as a roosting and foraging area for shelduck, black-tailed godwit and other bird species.

 

Natural England also want to create a new SPA along the Solent and Dorset coast to provide additional protection for sandwich terns and common terns. 

That would include the coast from the Purbecks all the way to Bognor Regis and around Poole and Bournemouth as below.

The yellow represents the area of protection for common terns and the brown the area for sandwich terns.

In a Special Protection Area, authorities have to ensure that offshore activities do not damage the site. Other measures may also be taken to protect sites, such as conservation measures, management schemes and guidance. There is also an offence which covers research activities and scuba diving, and prohibits damage to protected species and habitats in a site. 

Members of the public and other interested parties will be able to comment on the proposals until April, when the consultation is set to close.

A Natural England spokesman explained: "It is proposed the new SPA would incorporate the current SPA and be extended seaward to the harbour mouth, and the landward boundary would include additional land to the north west of Lytchett Bay."

"Currently the SPA boundary extends to mean low water, however waterbirds and seabirds use the waters throughout the harbour to forage and roost.

"At low water on spring tides, waders feed on areas below mean low water while terns, ducks and cormorant feed and roost over open water areas within the harbour, where the seabed is sub-tidal."

Natural England will report to the Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs on the responses received and submit the final site recommendation and impact assessment after the consultation ends.

"Once government has taken all consultation responses into account, it will then decide whether to classify the site as a SPA," explained the spokesman.

Visit gov.uk/government/consultations/poole-harbour-special-protection-area-extension-comment-on-proposals or www.gov.uk/government/consultations/solent-and-dorset-coast-potential-special-protection-area-comment-on-proposals for information.