THE Poole Harbour Special Protection Area (SPA) has almost doubled in size, by having a further 1,845 hectares added.

In addition, the number of bird species the SPA protects have also been increased - with the little egret, Eurasian spoonbill and Sandwich tern added.

Eurasian spoonbills were almost hunted to extinction in the UK during the 17th century. Today their numbers are increasing, with 75 individuals in Poole Harbour.

The Sandwich tern, which nests on Brownsea Island alongside the closely-related common tern, is easy to distinguish because it has a bright yellow tip on its dark black bill and punky black crest.

Environment Food and Rural Affairs Secretary of State Michael Gove sanctioned the extended SPA classification, which increases the protection zone by 44 per cent.

“The SPA now covers all of the harbour below mean low water and a new area of previously freshwater wet grassland at French’s Farm, Lytchett Bay, which is now subject to tidal inundation,” said Natural England’s Lyndon Marquis.

“This extension safeguards the future of bird supporting habitats such as seagrass beds, intertidal mud, saltmarsh and open water.”

The extension secures protection for the nesting, feeding, roosting and resting areas of internationally important populations of over-wintering waterbirds and breeding seabirds.

Birds that can be found in the harbour include the common tern, Mediterranean gull, avocet, black-tailed godwit, shelduck, and an assemblage of more than 25,000 waders and wildfowl including cormorant, curlew, dark-bellied brent goose, goldeneye, lapwing redshank and red-breasted merganser.

SPAs are European designations that recognise areas that support over-wintering, migratory or breeding wild birds.

Lyndon said: “The extension doesn’t just protect the birds and their foraging and nesting habitats though - the rich mudflat also supports one of the most important shellfisheries in Britain, as well as the birds.

“The saltmarsh surrounding the harbour is important for flood mitigation, carbon storage and improving water quality, and the seagrass also locks away carbon and helps attenuate wave action.

“Finally, the wildlife and the beautiful environment of the harbour is one of the reasons why people come to visit and enjoy the area.”