DEFRA bolsters protections for seabirds across 100,000 hectares of coastal waters

The environment minister Rebecca Pow has announced the creation of a new EU-protected area for seabirds along a vast stretch of the south coast of England and has extended another in the north east.

The new Solent and Dorset Coast Special Protection Area (SPA) will cover 891 square kilometres from the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset to Bognor Regis in West Sussex, giving extra protections for around 1,000 pairs of common, sandwich and little tern bird species, Pow said today.  

The addition of the newly designated area – protected under the EU’s Birds Directive – brings the total number of SPAs across the UK up to 276, the department said. DEFRA estimates that these sites are home to around 70% of all the UK’s breeding seabirds and 37% of all UK non-breeding waterbirds. 


EU Directive 2009/147/EC: On the conservation of wild birds (codified version)

In force/
26 Jan 2010

Compliance Dates

15/02/2010 Comes into force for all EU Member States



Land and development Sustainable development


EU Commission, EU Council of Ministers (Council of the European Union), EU OJ (Official Journal of the European Union), EU Parliament

Affected Sectors

Cross-sector Agriculture Animal Boarding and Pest Control Forestry

EU Directive 2009/147/EC: On the conservation of wild birds (codified version)

Document Status: In force/Current

Scope: EU


15/02/2010 Comes into force for all EU Member States

The new SPA could help reverse the fortunes of the little tern, whose populations have dropped significantly across the UK, according to the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC). The UK’s seabirds as a whole are in steep decline too – populations are roughly 20% down on where they were in 1986.

DEFRA said that the impacts of climate change through changes to the availability of prey, rising temperatures and extreme weather events are to blame. 

In the north east, meanwhile, the government has announced a 122 square kilometre extension to the Teesmouth and Cleveland Coast SPA near Middlesbrough, home to more than 35,000 birds including the pied avocet, ruff and migratory red knot.  

Pow said: “We have already protected important nesting sites for seabirds, such as the little tern, and these new and additional protections to their feeding grounds, together with the development of a new strategy to protect our seabirds, will help the coastal environment recover, develop and, importantly, thrive.”  

Pow also announced plans to publish a new “seabird conservation strategy” in December 2020 alongside a “wider plan to help preserve populations”.

Finally, the environment minister reaffirmed her support for the independent Highly Protected Marine Area (HMPA) review announced last year. The six-month review is being led by ex-fisheries minister Richard Benyon, who has been asked to recommend whether and how HPMAs could be introduced within English inshore and offshore waters and Northern Irish offshore waters.

His findings have not yet been published. 

Natural England’s chair, Tony Juniper, said the UK had a “particular responsibility” to protect and enhance sea and shorebird populations.

He said: I am delighted that, following an extensive evidence-based assessment by Natural England, these new areas, confirmed today by the government, will help to do that. They will ensure that species of conservation concern, such as terns and waders, have access to secure food sources, including during their critical annual breeding seasons.”

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