Lymington Harbour is located in the estuary of the Lymington River bordered by mudflats and areas of saltmarsh which are essential to the estuary’s ecosystem. Saltmarshes are important resting and feeding sites for birds throughout the winter from late October to early March and provide a safe haven for young birds in summer. The saltmarsh contains rare and vulnerable plants and provides important nutrients for wildlife.
The estuary’s mud is also crammed full of tiny creatures, marine worms and snails which provide a rich food source for resident and visiting water birds. The estuary is also full of fish, and it is not unusual to see visiting seals transiting the harbour in search of supper!
The Lymington River estuary is recognised as an important area for nature conservation. It is part of a larger site that includes a number of designations made because of the presence of certain habitats, species, or numbers of a particular species found there.
Most of the Lymington River estuary falls within the Solent Special Protection Area (SPA) and Ramsar Site. The tidal areas of the estuary form part of the Solent Maritime Special Area of Conservation (SAC). A single management scheme exists for the SPA and SAC sites - The Solent European Marine Sites scheme (SEMS). This covers all SPA and SAC sites in the Solent and there is not a separate scheme specifically for the sites in the Lymington estuary.
The SEMS scheme includes a set of conservation objectives and a favourable condition table for the site, provided by Natural England. The management scheme considers all activities which take place within and adjacent to the SAC or SPA and assesses whether or not they will have an adverse effect on the site, and whether any form of control or prohibition is required. Any new projects or developments require separate consideration. In these circumstances, Natural England advise decision making bodies as to whether the proposal is likely to have a significant effect on the features of the designated site. Ramsar sites are very similar to SPAs in terms of locations and species, and also in the way they are considered.
Official monitoring and reporting on the status of designated sites is undertaken by Natural England. Maps, the monitoring results, any required actions and those bodies responsible for these are available at Nature on the Map.
Lymington Harbour Commission (LHC) has responsibilities under the SEMS management scheme to monitor and report any changes to activities in European designated sites within their jurisdiction. Since 2013, the monitoring continued under a new streamlined system, which is combined with other locations within the site to produce and identify any issues that require management.
A key challenge facing the harbour is that the salt marsh which has historically been providing shelter from wave attack is eroding. As it does so the shelter it provides from the full force of the sea is diminishing and eventually the harbour and the sea defences which protect the town will become fully exposed. Together with New Forest District Council, the Channel Coast Observatory and the Environment Agency, LHC continues to closely monitor the rates at which saltmarsh is being lost in order to guide its strategy for Harbour Protection.