The 250km (155 mile) coastline of the Solent is distinctive and dynamic. It has a wide range of habitats from the sandy beaches at Ryde and the shingle bank of Hurst Spit, to the vast natural harbours of Chichester, Langstone and Portsmouth. This makes the Solent one of the most important places in western Europe for birds. On a typical winter day there up to 125,000 birds along the shore. This includes internationally important numbers of eight species, and nationally important numbers of a further eight. Many more birds pass through on their migration routes from the Arctic and Scandinavia to the Mediterranean and Africa.
For these reasons, three areas of the Solent have been designated as Special Protection Areas (SPAs) by the government. Three areas are also designated as wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention (an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands).
The Solent is sheltered by the Isle of Wight and has a complex double tide making it unique. The birds use the many varied natural habitats in different ways. An area can only support a certain number of feeding or roosting birds, so the patchwork of different habitats across the Solent is vital. Birds move between different areas of the Solent at different times of the day depending on the tides. To learn more about the different habitats in the Solent, see our coastal habitats section.