What makes the Solent coastline unique?
More than 125,000 coastal birds travel here for the winter every year, from as far away as Russia and Canada.
The Solent’s mudflats and saltmarshes are what makes the coastline so popular with birds.
The Solent has lots of mudflats because the Isle of Wight protects the land from strong currents and waves so that mud can build up along the coastline.
Mudflats are valuable coastal defences as they disperse energy from waves before they reach the land.
Threats to mudflats include dredging and building development, global sea rises, and chemical pollution.
Mud may look empty of life but it is actually brimming with plant life and tiny creatures. In fact, because there are so many living things in the mud, it acts as an ‘all you can eat buffet’ for birds.
Many wading birds love to search for food that lives inside the mud while ducks and geese enjoy munching on the plants that live on top.
Different birds are adapted to feed on different mud dwelling animals. Bird with longer beaks, like curlew, can eat the animals who live deeper. While birds with shorter beaks, like ringed plover, are adapted for eating the animals which live near the surface.
Mudflats are exposed at low tides and submerged at high tides, making them ‘intertidal’ habitats for wildlife. Unfortunately because the mud is covered with water at high tide, it means the buffet is only open when the tide is low.
When the tide is high, birds will take a well-earned rest.
Saltmarshes start life as mudflats. When mud starts to pile up, eventually it gets high enough out of the water so plants can start growing on it.
Saltmarsh is found on the part of the shoreline that the sea reaches only when the tide is high. The plants growing on it can cope with salt and with being regularly underwater.
Saltmarshes are rich in birdlife, plants and insects. Their ecological value includes nutrient regeneration, shoreline stability and their ability to absorb and store carbon dioxide.
Saltmarsh makes an excellent habitat for birds. It is a good feeding ground and resting site, as well as a great hiding spot from predators.