International protection for 15,000 seabird colony

Hamford Water SPA, Natural England.

A stretch of Essex coastline has been given international protection. The announcement by Natual England will protect important open water feeding areas, and builds upon the protection already afforded to important little tern breeding sites in the area, helping to ensure the full range of habitats needed by the birds is protected.

The move sees Hamford Water Special Protection Area (SPA) extended by over 5 square miles to protect important feeding sites for little terns, which have seen an almost 20% decline in numbers in the UK over the past two decades. The site is also a nationally important site for avocet, brent goose, black-tailed godwit, redshank, ringed plover, shelduck, teal and grey plover.

International designation will help ensure that any disturbance to the birds’ essential feeding areas is minimised, so that the birds have a safe space to feed in which is safeguarded into the future.

Helen Ward, Natural England manager in Essex said:

“This designation – and the protection it affords our iconic and beautiful seabirds – is an important step in protecting the Essex coast for generations to come.

“The ‘blue belt’ network of marine protected areas will help ensure our important wildlife sites are safeguarded, so that the wonders of the Essex coast and beyond are conserved and improved, to be enjoyed by residents and visitors alike.”

Mark Nowers, RSPB Conservation Officer for Essex, said:

“The estuary is one of the most important sites in Europe for breeding little terns in the summer, but it is also vulnerable and in need of protection and careful management.

“The extension of the Hamford Water Special Protection Area to cover foraging areas in the sea off the coast where little terns feed is a really positive step and will help make sure these threatened seabirds can continue to thrive here.”

Along with extensions to the Hamford Water SPA, Natural England also announced the new ‘Northumberland Marine SPA’, and extensions to the Morecambe Bay and Duddon Estuary SPA in Cumbria.

These designations add an area of more than 150,000 football pitches (450 square miles) to the existing Marine Protected Area network. This gives international protection to feeding habitats for over 425,000 seabirds for the first time.