Oh we do like to be beside the seaside…

© Bob Chapman

Beach huts are a popular and established feature of the seaside, but can lead to disturbance of rare habitats

Beach huts are a place from where the rich and famous used to enjoy their visits to the beach. To soak up the sun on a hot and sunny summer’s day is something that many of us long for on cold, wet and dreary winters’ day, such as today, as I write this post.

It’s important for our health and wellbeing that we are able to get out and enjoy the great outdoors, but with an ever increasing population, and less space for us to exercise and relax, it is inevitable that conflicts between people and wildlife will occur.

The south coast of Hampshire and the whole of the Isle of Wight is bordered by the sea, and the shingle and sand habitat that makes up the beach is nationally a rare habitat in its own right, and one of international conservation importance. It is a qualifying feature of the Solent Maritime Special Area of Conservation.

Sea kale on the shingle at Calshot

© Clive Chatters

The Solent’s shingle habitats are made up of both mobile and stable systems and support a wide range of shingle vegetation communities. Vegetated shingle is characterised by specialised plant species, such a yellow-horned poppy and sea holly that have adapted to survive in this harsh and dynamic environment. But it is not just the plants that are special - some invertebrate (insect) species have adapted to use it as well as some bird species that use it for breeding and roosting.

Coastal vegetated shingle is a fragile and declining habitat and there are several threats to its survival; rising sea level and coastal squeeze as a result of climate change, disruption of natural coastal processes such as sea defence work, urbanisation, extraction of materials and the introduction of non-native species. But by far the largest threat is recreation, and the trampling of plants and disturbance of nesting or roosting birds by humans.

Strategic planning needed

Over the last few weeks the Wildlife Trust has commented on several planning applications, seeking permission to place more beach huts along the south coast of Hampshire where there were previously none, all but one of these is likely to have direct impacts on this rare habitat type.

Whilst we encourage people to visit and enjoy the coast, new beach huts in the wrong location will mean we see an even greater decline in this rare habitat.

We're very concerned about the ad-hoc way that sites are put forward for development, and the lack of any measures to protect this internationally important habitat.

We would like to a see a Solent-wide strategy for protecting wildlife-rich sections of the coast, ensuring the protection and re-creation of coastal vegetated shingle and all the wildlife it supports. It could include creating permanent exclusion areas that would enable vegetation to develop, the management of which could be funded by proposed new developments, and the education of those who use the coast.

We think this kind of strategic planning is urgently needed to ensure that wildlife is protected from inappropriate development all along our coastline.