Protecting our natural habitats

A wealth of environmental features, a variety of wildfowl, fish nursery areas, saltmarshes and even historic ship wrecks


We have an important role in making sure that activities in or around the river do not harm the environment. The European Union’s Habitats Directive gives us this responsibility.

We must also follow other legislation:

  • Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
  • Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000
  • Biodiversity Action Plans
  • Protection of Wrecks Act 1974
  • Environmental Protection Act 1990
  • Water Resources Act 1991
  • The Merchant Shipping (Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation) Regulations 1998
  • The Merchant Shipping and Fishing Vessels (Port Waste Reception Facilities) Regulations 2003
  • Hazardous Waste Regulations 2005
  • Marine & Coastal Access Act 2009

Please send any enquiries to the Environment and Development Manager


The River is part of the Solent Estuarine system. It is of national and international importance as a habitat for breeding and migratory birds. It is fascinating to see which birds will chose the Hamble as their home for the winter months. If it weren’t for food and shelter that the river provides these birds would not visit.

The main habitats found in the inter-tidal areas include:

  • 125 hectares of mudflats
  • 60 hectares of salt marsh
  • 60 hectares of coastal grazing marsh

The Hamble offers some of the best examples of mature saltmarsh on the south coast. At the mouth of the river there is a saline lagoon which is internationally designated.

The mudflat and saltmarsh habitats are important for wildfowl, wading birds, molluscs, crustacea and annelids. The water vole, the otter and important species of beetles, moths and invertebrates are also found in the river’s habitats.

River Hamble Harbour Authority has an important role in ensuring that any activities we undertake, or anything we permit others to do, will not harm this valuable environment. The Harbour Authority has been given this responsibility under European Law known as the Habitats Directive.

How sites are protected

Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)

There are operations which cannot take place without permission from Natural England.

Natural England will consider the application and decide if  the operation can take place.  It may be possible within certain restrictions.

Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation

The Solent European Marine Sites scheme (SEMS) covers all SPA and SAC sites in the Solent. There is not a scheme specifically for the sites in the Hamble.

Natural England provides a set of conservation objectives and a favourable condition table for the site.

The management scheme considers all activities which take place within and near the area and assesses the impact.

New projects or developments need separate consideration. Natural England advise decision making bodies on whether the proposal is likely to have a significant effect on the features of the designated site.

Ramsar sites

Ramsar sites are like SPAs in locations and species, and also the way they are considered.


Lee-on-the-Solent and Itchen Estuary

This is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)

A component of this SSSI includes several sections of the River Hamble.

These sections are recognised as being internationally important for over-wintering dark-bellied brent geese. It is nationally important for teal, wigeon, dunlin and ringed plover.

There is a high population of benthic invertebrates including species of mollusc, crustacea and marine worms. Low water intertidal muds provide major feeding grounds for waders and dark-bellied brent geese.

Additionally there is cord grass saltmarsh.

View the map and more details for the Lee-On-The Solent to Itchen Estuary SSSI

Lincegrove and Hackett's Marsh

This is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)

This area is one of the best examples of mature saltmarsh on the south coast. You will find sea purslane, common cord grass, saltmarsh grass, sea lavender, thrift, sea aster and sea club rush.

It also provides feeding grounds and high water roosts for waders and geese.

View the map and more details for Lincegrove and Hackett's Marsh SSSI

Upper Hamble Estuary and woods

This is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) 

The site includes woodland community species of ancient semi-natural woodland.

The saltmarsh is dominated by  sea couch grass, sea club rush, sea arrow grass, sea purslane & thrift. The mudland also supports large populations of marine worms, crustacean and molluscs. It provides feeding grounds for several other species of birds including waders and ducks.

View the map and more details for Upper Hamble Estuary and woods SSSI

Solent and Southampton Water

This is a Special Protection Area

Solent and Southampton Water is designated as important because it is regularly used by the following species:

  • Mediterranean gull
  • dark-bellied brent geese
  • roseate tern
  • sandwich tern
  • teal
  • common tern
  • ringed plover
  • little tern
  • black-tailed godwit

This is also a Ramsar Site

Solent and Southampton Water Ramsar Site is a Wetland Of International Importance

This has been designated because it regularly supports 20,000 waterfowl, and significant numbers of the following species:

  • dark-bellied brent geese
  • black-tailed godwit
  • little tern
  • teal
  • sandwich tern
  • roseate tern
  • ringed plover
  • common tern
Solent Maritime

This is a Special Area of Conservation

Principally designated for the saltmarsh including cord grass and mudflats. These areas provide extensive feeding areas for birds, in addition to being home to a significant assemblage of invertebrate, crustacea and molluscs.

Due to the extended tidal stands in the Solent there is greater feeding time for many of the species concerned.

This designation is also there to protect the form and function of the Hamble as an estuary.

In-combination effects

Decision makers like the River Hamble Harbour Board have a statutory duty to assess whether a plan or project is likely to have a significant effect on a SAC or SPA. Natural England provides advice to assist this process.

An operation by itself may have no significant effect but may cause a deterioration of the site if undertaken many times or in combination with other operations/projects.

If the decision making body decides the project will result in a significant effect then an Appropriate Assessment must be carried out. 

The Harbour Authority (or lead decision-making body) may only permit the proposals if the Appropriate Assessment concludes that there would be no adverse effect on the integrity of the site. If they cannot reach this conclusion, the project can only proceed in particular circumstances. This process allows those proposals which clearly will not impact upon the special features of the site to proceed. Natural England is able to provide advice to authorities on how proposed activities can avoid adverse impacts on a Special Areas of Conservation

When considering the effect of an operation on a designated site it is likely that some change to the designated site is inevitable. This change must be considered as to whether it is acceptable in terms of the designated features and falls within acceptable limits.

Nature Conservation Areas

Official monitoring and reporting on the status of designated sites is undertaken by Natural England. Maps, monitoring results, required actions and the bodies responsible are available on the Natural England website

Map showing site boundaries