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Environment & Sustainability

Environment and Sustainability

Cowes Harbour Commission (CHC) is committed to the sustainable management and conservation of the harbour, estuary, and local environment and continues to work with harbour users and statutory authorities to ensure the balance between the use of the estuary and its environment is maintained.

Sustainable Transport

CHC actively encourages the use of sustainable transport and encourages its employees to participate in the cycle-to-work scheme. It also helps to promote the Medina Estuary Circular Walk and the improvement works for the Medina Greenway along the eastern side of the estuary. The route around the Medina is also part of the England Coast Path which was set up through the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.

Isle of Wight UNESCO Biosphere Reserve

In 2019, the Isle of Wight was recognised as part of UNESCO’s worldwide network of Biosphere Reserves. The Isle of Wight Biosphere Reserve covers an area of 91,496 hectares of which two-thirds are marine areas.

UNESCO Biosphere Reserves are unique areas of environmental significance in which communities strive to work hand in hand, innovatively and responsibly to protect and support the local environment and the world we all live in. The Isle of Wight follows in the footsteps of the North Devon and Isle of Man Biosphere Reserves as England’s third and the UK’s seventh Biosphere Reserve.

Half of the Isle of Wight has been a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty since 1963, and rare wildlife can be spotted on the Island, such as red squirrels, Glanville fritillaries (butterflies) and Ventnor wall lizards.

Native Oyster Restoration

CHC is working with UKSA and the Solent Seascape Project to help support the restoration of native oysters in the Solent. The oysters help to filter nutrients from the water, improve water quality, and will eventually help to repopulate the Solent with this commercially important species.

Advanced Mooring Systems

CHC works with Natural England, the RYA and other partners to understand the effectiveness and practicality of Advanced Mooring Systems (AMS). These moorings reduce the negative impact traditional methods of mooring.

CHC has installed three AMS on marker and monitoring buoys. This work will help to increase understanding around installation, costs and maintenance and help to monitor their effectiveness in the Solent. For more information see The Green Blue’s Guide to Anchoring and Mooring or LIFE Recreation ReMEDIES.

Wildlife and Conservation

The Medina estuary supports some amazing habitats with mudflats, saltmarsh and seagrass all providing food and shelter to wildlife living in this extraordinary ecosystem. The rise and fall of the tide is important for all creatures and plants within the estuary as well as providing a constantly changing backdrop for recreational activities.

Seagrass and saltmarsh provide food and shelter for fish and other animals, from tiny invertebrates to marine mammals and waterfowl. They are important as a nursery, spawning and refuge area for fish, including commercial species. The plants themselves stabilise the sediment and absorb nutrients from the surrounding seawater.

The estuary’s mud is full of tiny creatures, marine worms and snails, which provide a rich food source for resident and visiting birds. When the tide is in, the mud comes alive with filter feeders that take nutrients from the water as a source of food.

Healthy seagrass meadows, saltmarsh and mudflats store significant amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, helping reduce the impact of climate change. The buffer the habitats provide can also reduce wave energy and help in flood protection.

CHC is working with the Estuaries Project on several projects to help support and restore important seagrass, saltmarsh and native oysters. Further information about this work can be found at Solent Seascape, LIFE ReMEDIES , The Green Blue, ‘Secrets of the Solent’.

Marine Protected Areas

CHC is a competent and relevant authority as set out in Regulation 6 of the Conservation of Species and Habitats Regulations 2010. This means that CHC has responsibility for the sites that are designated for nature conservation within and, to some extent, adjacent to its jurisdiction.

There are four marine protected areas with components within CHC’s jurisdiction:

  • The Solent & Southampton Water Special Protection Area (SPA) and the Ramsar Site, both recognise the importance of the intertidal and estuarine areas for overwintering and breeding waterfowl;
  • The Solent Maritime Special Area of Conservation (SAC), which forms a complex of interlinked sites of importance for a range of marine, coastal and maritime habitats; and,
  • The Solent and Dorset Coast SPA, is designated to help protect Tern feeding areas.

The Management Scheme for the Solent sites is referred to as the Solent Marine Sites Management Scheme (or SEMS). As a relevant authority, CHC is part of the management group and monitors activity within its jurisdiction and reports back to the group which is run by the Solent Forum (a Coastal Partnership). If there are any potentially damaging activities within the Solent sites they are referred to the SEMS Natural Environment Group to discuss and develop management measures if necessary.

For more information about our local Marine Protected Areas see Solent Forum and Natural England.

Sediment Management and Dredging

CHC is committed to the sustainable management and conservation of the harbour, estuary, and local environment and continues to work with harbour users and statutory authorities to ensure that the balance between the use of the estuary and its environment is maintained.

Over the past 10 years CHC has been finding out more about the sediment within the River Medina and the maintenance dredging needs of all stakeholders. Work has commenced to improve the coordination of dredging effort in the estuary to benefit stakeholders through reduced costs and a more sustainable solution for the environment.

The work on sediment management and dredging also links with saltmarsh management in the River Medina as there is evidence from other coastal areas that adding sediment and retaining it around the marshes will help to re-establish the habitat and reduce further loss. More information about beneficial use of dredge material can be found on the Solent Forum’s website.

For more information about the research carried out on sediment monitoring and the current understanding about how the estuary is functioning and developing see CHC’s summary “The natural environment of the Medina Estuary and Cowes Harbour and the following reports

Sediment Flux Measurement in the Medina Estuary: Monitoring Results

(Author: Dr R. S. Nunny BSc. PhD.)
Year 4: 2019 Report
Year 3: 2018 Report
Year 2: 2017 Report
Year 1: 2016 Report

Sustainable Sedimentation Management in the Medina Estuary: Study Reports
Report: March 2018 (Dr R Nunny): ‘Sustainable Sedimentation Management in the Medina Estuary: A Forward Look at Maintenance Dredging Needs, Practices and Management’
Summary of Report: April 2018 (CHC): ‘Studies on Estuary Sedimentation Management’

Report: 2016 (Dr R Nunny): ‘Sediment Management in the Medina Estuary Monitoring Results’
Summary of Report: May 2017 (CHC): ‘Estuary Sedimentation Management & Development of a Maintenance Dredging Management Plan’

Sedimentary Processes: May 2016 (Dr R Nunny): ‘Sedimentary Processes in the Medina Estuary’
Appendices: May 2016 (Dr R Nunny): ‘Sedimentary Processes in the Medina Estuary’

Monitoring Initiation: February 2016 (Dr R Nunny): ‘Medina Estuary Sediment Management Strategy: Monitory Initiation’

Water Quality

Providing a safe harbour for all users is a key priority for CHC This commitment not only encompasses the many physical assets that sit within the river but it also includes the protection of marine ecosystems.

CHC, therefore, take seriously anything that is discharged into the river that could have a detrimental impact on the health of the Cowes Harbour ecosystem.CHC support the work carried out by Natural England and Environment Agency to ensure our waterways and rivers are as clean as possible.

If necessary CHC can enforce the Cowes Harbour General Directions which state the following: 5.16 Discharge of Oil, Sewage and Garbage – No person is to cause the discharge into the harbour of any:

  • Oil or oily residues/discharge
  • Sewage or other pollutant materials into Cowes Harbour, when moored within or alongside marina mooring facilities or alongside pontoon berths having direct pedestrian access to the shore
  • Garbage, plastics, or foodstuffs, except into designated receptacles ashore

Click here to read more about CHC’s free pump-out facility.

In the Medina Estuary, nutrients are a significant water quality issue. They enter the catchment as a result of runoff from farmland and urban areas or as discharges from the sewerage system, private outfalls, faulty sewage connections or as discharge from vessels.

To find out more about the problems caused by nutrients in the Medina estuary see Island Rivers (the Isle of Wight Catchment Partnership). 

What can we do to help improve water quality?

Report Pollution/Discharges

Cowes Harbour stakeholders can play a key role by helping to report any incidents of pollution or discharges through the Environment Agency’s incident hotline number 0800 80 70 60, which is open 24/7. This will ensure the locations of incidents are recorded, and problem areas can be identified.

Minimise inputs from homes and boats

Although water quality is a huge problem, as individuals we can all help to minimise any additional input from our boats or homes.

  • Use a holding tank and the free-to-use pump-out berth at Shepards Marina. If this is not possible then only discharge sewage from your vessel out at sea, at least 3 miles from shore
  • Ensure domestic septic tanks are maintained and sewage pipes are correctly connected
  • Support and follow good practice guidance including what should NOT be flushed
  • Recycling facilities are available at all marinas in Cowes Harbour. Use them wherever possible and help us improve the environment of the Island

CHC works in partnership with Island Rivers, Solent Forum, The Green Blue and others to help identify and address water quality issues. Regional coordination and catchment partnerships are extremely important as poor water quality is the result of a wide variety of mainly land-based sources throughout the Solent.

By working together to reduce pollution and protect the natural habitats that help to absorb nutrients we can improve water quality in the Medina estuary. Many of the issues regarding nutrient pollution in the estuary do not have short-term solutions but making improvements now in all areas of our activities, no matter how small, will ensure a better future for all