Natural England Conservation Advice for Marine Protected Areas
Chesil Beach and The Fleet SPA

Natural England guidance

This site collection contains Natural England’s conservation advice for this site. It fulfils Natural England’s responsibility under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (as amended), to give advice on how to further the conservation objectives for the site, identify the activities that are capable of affecting the qualifying features and the processes which they are dependent upon.

Natural England's conservation advice for this site is made up of a number of components. You will need to consider: Additional information for consideration:

Site information

Overarching site: Chesil Beach and The Fleet EMS
Site name: Chesil Beach and The Fleet SPA
Designation type: SPA
Site identification: UK9010091
Latest classification date: 17 July 1985
Qualifying features
(click to see site specific description):

General information on the site features:
You can find generic information on the qualifying species from the following websites: The generic information on the supporting habitats for the qualifying features is useful for understanding the qualifying features, and should be used in conjunction with the site specific information.
Designated area (ha): 747.37
Component Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI):
Overlapping Protected Areas:

Last updated: 13th March 2020

Background information and geography

The Chesil Bank is situated on the West Dorset coast, stretching 29 km from West Bay to Portland, and is one of the five largest shingle beaches in Britain. Due to longshore drift and other contributing factors, the beach material is precisely graded from pea-gravels at West Bay to cobbles at Chiswell, Portland (although there are local variations) (May and Hansom, 2003). The Fleet is the largest example of a lagoonal habitat in England, covering approximately 495 ha, supporting the greatest diversity of habitats and species of any saline lagoon in the UK (Bamber, 1997). The lagoon is extremely sheltered from wave action and has weak tidal streams, except in the eastern Narrows and entrance channel at Ferrybridge. The tidal range is much smaller and temperature range far greater than on the open coast. This suite of environmental conditions is rarely found in the UK in a single lagoon and influences the diversity and composition of its biological communities (Copley, 1999).

Birds rely on several intertidal, subtidal and terrestrial habitat types for nesting, loafing, resting and foraging. The shingle bank provides nesting for internationally important populations of breeding little tern Sternula albifrons, and although not features of the site, it also supports increasing numbers of breeding common tern Sterna hirundo and a small number of breeding ringed plover Charadrius hiaticula. The Fleet provides important foraging for internationally important populations of wigeon Anas penelope via extensive seagrass communities, comprising Zostera marina var. angustifolia and Z. noltii and two species of tasselweed, Ruppia maritma and the rare spiral tasselweed R. cirrhosa, which are found in the lower, mid- and west Fleet but are absent from Abbotsbury embayment and the fast-flowing Narrows eastward. There are also extensive stands of Phragmites reedbed grading to wet meadows behind at the Abbotsbury embayment and in places along the west and east Fleet hinterland shore. Areas of mudflats occur in the east Fleet and along the hinterland shoreline, and saltmarsh habitats occur as thin linear features throughout. The Fleet is an important nursery ground for a number of fish species and is a designated sea bass nursery. As such, it provides an important food source for little tern, foraging over the Fleet for small fish.

Whilst not an SPA feature, the site currently supports internationally important over-wintering populations of dark-bellied brent goose Branta bernicla bernicla, which winter around the Fleet and rely on the seagrass meadows for feeding habitat, and also populations of pochard Aythya ferina, red-breasted merganser Mergus serrator, little egret Egretta garzetta and Mediterranean gull Larus melanocephalus, which occur at the site in numbers exceeding the British nationally important thresholds. In addition, the site supports the largest resident mute swan Cygnus olor population in Britain, which graze predominantly on the seagrass beds (Frost et al., 2017).

Site maps

Use the MAGIC website to see site maps, including habitats, species and other marine designations.

These maps are based on best available evidence, there are some caveats associated with the maps on MAGIC.

Conservation objectives

The site’s conservation objectives apply to the site and the individual species and/or assemblage of species for which the site has been classified (the "Qualifying features" listed above).

The objectives are to ensure that, subject to natural change, the integrity of the site is maintained or restored as appropriate, and that the site contributes to achieving the aims of the Wild Birds Directive, by maintaining or restoring:
  • the extent and distribution of the habitats of the qualifying features
  • the structure and function of the habitats of the qualifying features
  • the supporting processes on which the habitats of the qualifying features rely
  • the populations of each of the qualifying features
  • the distribution of qualifying features within the site

Qualifying features

Refer to the site information table above for the list of features within this site.

This should be read in conjunction with the accompanying supplementary advice section, which provides more detailed information to help achieve the objectives set out above, including which attributes should be maintained and which restored.

The conservation objectives apply under the Habitats Regulations, and must be considered during a Habitats Regulation Assessment, including an Appropriate Assessment.

The conservation objectives and accompanying supplementary advice provide a framework to inform the management and measures needed to conserve or restore the European site, and the prevention of deterioration and significant disturbance of its qualifying features.

Where the objectives are met, the site will be considered to show a high level of integrity, and to be contributing to achieving the aims of the Habitats Regulations.

Supplementary Advice on Conservation Objectives

See supplementary advice on conservation objectives for this site, which aim to describe the range of ecological attributes that are most likely to contribute to a site’s overall integrity.

Last updated: 13th March 2020

Advice on Operations

See the advice on operations for this site to view information on the sensitivity of features in this site to the pressures exerted by different activities.

Last updated: 13th March 2020

Advice on Seasonality

See the advice on seasonality for this site, to view the months in which each mobile feature occurs in this site.

Last updated: 13th September 2019

Feature Condition

In 2016, Natural England trialled and rolled out a new Marine Protected Area (MPA) condition assessment methodology that provides robust results and information on the condition of marine features designated within MPAs in England. With guidance from National teams and using all available evidence and condition monitoring data, Area Teams conduct these assessments following a standardised approach that assesses if the feature and sub feature conservation targets set for each MPA have been met.

To date, condition assessments have been completed for a number of features in a range of marine Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) by the National and Area Teams. Further marine habitat features in SACs and other MPAs will continue to be assessed in the future. The new method can now also be applied to complete habitat and species condition assessments for other MPAs in England, whilst still meeting the different processes in place to report on the results of condition of features in Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs). Different processes are currently in place to decide and report on the condition of non-marine habitat and species features of SACs.

The main part of the assessment process is directly undertaken and stored here on Natural England’s Designated Sites View. The details for the most recent assessments of this site can be found here.

Management measures

If you are carrying out an environmental assessment, planning an operation or assessing an operation or proposal, it is important to consult with the following organisations where applicable. To find out if any management measures, byelaws or other restrictions apply to your activity see the management measure page or you can use the following links for more information.

The Marine Management Organisation license, regulate and plan marine activities in the seas around England and Wales so that they’re carried out in a sustainable way.
Environment Agency are responsible for regulating major industry and waste, water quality and resources, fisheries, inland river, estuary and harbour navigations, conservation and ecology.
Offshore Petroleum Regulator for the Environment and Decommissioning (OPRED) regulates oil and gas, CCS and gas storage activities in the marine environment.

Further information

For further information relating to this designated site you can refer to the following resources:
Site specific information: Other information:
For further information about this site contact: Natural England enquiries Telephone: 0300 060 3900. Email: