The Regional Habitat Compensation Programme
The Regional Habitat Compensation Programme (RHCP) is a strategic programme run by the Environment Agency which seeks to replace habitats that are lost due to coastal squeeze or tidal inundation effects that arise from the management of coastal defences.
Coastal Partners co-ordinates the RHCP in the Solent and South Downs area with the Environment Agency, covering an area between Hurst Spit in Hampshire to Beachy Head in East Sussex, including the north coast of the Isle of Wight
The RHCP reviews, implements and monitors habitat compensation targets arising from the relevant Shoreline Management Plans and meeting those targets is a legal requirement. Since 2010 there have been several habitat schemes already completed in the Solent and South Downs are; however, there is still an urgent need for habitat compensation to meet the outstanding requirements for the area. Completed schemes are:
- Lymington Water Level Management Plan
- Medmerry Managed Realignment Scheme
- Manor House Farm
There are three types of habitat that require compensation along our shoreline – saltmarsh, coastal grazing marsh and freshwater habitats. Saltmarsh is predicted to have the greatest area of loss over the next 100 years, so the immediate focus of the RHCP is on creating saltmarsh habitat
Left image: No seawall present, natural habitat migration. Saltmarsh erodes at the seaward edge but migrates landward maintaining the extent and fumction.
Right image: Seawall present, coastal squeeze. Saltmarsh cannot migrate landward due to seawall. Saltmarsh squeezed against seawall, reducing extent and function.
Saltmarsh protects the shoreline from erosion by buffering wave action and trapping sediments. Saltmarsh thrives along protected shorelines and is essential for maintaining healthy fisheries, coastlines and communities. Saltmarshes provide essential food, refuge and nursery habitat for many different species including rare invertebrates and are an important feeding ground for birds.
Potential sites in the Solent and South Downs area have been identified for saltmarsh habitat creation. These sites have been prioritised based on how likely it is that they could be implemented as there are many barriers to managed realignment, such as the physical characteristics of the site, landowner concerns, opposition, presence of infrastructure or utilities and the potential loss of important landward freshwater habitats and bird roosting sites.
Coastal Partners has carried out stakeholder engagement throughout the investigation of potential saltmarsh habitat creation sites, including holding a facilitated workshop with the aim to collect information from delegates on their views about potential habitat creation sites.
In 2019, funding bids were approved for the top two priority intertidal habitat creation schemes (Hook Lake, Warsash and Marker Point on Thorney Island). This funding is to commence work on detailed studies, site assessments and options appraisal work to confirm future habitat creation and management opportunities at these sites. Coastal Partners is committed to enhancing the natural environment through delivery of schemes such as the RHCP.
Further information on the Solent and South Downs RHCP is available on the Southern Coastal Group website.
Hook Lake, Warsash