Benfleet and Southend Marshes SPA

Status: Designated


Site overview

This site is on the north shore of the outer Thames Estuary in southern England. The site comprises a large area of saltmarshes, cockle shell banks, mud-flats and grassland.  These areas provide an excellent feeding ground for a wide range of wintering wildfowl and waders. In fact, over winter, the area regularly supports over 34,000 individual waterfowl, including dunlins, ringed plovers, oystercatchers, knots, grey plovers and dark-bellied brent geese.

MPA Type

Special Protection Area

Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are strictly protected sites designated uner European legislation. They are established to protect rare and vulnerable birds and for regularly occurring migratory species.

Designation date

1 February 1994

Surface Area

22.84 km2 (8.82 mi.2)


61.28 km (38.08 mi.)

Coordinates (central point)

51° 31' 37" North, 0° 41' 2" East

  • Ringed plover (Charadrius hiaticula)

    A small, dumpy, short-legged wading bird that breed on beaches around the coast.

  • Waterfowl assemblage

    Important areas where a number of waterfowl species occur in significant numbers.

  • Red knot (Calidris canutus)

    A dumpy, short-legged, stocky wading bird that depends on the rich source of worms and shellfish in estuaries. Large numbers come to the UK in the winter.

  • Dunlin (Calidris alpina alpina)

    The commonest small wading bird found around UK shores with a distinctive black belly in the summer.

  • Grey plover (Pluvialis squatarola)

    A widely distributed shorebird that prefers sandy and muddy estuaries.

  • Dark-bellied brent goose (Branta bernicla bernicla)

    A small dark goose which occurs in good numbers at just a few sites in the UK. They are vegetarian and particularly partial to seagrass.

  • Tidal rivers, Estuaries, Mud flats, Sand flats, Lagoons (including saltwork basins)
  • Salt marshes, Salt pastures, Salt steppes

Did you know?…

To the shelf limits, Scotland has 61% of UK waters, of which 23% are now in existing or new ‘marine protected areas’

An area over 9 times the size of Wales is now in marine protected areas in the UK, but less than 1% is considered by MCS scientists to be well managed

Over 170 parliamentarians from across the political spectrum signed up to our Marine Charter calling for a network of ‘marine protected areas’ in UK Seas