Poole Harbour SPA

Status: Designated


Site overview

Poole Harbour is a bar-built estuary on the coast of Dorset in southern England.  As a whole, the Harbour supports important numbers of waterbirds in winter and is also an important breeding site for terns and gulls, whilst significant numbers of little egrets and aquatic warblers migrate through this area.  Parts of the Harbour, along the western and southern shores, are next to the Dorset Heathlands Special Protection Area (a type of Marine Protected Area). 

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 March 1999

Surface Area

23.15 km2 (8.94 mi.2)


272.39 km (169.25 mi.)

  • Waterfowl assemblage

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

  • Common tern (Sterna hirundo)

    A silvery-grey and white bird sometimes called a ‘sea swallow’ because of it’s long tail.

  • Black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa islandica)

    A large wading bird with a very distinctive long beak.

  • Common shelduck (Tadorna tadorna)

    This is a big, colourful duck, bigger than a mallard but smaller than a goose.

  • Pied avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)

    A distinctively-patterned black and white wading bird with a long up-curved beak. 

  • Mediterranean gull (Larus melanocephalus)

    A very rare UK bird until the 1950s, it is widespread in winter and there are now just over 600 breeding pairs. The Mediterranean gull is is slightly larger than a black-headed gull, with an all-black head in the breeding season.

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

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Seasearch has most recently been active in the waters around Brownsea Island, mapping the distribution of Peacock Worm habitats.

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Did you know?…

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 500,000 records of undersea species and habitats have been collected by volunteer Seasearch divers