The funding of the project is the result of detailed discussions over the last two years between The Crown Estate and the Harbour Commissioners, and will restore the level of intertidal saltmarsh habitat behind Lymington Harbour's newly constructed breakwaters, using fresh sediment from dredging. It is designed to test a possible means of habitat replenishment which, if successful, will provide valuable insights into the potential for similar projects elsewhere. If successful the project would also increase the level of certainty that rock breakwaters being constructed near the river entrance would result in an increase in the persistence of intertidal mud and saltmarsh habitat.
The project is part of a wider strategy to safeguard the harbour through the construction of rock breakwaters, designed to ensure that the harbour continues to benefit the local economy over the long term.
Construction of two breakwaters will be located either side of the main navigation channel and will be built over six phases as the saltmarsh recedes. The first phase of the west breakwater is already in place with work on the eastern breakwater due to start in 2017. Without the breakwaters the Harbour Commissioners have concluded that "much of the harbour will become untenable for moorings and recreational use as it is enjoyed today. Many local businesses and tourism that depend on the harbour will also suffer. A study on behalf of the Lymington Chamber of Commerce in 2006 estimated that the harbour contributes £93 million per annum to the local economy and supports nearly 1,000 local jobs."
Following the MMO's decision to give the project the go ahead, Professor Mike Cowling, Chief Scientist said: "We were very keen to support this project, which if successful could have major implications not just for the Lymington River, where the loss of saltmarsh has been particularly dramatic, but also for other areas around the UK that are suffering similar issues. We are also very pleased to have been able to partner with the Lymington Harbour Commissioners who have worked extremely hard to ensure the long-term future of the harbour, and we are delighted that the MMO have given the project the go ahead."
The Lymington Harbour Commissioners are constructing the breakwater in a phased approach over the next 30 years depending on the rate at which the saltmarsh recedes, with the first phase completed last year.
The natural saltmarshes alongside the river channel, which have historically provided protection to shelter the harbour, have been receding for some time. This phenomenon has been occurring along much of the North Solent coastline since the 1920s and has been identified by Natural England as being predominantly caused by the effects of sea level rise and natural wave action.