Special Places

Designated Sites in the Solway

National and international designations cover a wide range of different types of protected area and are made by a variety of local and national authorities. Some of these designations focus on nature conservation while others are concerned with special landscapes.

International designations

A Special Protection Area (SPA) is a site designated under the Birds Directive. These sites, together with Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), are called Natura sites and they are internationally important for threatened habitats and species. Natura sites form a unique network of protected areas which stretch across Europe.

The inner Solway Firth, spanning both English and Scottish waters, is designated as an SAC and SPA and is collectively known as the Solway Firth European Marine Site. The Solway Firth SAC designation reflects the importance of the site’s marine and coastal habitats including merse (saltmarsh), mudflats and reefs. The Solway Firth SPA designation (designated Dec 2020 and includes the previously designated Upper Solway Flats and Marshes SPA) recognises the large bird populations that these habitats support, particularly in winter. Important bird species include Svalbard barnacle goose, pink-footed goose, whooper swan and pintail as well as waders such as bar-tailed godwit, golden plover, oystercatcher, dunlin, knot, curlew and redshank. First proposed in 2016 the new Solway Firth SPA includes the previously named Upper Solway Flats and Marshes SPA and a significantly larger area of the Solway Firth than the original SPA. Over 125,000 seabirds will benefit from this extension according to the UK Government Press Release announcement, Marine Scotland also announced the extension on the same day among other SPA designations and 4 new MPAs. A map of the extended SPA area can be seen here. The map shows that the extension covers the vast majority of the English side of the Solway Firth, extending down to Whitehaven.

The estuary is also a Ramsar site, as it is an important wetland for overwintering birds and the rare natterjack toad, which is found here at the most northerly point in its range.

Solway Firth Partnership also mapped Cumbrian high-tide waterbird roosts in 2016.

The Solway Firth is important for the passage of migratory fish such as sea and river lamprey, as well as salmon and sea trout which the local angling economy depends upon. The Solway also provides an important nursery area for species including skates and rays.

Luce Bay and Sands SAC in the outer Solway Firth has been designated principally for its seabed and dune habitats and the species which depend on these places. The marine part of the SAC is an intricate mosaic of mud and sandy sediments with sandbanks, reefs and boulders supporting a wide variety of plants and animals. The landward part of the site includes one of best dune systems in Scotland, providing an important roosting area for over-wintering birds and a place where rare newts can thrive.

The map below shows the Special Places in the Solway (with the previous Upper Solway and Flats SPA) but for more information on specific sites follow the links below.

Map showing designated areas for nature conservation in the solway region.

For more information:-

SNH Natura Site Information

JNCC SAC Information

JNCC SPA Information

The Ramsar Convention Information

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

AONB stands for ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ and that description fits this part of the world perfectly: it’s a precious landscape with such a distinctive character and natural beauty that it is in the nation’s interest to safeguard it. There are 38 AONBs across England and Wales, created by the legislation of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act of 1949. Together, they comprise some of the finest countryside in England and Wales. There are also 8 AONBs in Northern Ireland.

The Solway Coast AONB has been relatively unchanged since becoming a designated area in 1964. The area covers most of the English Solway Firth coastline from Rockcliffe Marsh to Maryport. The offices of the AONB are based in the Victorian seaside town of Silloth, adjoining the Solway Coast Discovery Centre. The staff and management of the Solway Coast AONB are totally committed to the area and work to protect and enhance this special place.

For more information:

Solway Coast Area of Oustanding Natural Beauty

Heritage Coasts

Heritage coasts are not a statutory designation but were established to conserve the best stretches of undeveloped coast in England. A heritage coast is defined by agreement between the relevant maritime local authorities and Natural England.

Heritage coasts were established to:

– conserve, protect and enhance

– encourage and help the public to enjoy, understand and appreciate these areas

– maintain and improve the health of inshore waters affecting heritage coasts and their beaches through appropriate environmental management measures

– take account of the needs of agriculture, forestry and fishing and the economic and social needs of the small communities on these coasts

St Bees Head is designated as a National Heritage Coast – the only one on the English coast between Scotland and Wales. The red sandstone cliffs of St Bees Head, owned by RSPB since 1973, are one of the most dramatic features of the Cumbrian coast.

The National Trust has now completed a ‘Review of the defined area of St Bees Heritage Coast and the case to extend it northwards‘.  This evidence has been submitted to Natural England and Copeland Borough Council (March 2017) for consideration with the outcome likely to be decided by spring 2019.

National Scenic Areas

The 40 National Scenic Areas (NSAs) in Scotland, with their outstanding scenery, represent Scotland’s finest landscapes. The National Scenic Areas (NSAs) in Dumfries and Galloway are the Nith Estuary, the East Stewartry Coast and the Fleet Valley and were designated over twenty years ago for their outstanding beauty.

Dumfries and Galloway is the first region in Scotland to produce pioneering environmental documents for its nationally important landscapes. The Council, in partnership with NatureScot, has published Management Strategies which were developed over a two year period through a process that involved many people living and working in the area. Information was gathered about the special qualities of each area and knowledge shared about how the areas have been changing over the last twenty years. Local issues affecting the NSAs were raised and ways to positively influence change identified.

For more information:-

Dumfries and Galloway Council

National Nature Reserves

National Nature Reserves (NNRs) represent many of the finest wildlife and geological sites in the country. As well as managing some of our most pristine habitats, our rarest species and our most significant geology, most Reserves now offer great opportunities to the public as well as schools and specialist audiences to experience our natural heritage.

For more information:-

Scotland’s NNR

A visual melting pot of swirling blues and greys, the mudflats and saltmarsh (merse) of Caerlaverock NNR on the north Solway provide a winter feast for birds like barnacle geese, bar tailed godwit and knot. Standing on the edge of this vast flat expanse, you can watch flocks of birds wheeling through the sky as they travel from mudflat to coastal salt marsh. Or arrive at dusk in early summer and listen to the eerie chorus of natterjack toads as they compete to attract a mate, noisily croaking for attention.

Caerlaverock NNR


England’s NNRs

South Solway Mosses NNR is a composite of three large lowland raised bogs: Bowness Common, Glasson Moss and Wedholme Flow. The reserve (land owned and leased by Natural England) covers 1000ha of the South Solway Mosses Special Area of Conservation (SAC) which cover some 2000ha and which also includes the nearby Drumburgh Moss – another lowland raised bog, part of which is owned by Cumbria Wildlife Trust and managed as an NNR.

South Solway Mosses NNR

Plant life includes a range of sphagnum species, hare’s-tail cotton grass, bog rosemary, cranberry, and cross-leaved heath. All three native sundew species are present. A range of breeding birds is found on the reserve including sparrowhawk, curlew, snipe, sedge and grasshopper warblers. Invertebrates found include large heath butterfly, bog bush cricket and banded demoiselle dragonfly.

Drumburgh Moss NNR

Thornhill Moss NNR is a valley mire and a remnant of a formerly large area of wetland created by two waterways – Holme Dub and Crummock Beck. The Moss is one of only three known examples of a sloping valley mire in west Cumbria. The site displays a range of nutrient-poor and nutrient–rich conditions typical of a valley mire and supports a particularly rich and varied flora. The NNR sits within a relatively undeveloped landscape which maintains a sense of isolation and tranquillity. Rare species include lesser-butterfly and early-marsh orchids.

Thornhill Moss NNR

A fascinating mosaic of habitats, Finglandrigg Wood is vital to an impressive array of wildlife, including many less-common species. The site is one of the largest areas of semi-natural woodland on the Solway Plain and includes woodland, peat bog, heathland and rough pasture, that is carefully managed through grazing, planting and coppicing. This range of habitats supports a wide variety of wildlife, ensuring that visitors enjoy a varied experience throughout the year.

Finglandrigg Wood NNR

Sites of Special Scientific Interest

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) are those areas of land and water that best represent natural heritage – the diversity of plants, animals and habitats, rocks and landforms.

For more information:

NatureScot (previously Scottish Natural Heritage)

Natural England