From James Allaway, Newport:

Keep Newtown for the Birds is naturally delighted Yarmouth to Cowes has been declared a Marine Conservation Zone.

MCZs make sure places like Newtown are managed to allow nature to recover from damage.

That is, managed for the benefit of conservation while allowing leisure activities such as yachting and canoeing.

So long as they are sustainable — and in this case we don’t think they are.

The National Trust, which has managed the sanctuary since 1996, didn’t back the proposal for this stretch of the coast to be included in the last tranche of MCZs.

This is despite the Hampshire and IW Wildlife Trust (HIWWT) saying that it was ‘desperately in need of proper protections to protect special habitats and species that call them home’.

In 2018, Newtown volunteers clashed with the NT over its plans to improve the welcome to the site, which they said was already endangered by increased numbers of water-borne leisure craft.

These are up from around 40 a day at the height of the season back in the early 1970s to up to 200. Increasingly, Newtown now has to contend with canoes, kayaks and paddleboards and we have plenty of photographic evidence of infringements.

No wonder the yachtsman’s own VisitMyHarbour website advises it is ‘best visited off season or midweek as at busy periods ... the reason for going there is somewhat spoiled by close proximity’.

Tellingly, the promotional literature features a photo of a young canoeist up dangerously close and personal with an Egyptian goose and its brood with the caption ‘It’s not just for the birds’.

Ornithologist John Willmott, who has been monitoring the site since the 1950s, has said Newtown is fast turning into a leisure centre and will cease to exist as a nature reserve “within ten years”. Some species are already lost to Newtown while ringed plovers, redshanks, oystercatchers and common terns are also at risk.

Debbie Tann, CEO of the HIWWT, wrote to us saying the NT had ‘a responsibility to ensure any development does not impact on wildlife’ – and suggested a new conservation management plan be developed.

Newtown is also an important site for estuarine rock, which is practically unknown in this part of the UK. Estuaries are mostly soft, muddy places where rocks and stable boulders are rare - and where these elements do exist, as at Newtown, they provide a home for large seaweeds, wracks, kelps, sponges and sea squirts, while below the low water mark anemones and sea mats are found.

Threats to these rocky habitats include mobile fishing gear and pollution.

The IW Biodiversity Action Plan identified expanding recreational pressure on the coast as having probably the greatest impact, with discharge from boats including sewage and ‘grey’ water being listed.

The fragility of Newtown is simply not being considered by the NT at Mottistone. It is estimated that between 58 and 75 per cent of existing saltmarsh in the Solent district will be lost by 2100 due to coastal ‘squeeze’ with many existing areas becoming replaced by mudflats.

Even so, within the smaller estuaries — such as Newtown — saltmarsh is expected to persist and so its relative importance may actually increase