The Harbour

For many years, Poole Harbour and its surrounding environment has been widely recognised and renowned both nationally and internationally as being of vital biological importance. In Britain, very few other estuaries with an enclosed lagoonal characteristic are as large as Poole Harbour making it a relatively unique sight.

The beauty of Poole Harbour lies in the stark contrast between ecosystems that range from intertidal saltmarshes and mudflats to freshwater marshes, reed beds and wet grasslands. Much of this can be spotted by the keen eye in areas of low-lying poorly drained land that sits just above the tidal level. Venture to higher sandy ground, and you’ll note the presence of heathland and heathland mires in small tributary valleys.

Wetland Habitats

Within the wetland habitats that border the Harbour, visitors will discover a wide range of wintering, migrating and breeding birds. Many rare and uncommon plants and invertebrates also make their home in these areas, and within the harbour bed are a wide range of aquatic species such as sponges, tube worms, sea squirts and sea mats.

photo of a Oystercatcher in water
Photo of a red squirel

Digging for bait is only permitted for personal use, and care should be taken when doing so not to cause disruption to the ecosystem.  Please abide by the Southern IFCA ‘Prohibition on Gathering (Sea Fisheries Resources) in Seagrass Beds’ byelaw.  Download an information leaflet on bait digging here.

On the map of the Harbour you will see there are areas in Whitley Lake and around the islands designated as ‘Anchorage Sensitive Zones’, in order to protect eelgrass and the licensed oyster fishing beds.  For further information on eelgrass beds, please download the leaflet here.


Venture up to the heathland, and here you’ll find a thriving ecosystem that is teeming with life. From birds and invertebrates to reptiles, there are many species present here that are classified as rare and uncommon. Located on several of the Harbour’s islands are areas of pine woodland which are home to some of the last surviving populations of red squirrels.

An Area of Biological Significance

With such natural diversity supporting a wide range of plants, animals, insects and birds, it is little wonder that Poole Harbour is held in such high esteem. Recognised by many within the wider academic community as a bastion for rare and uncommon species, the area has been classified with a number of statutory designations. It is these designations that protect this safe haven from external threats.

The Harbour itself has been classified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) as well as a Special Protected Area (SPA). It has also been designated as a Ramsar site (Wetlands of International Importance) and European Marine Site (EMS). Special Area of Conservation (SAC) status was granted to the surrounding heathland, and certain areas of the Harbour have been designated as local and national reserves.

The Harbour, the islands in it and much of the water are classified as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Furthermore, the Harbour comprises part of the Purbeck Heritage Coast and is widely recognised for its landscape value.

Over on the south side of the Harbour, an advisory speed limit of 6 knots is in effect.  This is to maintain the tranquillity of this part of the Harbour and to protect sensitive areas such as small bays and inlets. It is here that many birds feed, roost and breed, and keeping noise and speed to a minimum helps minimise any stress caused.

Please treat all the Harbour’s flora and fauna with care and consideration!

Photo of a Sandwich tern on a tree