Bembridge Harbour provides jobs and important sailing and fishing facilities. Its shores provide significant habitats for wildlife and rare plants. A fragile balance is maintained between commercial, leisure and environmental pressures.
Bembridge Harbour exists in its present form only as a result of human intervention: the major civil engineering works that constructed the embankment, canalised the Eastern Yar and, at an earlier time, created the mill dam and causeway. While the industrial and transport activity of the late 19th and early 20th centuries has now declined, sailing and other leisure activities remain of importance to the Harbour and its economy. One of the most significant factors affecting the viability of the Harbour is silting and the need for continued dredging and groyne maintenance. Sampling indicates that water quality is acceptable most of the time.
Harbour usage, particularly commercial and leisure usage, provides significant local employment and finances harbour maintenance and development, but inevitably these activities place added pressure on the environment. In addition, the need to fund dredging as well as other financial considerations has over the years given rise to development proposals which would have endangered the natural environment with its important habitats. In response, guidelines have been developed to protect the Harbour from excessive or insensitive development.
The importance of the environment of Bembridge Harbour has been increasingly recognised and protected. The Duver, a fixed dune system, has been a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) since 1951, famed for its richness of flora. Similarly Brading Marshes to St Helens Ledges, including the Harbour (SSSI) are recognised for their importance as feeding and breeding habitats for birds - particularly winter migrants. The Harbour is designated a Ramsar site and Special Protection Area (SPA) and a European Marine Site.
The Marshes are now largely owned by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). The saline lagoons behind Embankment Road are part of a Lagoons Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
In 2001 BASHHA members donated £1,500 to the RSPB towards their purchase of Brading Marshes as a Nature Reserve. The European significance of this area now provides added protection to the Harbour.
Any planning proposals by Bembridge Harbour Improvement Company (BHIC) that may have a significant effect on the condition of the site have to be referred to Natural England for approval, refusal or require mitigation measures
The Embankment linking St Helens and Bembridge was completed in 1880. The Bembridge Branch Railway was opened in 1882, as was the Royal Spithead Hotel, bringing commercial and tourist prosperity to the area. Silting of the harbour soon began to be a problem and has remained so ever since. Until 1953 when the "Beeching" cuts caused the Branch line to close, successive railway companies had carried out regular dredging. In 1963 the Pier and Harbour Order (Bembridge Harbour ) Confirmation Act was published which details all the rights and responsibilities of the Harbour Company, the Bembridge Harbour Improvement Company Ltd. (BHIC) In 1968 the Harbour was sold again and has changed ownership several times since then.
In order to undertake expensive dredging successive owners proposed large scale residential and marine developments. There was strong opposition from local residents to such schemes. In response to a major planning application in 1989 to build 80 houses at three sites around the harbour and a Marina at the Point, BASHHA was formed to coordinate opposition and seek a long term plan for the harbour.
BASHHA contributed to an IW Council led Working Party to consider the application and long term policy. In 1991 the revised application was refused. Planning Guidance recommended that there should be no building on Bembridge Point and the Strategic Gap, the open space alongside Embankment Road between Bembridge and St Helens, should be maintained. It was a successful outcome.
Support grew for possible public ownership and purchase of the Harbour to be run by a Charitable Trust.
Regrettably, although it gained considerable local and Council support, plans were unable to be finalised before the new Unitary Authority was established in 1995. Maritime and Leisure Investment Ltd. bought the Harbour in 1995 and in 1998 it was taken over by Mr E B Blatch (see Bembridge Harbour in Administration). Subsequently significant changes took place.. The Harbour Office formerly located at Bembridge Marina was relocated to the Duver and renamed the Duver Marina, with an extended pontoon providing both permanent berths and berths for visiting vessels, moored several abreast in busy periods. Modest Toilet and washing facilities were provided using Bio Digester units and a small convenience shop opened. Limited parking is available which has caused problems of overspill on the access road crossing the Duver. A water taxi is available to boat owners to reach other parts of the Harbour.
For a detailed history of the harbour see the History pdf downloadable from Bembridge Harbour: appraisal of the environment
For more recent developments, see Issues and Activities