Wildlife trust raises concerns for nature at Sandwich and Pegwell Bay after licence granted for pontoons

Quayside image submitted to the MMO

Kent Wildlife Trust says it is ‘dismayed’ that plans to install pontoons at Port Richborough, along the River Stour, have been approved by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO).

The Trust says the pontoons will result in increased disturbance around protected marine wildlife at Sandwich and Pegwell Bay which is a nationally important nature reserve with multiple protections and home to rare wildlife including a population of grey seals often seen on the banks of the Stour.

The Marine Licence granted by the MMO allows the construction of an additional 500m2 of floating pontoons along the existing First World War quay of Port Richborough.

‘No construction works’

The application was made by family business Coastal Marina. In the application business owner Carl Davis says there will be no actual construction work.

He says: “(It) is a family run business set up by enthusiast family members to provide additional wet moorings to the River Stour to meet the needs of the boating community in the area.

“Our aims are to provide pontoons alongside the existing WW1 quay of Port Richborough. The previous means of access to boats was via ladder, pontoons will give safe access to all moored boats at the Marina.

“I must stress that we are not carrying out any construction works. The quayside has been here longer than any other marina on the River Stour. We are using the space as it was intended for. We are simply creating safer access to the water to protect users.

“Our works will consist of maintaining the quayside edge and placing of pontoons into the water. These will be secure with three piles and additional above water wires and beams.”

Increase in water traffic

Kent Wildlife Trust says it fears the development will result in a significant increase in boats using the site and additional pressures from other recreational activities, such as paddleboards and jet skis.

The wildlife trust sent a lengthy response to the proposals, detailing concerns of increased boat traffic, watersports and other disturbances and saying the move would pose a risk to the vulnerable birds and seals that breed in the area.

Last year the charity also raised awareness around the dangers of seal disturbance at the site by jet skiers, kite surfers and paddle boarders who get too close. Repeated seal disturbance can lead to seals injuring themselves, being left unable to feed their young and even death.

Planning and Policy Officer for Kent Wildlife Trust, Emma Waller said: “We are shocked by the decision to approve a licence for new pontoons at Port Richborough.

“It is worrying the cumulative impacts of recreational activities, which would see an increase from two to three boats a week to 15 boats a day, appear not to have been considered. This would include an increase in the use of jet skis, paddleboards and noise and water pollution.

“These collective impacts are likely to adversely affect the wildlife at Sandwich and Pegwell Bay, which are already at risk of significant disturbance from National Grid’s Sea Link Project. The granting of this licence is yet another blow to local wildlife and we are dismayed by this decision.

“My fear is that with all this disturbance, the seals are just going to move away and not return. It is not every day you see seals in the wild, we are privileged to have a place where we can take our binoculars and watch these magnificent marine mammals in their natural environment, but we are pushing them further and further away.”

‘Far less’ impact

However, in the marine licence application Mr Davis says the plans will not create any negative impact to wildlife.

He said: “We feel that we do not create any negative impact to wildlife, the site was previously used to store cars, which were parked there while awaiting repairs by BCA. We are confident that our impact will be far less than the site’s previous use.

“We are fully aware of the surrounding nature, and we wish to encourage nature and co-exist with nature at the Marina.  For the birds we have already installed bird feeders and nesting boxes.

“Harbour Seals are present in the area, but their habitat is over half a mile away from us. Currently we have only 2-3 boats that leave and return to the marina over the space of a week and forecast that this will only increase to 15 boats per day at the very highest of our season.

“In my opinion the seals are more disturbed by the tour boats that operate in the area.   Some travelling down river from Sandwich, others travelling 15 miles across open sea to spot the seals.

“Jet skiers are a problem for the seals, we heavily educate personal watercraft (PWC) users departing from our Marina about how to navigate past the seals, so they do not cause any disturbance to them.  We are taking steps to ensure that any offenders using the river are accountable by reporting them to the Harbour Master.

“The placing of pontoons in the river will create additional habitat and hiding places for all types of marine fish, crustaceans and other wildlife to hide and feed.”

Workable outcome

Protected Area Warden for the Area, Nina Jones added: “Whilst this decision is a blow, we will continue to work with staff at the Marina, who have expressed a strong desire to minimise the impacts to the environment.

“I remain hopeful that, by working together and putting wildlife at the heart of what we do, we can achieve a workable outcome for the birds, seals and other marine life that call Sandwich and Pegwell Bay home.”

Nature Reserve and National Grid

National Grid plans on display at a drop-in event Photo Ruth Brackstone Bailey

The site was opened as a National Nature Reserve by Sir David Attenborough in 1999.

It is also under pressure from proposals by National Grid that has earmarked the site to host the Sea Link Project.

The Sea Link project involves creating a subsea electricity cable between Suffolk and Kent which National Grid says will help deliver the UK’s energy security strategy and net zero targets.

The proposals outline a preferred route of 10km of onshore and 140km of undersea cables, together with potential landfall and converter station locations at Friston substation in Suffolk and at Richborough.

National Grid’s preferred route runs from a landfall in Pegwell Bay to a proposed converter station site and high voltage pylons over the land to the south of Minster.

The converter station will be 26 metres high and have external equipment such as lightning protection and walkways. A new substation would be built adjacent to it.

In December Kent Wildlife Trust launched a campaign asking the National Grid to “Rethink Sea Link” highlighting that whilst they support renewable energy, it should not be to the cost of wildlife, especially when viable alternatives exist.

To learn more about the Rethink Sea Link Campaign click here.


  1. Pontoon seems innocent as long as it is not used by National Grid! Their development fills half the marshes.

  2. I am glad it’s got the go ahead, it’s not that long ago ( 20 years)that small tankers were using the quayside on a regular basis . The river has to be a shared space, not exclusively for wild life.

  3. Happy to see these pontoons have got the go ahead, thus enabling a low impact development, which is vastly different to the previous heavy industrial usage of this site, and will hopefully help safeguard it for future generations.
    The Sealink project on the other hand is an entirely different matter and must be challenged

  4. The sealink cables will cut right through the protected chalk sea bed as well. All that area is part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest and protected under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981. It is an offence to disturb the endangered wildlife in their habitat and destroy the natural chalk sea beds.

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