The Western Yar is one of five major estuaries on the Solent coast of the Isle of Wight. Situated on the east side of the harbour is the ancient town of Yarmouth which has a medieval castle. The town and its harbour are popular with visitors, many of whom may have travelled across the Solent from Lymington on the Wightlink Ferry. To the south is the village of Freshwater, where a very narrow River Yar rises and flows north through Afton Marshes to Freshwater Gate, where it meets the sea.
The Yar was a tributary of the ancient Solent River which was drowned by rising sea levels following the last Ice Age. The extensive saltmarshes south of the road bridge are known to have developed only during the 19th century. This process was accelerated with the cessation of dredging activities in the upstream reaches of the estuary.
Much of the estuary has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The Yar is relatively unique on the south coast in that it does not receive substantial volumes of sewage effluent. In addition, the valley and river bank are free from development which has enabled the estuary to sustain a wide range of habitats. The Yar is recognised as an integral component of the internationally important Solent Estuarine System, notable for its overwintering and breeding bird populations.
Norton Spit extends across the mouth of the estuary and is terminated by a small sand dune system. Enclosed by the spit are shallow tidal mud flats with developing saltmarsh. The shingle and saltmarsh habitats fringing the spit support three nationally scarce plants; two species of glasswort Salicornia perennis and S. pusilla, and bulbous meadow grass Poa bulbosa. The site also contains the only known population of sand cat’s tail Phleum arenarium on the Island.
A narrow brackish water lagoon to the south-west of the road bridge supports a population of the rare starlet sea anemone Nematostellata vectensis which is of national significance.
The beauty of the valley and the attractive town of Yarmouth encourages many tourists. The harbour is extremely popular with yachting enthusiasts, and the ferry brings across large numbers of day visitors. Yacht moorings do not extend far south of the road bridge as the estuary becomes very shallow. There are also speed restrictions in the river, which limit other watercraft. Immediately south of the bridge is a sailing and canoe club. The recent resurfacing of the old Yarmouth-Freshwater railway line has created a footpath and cycle track which has increased access along the eastern side of the river. On Norton Spit, there is a footpath to the edge of the harbour where visitors may take a water-taxi to the Town Quay. There is also provision here for BBQs
Within the harbour, and in the vicinity of Norton Spit, is an established boatyard which services and repairs visiting craft. This, however, is the only industrial use in the area.
To prevent any deterioration of the valley and associated habitats, and yet to encourage a strong local economy, a management plan has been compiled to provide a framework whereby potential conflicts of interest may be quickly resolved.
Figure 1: Percentage water content of soil across Yarmouth saltmarsh, 16/11/2010
Figure 2: Conductivity across Yarmouth saltmarsh, 16/11/2010