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England : Isle of Wight


The Isle of Wight  is an English island and a county, located 3-5 miles (5-8 km) from the south coast of the mainland, in the English Channel. With a single Member of Parliament and 142,000 permanent residents (2008 estimate) it is also the most populous parliamentary constituency in the UK. Although the island is known for its wealthy yachting community, it now has the second lowest wage levels in the UK, and more than 25% of people are on benefits. Nearly half the population are over 50. Newport, located in the middle of the island, is the administrative centre and main shopping area. The Rural Community Council  is particularly active with supporting the 1,500 or more voluntary and community organisations that work so hard for the benefit of the island and its residents.

The island is approximately diamond-shaped and covers an area of of 384km2 with the highest point being St Boniface Down at 241m. It has 258 km2 of farmland, 52 km2 of developed areas, and 92 km of coastline. The landscape of the island is remarkably diverse, leading to its oft-quoted description of "England in Miniature". West Wight is predominantly rural, with dramatic coastlines dominated by the famous chalk downland, running across the whole island and ending in The Needles stacks - perhaps the most photographed aspect of the Isle of Wight.

The rest of the island landscape also has great diversity, with the most notable habitats being the soft cliffs and sea ledges, which are spectacular features as well as being very important for wildlife, and are internationally protected. The River Medina flows north into the Solent, whilst the other main river, the River Yar flows roughly north-east, emerging at Bembridge Harbour at the eastern end of the island. Confusingly, there is another entirely separate river at the western end also called the River Yar flowing the short distance from Freshwater Bay to a relatively large estuary at Yarmouth. To distinguish them, they may be referred to as the Eastern and Western Yar.

Without man's intervention the sea might well have split the island into three; at the west end where a bank of pebbles separates Freshwater Bay from the marshy backwaters of the Western Yar east of Freshwater, and at the east end where a thin strip of land separates Sandown Bay from the marshy basin of the Eastern Yar, east of Sandown. Yarmouth itself was effectively an island, with water on all sides and only connected to the rest of the island by a regularly breached neck of land immediately east of the town.

The island has a rich history, including a brief status as an independent kingdom in the 15th century. It was home to the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Queen Victoria built her much loved summer residence and final home Osborne House  at East Cowes. During her reign in 1897, the world’s first radio station was set up by Marconi at the Needles battery, on the western tip of the island. During the Second World War the island was frequently bombed. With its proximity to France the island also had a number of observation stations and transmitters, and was the starting-point for one of the earlier Operation Pluto pipelines to feed fuel to the Normandy landings. The island’s maritime and industrial history encompasses boat building, sail making, manufacture of flying boats, the world’s first hovercraft and testing and development at the Needles battery of Britain’s space rockets, subsequently launched from Woomera, Australia.

The major reason for including the Isle of Wight (IoW) as a case study was the bold claim made in 2008 by their Island Strategic Partnership (ISP) that it was to become an ‘Eco Island’  through implementation of a sustainable community strategy and by 2020 have the smallest carbon footprint in England. The ISP comprises the leading organisations on the island (IoW Council, the health authority, the police, voluntary and community groups, IoW College, the business sector and government departments) and stated it had worked with residents to develop this ambitious strategy set out under four themes with a set of fifteen key priorities: 

Thriving Island
We will:
• protect and enhance our island’s natural beauty;
• create wealth whilst reducing our carbon footprint;
• produce as much of our energy as possible from renewable sources;
• support economic development and regeneration, enabling everyone to share in the island’s economic success, by increasing the skills of the whole community.

Inspiring Island
We will:
• ensure our children achieve better than the national average at school and college;
• reduce childhood inequalities by tackling poverty, neglect and domestic violence;
• support families and carers to provide a safe and positive environment for our young people.

Healthy and supportive Island
We will:
• reduce levels of obesity in all ages;
• improve health, emotional wellbeing and life expectancy across the island;
• support vulnerable people to live independent lives;
• ensure people of all ages have places to live and things to do in their local area.

Safe and well-kept Island
We will:
• reduce crime and substance misuse;
• reduce anti-social behaviour and disorder;
• reduce the fear of crime and increase public confidence;
• improve the visual appeal and ambience of our island, now and in the future.

Renewable Energy & Eco Housing

It is somewhat ironic that Vestas shut down the UK’s only wind turbine blade manufacturing plant at Newport on the Isle of Wight in July 2009 with the loss of 600 jobs, citing lack of demand from British customers. This was certainly the case on the island itself where despite the council having launched its Eco Island policy amid great publicity nearly two years earlier, there has not been a single commercial turbine erected on the Isle of Wight, except for a small one at Parkhurst Prison where it provides power for the kitchens. Only one complaint was received to the planning application, criticising the lack of a coherent island wind energy strategy. Other applications on the island have had less success.

Cheverton Down Wind Farm,  a joint application by Vestas and Cornwall Light and Power (CLP), to erect three 125-metre turbines has faced staunch resistance from the likes of ThWART (The Wight Against Rural Turbines), who also opposed plans for three 44.5 metre turbines at Ventor Golf Club. However, the Island Turbine Action Group (ITAG)   was formed to counter the claims of ThWART and rally support for consent being given to a new planning application for Cheverton Down. If permission is granted, the turbines will have a combined total capacity of 9MW and produce enough green electricity to power over 4,700 local homes. This would result in CO2 savings of between 14,000-15,000 tonnes per annum, as well as making a significant contribution towards the Eco Island target to have over 100MW of generating capacity by 2020. (N.B. on 3 December 2009 Isle of Wight Council refused planning permission but in January 2010 CLP announced it intended to appeal against this decision. In April 2010 another renewable energy firm, Infinergy, announced it was hoping to seek approval to build five turbines on land south of Wellow near Yarmouth that would produce 11.5 MW.)

The Forest Road gasification plant, which is run by global energy company ENER-G’s sustainable arm, Energos,  has been more successful. It became fully operational in February 2009 and generates 2.3MW of green electricity from 30,000 tonnes of residual waste from the 60,000 tonnes currently being processed at the Island Waste Services resource recovery facility. Energos uses its own patented gasification technology – an advanced thermal treatment process that converts residual waste into a gas by using the heat of partial combustion to liberate the hydrocarbons within the waste. Residual waste is fed into the gasification chamber, where it is converted into a syngas. This syngas is then transferred to a secondary oxidation chamber where it is fully oxidised in a controlled environment that enables much tighter control than can be achieved in conventional energy from waste plants – resulting in extremely low emissions.  The resulting heat is recovered to produce steam and/or electricity.

In October 2009 the council joined forces with E.ON, one of the UK’s leading energy companies, to deliver a free or low-cost home insulation scheme  across the island. The scheme forms part of the council’s commitment to reducing the island’s carbon footprint in line with the eco-island vision. It will provide private homeowners with the opportunity to receive subsidised loft and cavity wall insulation with prices starting from just £142 for cavity wall insulation including survey, materials and labour. Households with occupants in receipt of benefits or aged over 70 will be eligible to receive free cavity and loft insulation through the scheme. The benefits of installing home insulation could include reduced bills, warmer homes, fewer maintenance costs, improved energy performance rating for Home Energy Certificates and lower carbon emissions.

In December 2009 a local farmer submitted a planning application to build a biomass generator on his land, producing around 100kw of electricity and up to 200kw of heat from fuels including wood chips, wood pellets and specialised renewable crops grown on his farm, such as switchgrass and reed canary grass. His business partner, an agricultural expert and former campaign manager of THWART, said a biomass generator would be far preferable to wind turbines as a source of green energy.

The above mentioned, albeit welcome initiatives, are still very far removed from meeting the island’s current energy demand which is estimated to be 3264 GWh per year and projected to grow to 3307 GWh by 2010. This is for heat as well as electricity, and includes transport fuel. In terms of types of fuel used, 56% of total energy demand is currently met by piped gas from the mainland, 26% comes from petrol and diesel used for transport, and 16% comes from electricity imported from the mainland. There is a lack of data relating to the use of heating oil on the island.

In 2002 the council produced an Renewable Energy Strategy  for the island to 2010. The analysis of the socio-economic context highlighted the following issues to be the main opportunities and/or threats for the development of RES on the island:

  • High number of environmental designations on the island, such as Heritage Coast and AONB
  • Economic under-development relative to the rest of the southeast region
  • Decline in the agricultural sector, and therefore a need to diversify farm incomes
  • High number of tourists visiting the island in the summer months

The report went on to state:

Based on economic and near economic options, the lower bound of estimates is that the island could meet 10% of its electricity requirements by 2010, coming primarily from on-shore wind, biomass CHP, and the existing waste-to-energy plant (N.B. now replaced by the gasification plant).

Of the options considered, on-shore wind power is the main option for a new renewable energy development on the island that is commercially viable in the near term. The range of achievable contribution to electricity demand by 2010 is estimated to be 5-8%. This could take the form of 2-3 small wind clusters, of 4-6 machines in each.

The waste-to-energy plant on the island currently produces about 13GWh of electricity per year, which equates to just over 2% of 2010 electricity demand. There are no plans to expand the plant. However, under the latest government guidelines, only 50% of the plant’s output can be considered to be renewable, when assessing contributions to the 10% government target.

Options that are close to being economic, and could become economic by 2010, and that could make a significant contribution to meeting island energy demand are: biomass heat and power production, using energy crops (most likely short rotation coppice) and forestry residues as feedstock; anaerobic digestion, both farm-scale and centralised; biodiesel production as a substitute for diesel fuel for transport; and off-shore wind. These technologies will most likely require grants or some form of price support in the short term to make them economic.

The possible contributions from these near economic technologies are as follows:

  • A centralised 5MW CHP biomass facility, burning forestry residues and energy crops, to generate heat and electricity. This would meet about 7% of 2010 electricity demand, and 3% of total energy demand. This would require about 10% of agricultural land on the island to be planted with energy crops – most likely short rotation coppice poplar or willow.
  • A biodiesel production plant, making use of waste vegetable oil, and rapeseed grown on set aside land, could produce 2.4 million litres of biodiesel per year. This would provide enough diesel to meet the needs of the Island Waste Services, Wightbus, and Southern Vectis diesel fleet. This would meet about 3% of 2010 transport energy demand, and 0.7% of total energy demand.
  • There are estimated to be 5500 dairy cows on the island. The slurry from these animals could be anaerobically digested to produce methane, to power a CHP engine. This could either be in a single centralised plant, or in a number of smaller, farm based units. This could meet 0.3-0.7% of 2010 electricity demand.
  • One offshore wind farm, 50MW capacity, would meet 27% of 2010 electricity demand, and 5% of total energy demand.

Of these, the contribution of a single, offshore wind farm would make the largest contribution to electricity and total energy demand. However, it is also the option over which the island community has the least degree of control or influence over, and for this reason, is probably the least likely to be realised. This is due to the large investments required, the fact that planning is controlled by the Crown Estate, and that there may be other, more suitable sites on the South Coast.

Solar water heating is another well-proven, mature technology that can make a small, but valuable contribution to meeting heat demand on the island, for domestic, and institutional water heating, as well as for heating outdoor swimming pools. The main constraint for this technology are the relatively long payback times, which are unlikely to decrease much, with current energy prices, due to the mature nature of the technology.

Photo-voltaic (PV) technology (also known as solar panels) are another relatively well demonstrated technology that can also make a small, but valuable contribution to meeting the electricity demand of domestic as well as commercial buildings. However, the current relatively high capital costs of these systems will limit their degree of penetration by 2010. But cost reductions are foreseen for this technology, particularly with building-integrated PV, which could increase its economic viability beyond 2010. Both PV and solar water heating both have the advantage that they are readily suited to urban environments, and therefore can be introduced without many of the planning constraints associated with other types of renewable technologies.

There is one further RES option possible for the island, which is still at an R&D stage. This is tidal stream, or marine current turbines, which make use of tidal currents to generate electricity. The island is one of the few sites in the UK with suitable resource. Although it is not certain as to whether this technology will be commercially viable by 2010, there is an opportunity for a demonstration installation of up to 3MW off the coast of the island. This could provide about 1.6% of 2010 electricity demand, with an annual energy output similar to the existing waste-to-energy plant. If this technology did prove to be technically and commercially viable, then there could be opportunities for wider deployment of this technology off the island’s coast in the longer term.

Based on the analysis, a number of exemplar, or “flagship” projects are identified, which could be submitted for grant funding, and would act as important pilot and demonstration projects for renewable energy on the island. These are:

  • A community wind project
  • A biomass CHP or heat-only scheme, providing energy for a large end-user
  • Zero energy housing development, incorporating a combination of different RES and energy efficiency measures
  • Farm based anaerobic digestion
  • A biodiesel production plant
  • Demonstration marine current turbine  

A central part of the island’s eco plans was the Pan Regeneration Project situated on the east side of Newport next to the existing Pan estate, which the council initially hoped would provide an environmentally friendly housing scheme. The intended homes were to be Code Level 4 on a national scale, meaning they must be 44% more energy-efficient than current new build requirements, and the first houses were due to be completed by 2010. Those plans stalled, however, after contractor Miller Homes pulled out due to the housing market slump.

However, in October 2009 it was reported that the council as landowner, in association with Spectrum Housing Group, had submitted a planning application for over 800 new homes to be built on the same site. They hoped to achieve planning permission and to secure a purchaser for the site before commencing development Spring 2010. In addition to taking over responsibility for obtaining planning permission, the council and Spectrum Housing were in talks with the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) and had a bid in for a further £11 million grant money (on top of a similar amount already committed to the scheme by the HCA). This would help provide infrastructure including a new spine road to open up the development site making it more attractive – and economical – for a developer to step in and build the homes in accordance with the planning permission.

The Pan development will deliver on the Eco Island agenda by creating one of the largest all-tenure housing schemes to achieve a minimum of Code Level 4 for Sustainable Homes. Central to this is the use of a wood-burning biomass centre, which will supply heat and hot water to all the homes within the scheme, with the possibility of extending provision to existing homes on the adjacent Pan estate through retrofitting, as well as to a future adjacent employment area. The biomass centre will be combined with a visitor centre for a new 10 hectare country park, which will provide recreational facilities for residents and replacement habitat for protected species such as dormice that may be displaced by the development.

In keeping with the Eco Island ethos there has been a range of other buildings sympathetically constructed in recent years including new facilities at Arreton Primary School and Medina High School, a café at the local zoo and public toilets in several villages. Local architects  are beginning to design eco-homes and the directors of a local company, 3Greenlights, have gone one step further and provided access to their own home which demonstrates how all the renewable technologies can work together to provide a sustainable lifestyle.


In January 2010 exclusive development rights for an offshore wind project west of the island were awarded to Eneco,  the cleanest energy company in The Netherlands. This massive project is still in its early stages but the company believes around 30% of the 723 sq km zone, which lies around 15 miles off the island’s southern tip and The Needles could be developed and operational by 2016 providing around 900MW of capacity, enough to power 587,000 homes. Eneco have said the final design and ultimate capacity will be determined after comprehensive engagement with the public, Isle of Wight Council, community and environmental groups.

In July 2010 Real Ventures Ltd unveiled plans for a £130m biomass power plant that could provide more than two thirds of the Isle of Wight’s electricity and would help cut the island’s emissions by 60%. The company was formed by island residents who came together after opposing plans for wind turbines and they believe this privately funded plant, which would burn wood pellets to create steam to power generators, could open in 2013. The company has proposed establishing a Reality Energy Centre at an old council site in Stag Lane, Newport, which could create 235 jobs and also claim they will be able to provide heating and hot water for nearby public and industrial buildings through underground insulated pipes from a distribution point. As part of the project, developers also plan to create a wildlife sanctuary on part of the 8.7 ha site.

In January 2011 the island’s council submitted a £21m bid to the government’s Regional Growth Fund to finance the Solent Ocean Energy Centre  establish a tidal energy project. This ambitious plan would have created hundreds of jobs but was rejected.

Waste Minimisation & Recycling

Alongside the new gasification plant, investment is being made in the waste processing and recycling equipment at the Isle of Wight’s Council’s Resource Recovery Facility operated by Biffa subsidiary Island Waste Services, the council’s integrated waste management contractor. The new facility will extract recyclable material from waste delivered to the site and residual waste will be processed to provide fuel for the gasification plant. The various services and sites operated by this company for the collection, recycling and disposal of all the island’s household waste are generally acknowledged as being some of the best in the UK. Their community education programme and information materials (inc DVD and numerous publications freely available on their website) are also excellent and ably backed up by the council ‘s own waste department  and management plan.  One pressing problem is the identification of a new landfill site before the present one at Lynnbottom reaches maximum capacity, which is expected by 2015. The council has drawn up a shortlist of 11 possible sites but because of land restrictions, many are in the AONB so they have embarked on an extensive period of public consultation.

There are other commendable initiatives like Ventbag where the town of Ventor became the first town on the island to be plastic carrier bag free and went on to promote Morsbags  - fabric shopping bags made by volunteers using recycled donated fabrics. The Isle of Wight Real Nappy Network  is a voluntary group spreading the word about the benefits of reusable cloth nappies. Computability recycles computers for the less-enabled on the island. Rapanui  is an island based green clothing company using organic, natural and ethical fabrics. This business also utilises factories with their own wind and solar panels, biodiesel vans and carbon offset warehousing.

On a far more commercial scale, the Vikoma  company based in Cowes is a world leader in the design and manufacture of oil and chemical pollution control systems. It’s sister company recently announced that it hoped to develop and manufacture its new Rotawave  machine on the Isle of Wight in a multi-million-pound expansion programme that could create up to 300 jobs. The Rotawave machine acts like a giant microwave, reducing the water content in wood, ‘cooking’ it until it becomes suitable to be burned in existing power stations fired by coal. Dubbed ‘green coal’, the pellets can be stored above ground without breaking down or rotting, making them ideal for power station use, unlike conventional biomass fuels.

Water Management & Security

The Isle of Wight imports some 30% of its water from the mainland depending on demand. In 2006, local environmental charity the Footprint Trust launched an initiative entitled Water Works that raised awareness of the need to use water resources more efficiently. This project was particularly relevant at the time as water shortages throughout southeast England had led to a hose pipe ban and other water conservation measures. Besides distributing leaflets and posters, the Trust created demonstration drought tolerant gardens in public places; promoted an innovative island invention the NuCan  push button watering can; gave away thousands of Southern Water ‘Save-a-Flush’ bags which save a litre of water with every flush of the toilet; and produced a mouse-mat from recycled car tyres for free distribution round schools and libraries highlighting water and other resource saving measures.

Extensive Agriculture & Organic Food Production

The largest industry on the Isle of Wight is tourism, but the island has a strong agricultural heritage, including sheep and dairy farming and the growing of arable crops. Traditional agricultural commodities are more difficult to market off the island because of transport costs, but island farmers have managed successfully to exploit some specialist markets. The high price of these products overcomes the transport costs. One of the most successful agricultural sectors at present is the growing of crops under cover, particularly salad crops, including tomatoes and cucumbers. The Isle of Wight has a longer growing season than much of the UK and this also favours such crops. Garlic  has been successfully grown in Newchurch for many years, and is even exported to France. This has led to the establishment of an annual Garlic Festival which is one of the largest events of the island's annual calendar. Lavender  is also grown for its oil. The favourable climate has led to the success of vineyards, including one of the oldest in the British Isles, at Adgestone  near Sandown. There are two breweries on the island. Goddards in Ryde opened in 1993 and Yates  which opened in 2000.

All these local products and many more including cherries, cheese, mustard, honey and cider are promoted through the Wight Food & Taste Trail, sold at weekly Farmers’ Markets  in Newport and Ryde and can be purchased online at the Real Island Food Company  or Wight Hamper Company. The largest sector of agriculture has been dairying, but due to low milk prices, and strict UK legislation for milk producers, the dairy industry has declined. There were nearly 150 dairy producers of various sizes in the mid-eighties, but this has now dwindled down to just 24. However, island farmers have taken full advantage of agri-environment schemes with 99 agreements covering approximately 5,263 hectares currently in operation. These help support projects for maintaining lowland hay meadows, orchards, hedgerows, footpaths, bridleways and offering farm educational visits which all make a huge difference to the wildlife and landscape of the island.


The Isle of Wight has a total of 787 km of roadway. Major roads run between the main island towns, with smaller roads connecting villages. It is one of the few counties in the UK not to have a motorway, although there is a dual carriageway from Coppins Bridge in Newport towards the north of Newport near the island’s hospital and prison.

On the green transport front the council have introduced an island-wide car sharing scheme and have a pool of 7 electric smart cars for staff use. The local police have also been trying out Vectrix Electric Maxi Scooters  to assist with traffic management at large scale events.

A comprehensive bus network operated by Southern Vectis  connects most island settlements, with Newport as the central hub. The council has topped up the grant this local company gets from central government (to subsidise various fares for the young and old) . This means that elderly and disabled people can travel for free. Young people under 19 can travel for a flat single fare of £1. Bus use has increased dramatically from 5.27 million passengers in 2004 to 8.28 million in 2008 – a 57% increase. Even discounting the growth in free travel – by no means unique to the island – this increase was the highest in the country. In October 2009, the company was first in the UK to introduce the Really Green Car Scrappage Scheme,  allowing residents to swap an old car, scooter, moped or van – even if they have only one day’s MOT left – for a £720 ticket to use their bus network for a year.

The island's location 8 km off the mainland means that longer-distance transport is by boat. Car ferry and passenger services are run by Wightlink  and Red Funnel as well as a hovercraft operated by Hovertravel. Fixed links, in the forms of tunnels or bridges, have been proposed. The island formerly had its own railway network of over 88 km, but only one line remains in regular use. The Island Line  running a little under 14 kilometres from Ryde to Shanklin is now operated under Stagecoach South Western Trains Limited.

Bembridge airport is home to the Isle of Wight’s only hard surfaced runway that is open to the public 7 days a week throughout the year with no prior permission required for radio equipped traffic during licensed hours. It is also the headquarters of the UK’s last private aircraft manufacturing company, Britten-Norman producers of the world-famous Islander and Trislander aircraft. 

The island has over 322 km of cycleways, much of which can be enjoyed by families off road. Major Trails are:

  • The Sunshine Trail which incorporates Sandown, Shanklin, Godshill and Wroxall in a 19 km circular route
  • The Troll Trail between Cowes and Sandown (21 km, 90% off road)
  • The 100 km Round the Island Cycle Route through some of the island’s best scenery

Sustainable Tourism & Niche Marketing

Tourism is still the largest industry on the island and well promoted both through official tourist information centres  and other holiday and travel guides.  There were an estimated 2.56 million visitors to the Isle of Wight during 2007/08, an increase of 2.5% on the previous year, and virtually all these visits were made by domestic residents. The latest tourism report  gives a comprehensive breakdown of other statistics and visitor trends.

The island is known for its outstanding natural beauty, its world-famous sailing based at Cowes, and its holiday resorts some of which have been popular since Victorian times. At the turn of the nineteenth century the island had ten pleasure piers including two at Ryde and a “chain pier” at Seaview. The heritage of the island is another major asset, which has for many years kept its economy going. Holidays focused on natural heritage, including both wildlife and geology, are becoming a growing alternative to the traditional British seaside holiday, which went into decline in the second half of the 20th century, due to the increased affordability of air travel to alternative destinations. Almost every town and village on the island plays host to hotels, hostels and camping sites. Out of the peak summer season, the island is still an important destination for coach tours from other parts of the UK.

Cowes plays host to several racing regattas and Cowes Week  is the longest-running regular regatta in the world, with over 1,000 yachts and 8,500 competitors taking part in over 50 classes of yacht racing. In 1851 the first America’s Cup race took place around the island. Other major sailing events hosted in Cowes include the Fastnet race, the Round the Island Race, the Admiral’s Cup, and the Commodore’s Cup. The solo long-distance yachtswoman, Dame Ellen MacArthur, who in 2005 broke the world record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe, is now based in Cowes. She has retired from competitive sailing to focus on environmental campaigning and is a passionate advocate of the Eco Island concept.

As well as more traditional tourist attractions, the island offers both self guided walks  or escorted walking holidays  and cycling holidays  through the attractive scenery. An annual walking festival has also attracted considerable interest. The 108 km Isle of Wight Coastal Path follows the coastline as far as possible, deviating onto roads where the route is impassable closer to the sea. There is a vibrant arts and crafts community  and the island is also home to an International Jazz Festival, Bestival and the recently revived Isle of Wight Festival, which, in 1970, was one of the largest rock music events ever held and now comes complete with its own Eco Action Policy and ecological management plan

Isle of Wight competes in the biennial Island Games which it hosted in 1993 and will do so again in 2011.

Biodiversity & Protected Areas

The Isle of Wight is a microcosm of southeast England and has, size for size, its fair share of the habitats characteristic of the region. The chalk grasslands, the maritime cliffs and slopes, and the estuaries are particularly important, not only in a regional context but also on a national and international scale. Unlike most of England, no grey squirrels are to be found on the island, nor are there any wild deer or mink. This allows populations of native animals that have become rare on the mainland, such as red squirrels, dormice, water voles and many species of bats to flourish. The mild climate and maritime situation provides a foothold for species such as the Glanville fritillary butterfly, on the northern edge of their European range.

There have been many changes in the countryside and the wildlife it supports throughout history. As a consequence of human activities, chalk grassland on the Isle of Wight has declined in area by two-thirds since 1850, and even greater losses have occurred to heathland habitats. In more recent times, there have been increasing pressures relating to built development, whether for housing, roads or industry. Agricultural practice, driven by government policy, has changed dramatically over the last 50 years and has resulted in change to the countryside. An estimated 72 species are considered to have become extinct locally within the last fifty years and very many more are in decline. These losses are largely due to habitat change or loss. The island presently has 54 species that are regarded as national priorities for conservation protection.

The Isle of Wight Council Parks & Countryside Section  is responsible for the local Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP),  which sets out the principles and projects developed for the benefit of habitats and species in the local area. The first stage of the plan was to produce an audit of the island’s biodiversity in 1999 called: Wildlife of the Isle of Wight. Within the BAP there are Habitat Actions Plans that relate specifically to key habitats on the island and include information about the extent, condition, legislation and actions for enhancement. A decade later a new publication entitled Isle of Wight Biodiversity: celebrating 10 years of local action  was published by the BAP partnership members.

All the BAP partnership members including the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, Isle of Wight Natural History & Archaeological Society, Isle of Wight Ornithological Group, Medina Valley Centre, Wight Nature Fund, Wight Squirrel Project, Butterfly Conservation  and Isle of Wight Hedgerow Group  have contributed in various ways through managing reserves, carrying out surveys, undertaking biological recording/monitoring, instigating research projects and furthering educational activies.  

Much of the island is covered by nature conservation and other designations. About half of the island has Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty status, in recognition of its landscape value and the West Wight Landscape Partnership  scheme is a three year programme of projects which bring together communities, landowners and local groups to conserve and enhance the important habitats and wildlife of the Isle of Wight’s western landmass and encourage people to explore, understand and celebrate its rich culture and heritage. 11% of the total land area is designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest and much of this, particularly around the coastline, is also considered to be of international importance. A further 10% has been identified locally as having value as Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation.

Estuaries are amongst the most diverse and interesting places in the UK and the island’s estuaries are no exception. There are five estuaries located on the north and northeastern coasts of the island. Each has unique characteristics and is subject to a combination of different pressures, either natural or as a result of human activity. The current focus of the Isle of Wight Estuaries Project  is the management of the Medina Estuary and the Western Yar Estuary. Both have management plans developed in the late 1990s and more recently reviewed which set recommendations and objectives devised through extensive consultation. The island’s coasts and estuaries have been internationally recognised as important for nature conservation and are included in the Solent European Marine Sites (SEMS)   project. The Solent Forum  currently provides the secretariat for the SEMS management and stakeholder groups as well as being a platform to deliver Integrated Coastal Zone Management in the Solent sub-region of southeast England.

The Isle of Wight is made up of a wide variety of different rock types ranging from Early Cretaceous times (around 127 million years ago) to the middle of the Palaeogene (around 30 million years ago). All the rocks found on the island are sedimentary, made up of mineral grains from previously existing rocks. These are all consolidated to form the rocks that can be seen on the island today, such as limetone, mudstone and sandstone. Rocks on the island are very rich in fossils and many of these can be seen exposed on the beaches as the cliffs erode. Along the northern coast of the island there is a rich source of fossilised shellfish, crocodiles, turtles and mammal bones. The youngest of these date back to around 30 million years ago. Cretaceous rocks on the island, usually red, show that the climate was previously hot and dry. This provided suitable living conditions for dinosaurs. Dinosaur bones and footprints can be seen in and on the rocks exposed around the island's beaches, especially at Yaverland and Compton Bay. As a result, the isle has been nicknamed Dinosaur Island with Britain’s first purpose built dinosaur museum  and visitor attraction.

Integrated Development Planning

Prior to the introduction of Eco Island, the Isle of Wight council had published an Agenda 21 Strategy  and in 2000 together with Best Foot Forward, the Environmental Policy and Management Group of the T.H. Huxley School at Imperial College, carried out a project Island State – an ecological footprint analysis of the Isle of Wight which produced a report  that concluded that "If everyone lived like the population on the Isle of Wight, we would need nearly 2½ planets." The project explored a methodology for the measurement of natural resources usage and linked this with environmental aspects of sustainability.

Long before the council’s Eco Island vision, two local environmental charities, the Footprint Trust  and Island 2000 Trust  had been beavering away with the introduction of many practical eco ideas to the island. The Footprint Trust was giving away thousands of low energy lightbulbs and visiting local schools, delivering green road-shows and helping students to carry out environmental audits as well as organising Future Energy events around the island. They later obtained Big Lottery funding for the Warmahome project to provide islanders with free guidance on cutting their fuel bills and keeping their homes warmer. This included subsidised loft and cavity wall insulation and information about the WarmFront grant scheme. Several years ago the Trust also set the Green Gym group whereby volunteers undertook practical conservation work and introduced pond and river warden schemes. In 2008 it launched the Adopt-A-Garden scheme which brings together two types of people. The person who has a garden they can no longer look after and the individual who wants a growing space. The householder gets their garden looked after for free and the gardener gets a free allotment in return.

The Island 2000 Trust has instigated numerous heritage trails, cycleways, community art projects and actively manage a number of  wildlife sites around the island. It wholly owns a firm of environmental consultants, Natural Enterprise,  whose profits are ploughed back into projects that conserve rare species and create better public places for people to see and learn about wildlife. The Trust is also responsible for Gift to Nature that has developed a number of conservation projects falling under three themed headings. Climate care projects are those aiming to have a positive impact on greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere. Wildlife projects seek to increase the biodiversity of specific habitats around the island and Places for People projects are dominated by interpretation of the natural environment and providing picnic areas and convenient seating.

The driving force behind the Eco Island initiative was the former Isle of Wight chief executive, Joe Duckworth, whose vision was first reported in The Guardian in November 2007  much to the surprise of virtually everyone else on the island who had heard nothing about it. Amongst other things, this article stated that plans would shortly be unveiled “to run the island entirely on renewable energy, develop tidal power to export to the mainland, harness the waste of its 5,500 cows to run its buses, and encourage people to leave their cars on the mainland. Other ideas being considered include turning some roads into single track lanes to give cyclists and horse riders equal space with motorists, and offering free power to all electric vehicles. The intention is to make Queen Victoria’s favourite holiday destination completely carbon neutral within a decade, with some of the most energy efficient public buildings and housing estates in Britain.”

Bearing in mind the council had voted a year previously against wind turbines being located on the island, how much did this political rhetoric turn into practical reality?  Against the background of Duckworth himself leaving a few months later to become chief executive of Newham Borough Council in London where the 2012 Olympics will be held; the company of architect Sir Terry Farrell drafted in by Duckworth failing to produce a low carbon design manifesto for the island on time; and a subsequent global economic recession to contend with, it is amazing the whole initiative did not just fizzle out in greenwash hype. 

However, in March 2008 the sustainable community strategy was officially launched at the Eco Island conference and a Big Green Picnic held a few months later that attracted over 7,000 people. This event in turn spawned formation of the GREENtank group  with over 200 local people who support the vision of the Isle of Wight as an Eco Island. At the beginning of 2009 the council produced a 96-page list of Local Area Agreement targets and actions that cover everything from cutting smoking and binge drinking levels to reducing the amount of municipal waste being sent to landfill. These benchmark indicators of the ‘performance management framework’ beloved by bureaucrats look impressive but are still pretty meaningless when you consider no fundamental and major renewable energy or infrastructure projects have yet been implemented. Nevertheless, whilst the council itself has not really substantially delivered yet on any green issues, the Footprint Trust and Island 2000 Trust have both continued to be very active and when combined with the groundswell of enthusiasm from groups like GREENtank, and the recently formed EcoIsland Partnership, probably means there is now enough momentum and support for the council to try and achieve at least some of its more lofty ideals by 2020.

Climate Change Mitigation & Adaptation Measures

The Isle of Wight Centre for the Coastal Environment  was established in 1996 to provide a focus for the council's growing coastal and geotechnical activities on a local, regional, national and transnational scale. The Centre contributes to the delivery of strategic objectives and fulfills the council's functions in the following fields:

  • Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM)
  • Coastal defence
  • Coastal, landslide and cliff management and monitoring
  • Ground stability engineering
  • Planning liaison over coastal and geotechnical-related issues
  • Dissemination of information and consultations through the Isle of Wight Coastal Visitor’s Centre
  • Management of Newport Harbour and Ventor Haven

The Centre has been successful in securing European Commission funding for a wide variety of research projects and initiatives the results from which help address and inform Isle of Wight coastal and geological-related problems particularly in the context of climate change. The council’s highest level plan is the Shoreline Management Plan (SMP)  which is currently being updated by the Centre.

The 110km coastline of the Isle of Wight will change over the next 100 years due to the impacts of marine erosion, ground instability and flooding by the sea. Current levels of risk are likely to increase through greater human activity and development in coastal areas and as a result of the predicted impacts of climate change. Various coastal defence schemes have already been built around the island including the award winning one for the Seaview Duver frontage that was commissioned by the Centre and completed in April 2004.   

Responsibility for management of the island’s coastal defences against erosion and sea flooding is shared between the council and the national Environment Agency. The SMP is the means by which these organizations determine the best way to look after the coast in a sustainable way for the next 100 years. It is prepared using guidelines set down by [[Defra,]]  the government department with responsibility for setting national policy for defence of the coastline.


Ian Boyd, Director, and Martin Gibson, Project Manager, Island 2000 Trust
Ray Harrington-Vail, General Manager, Footprint Trust Ltd
Claire Marriott, Senior Coastal Scientist, Isle of Wight Centre for the Coastal Environment
Irene Fletcher, Learning Programme Manager, West Wight Landscape Partnership
Astrid Davies, Strategic Manager – Partnership, Isle of Wight Council