Marine areas, Sea inlets (35.5%)
Tidal rivers, Estuaries, Mud flats, Sand flats, Lagoons (including saltwork basins) (30.5%)
Salt marshes, Salt pastures, Salt steppes (2%)
Shingle, Sea cliffs, Islets (32%)
Habitats that are a primary reason for selection of this site:
Coastal lagoons * Priority feature
The Fleet, on the south coast of England, is the largest example of a lagoonal habitat in England and has features of both lagoonal inlets and percolation lagoons. It is bordered by the fossil shingle barrier beach structure of Chesil Beach, through which sea water percolates into the lagoon, but most of its water exchange occurs through the narrow channel that links it to Portland Harbour. A low freshwater input produces fully saline conditions throughout most of the Fleet, with reduced salinity occurring only in the west. The lagoon is extremely sheltered from wave action and has weak tidal streams, except in the eastern narrows and entrance channel. The tidal range is much smaller and temperature range far greater than on the open coast. The lagoon supports extensive populations of two species of eelgrass Zostera and three species of tasselweed Ruppia, including the rare spiral tasselweed R. cirrhosa, and a diverse fauna that includes a number of nationally rare and scarce species.
Annual vegetation of drift lines:
Chesil Beach is a large (28 km-long), relatively undisturbed shingle bar, and is one of two representatives of Annual vegetation of drift lines on the south coast of England. The inner shore of the beach supports extensive drift-line vegetation dominated by sea beet Beta vulgaris ssp. maritima and orache Atriplex spp. This community exists in a dynamic equilibrium with the perennial shrubby sea-blite Suaeda vera community typical of Mediterranean and thermo-Atlantic halophilous scrubs (Sarcocornetea fruticosi), for which this site has also been selected.
Perennial vegetation of stony banks:
The 28 km-long shingle bar of Chesil Beach, with the contiguous Portland Harbour shore, is an extensive representative of perennial vegetation of stony banks on the south coast of England, and most of it is relatively undisturbed by human activities. Much of the shingle bar is subject to wash-over and percolation in storm conditions and is therefore sparsely vegetated. It supports the most extensive occurrences of the rare sea-kale Crambe maritima and sea pea Lathyrus japonicus in the UK, together with other grassland and lichen-rich shingle plant communities typical of more stable conditions, especially towards the eastern end of the site.
Mediterranean and thermo-Atlantic halophilous scrubs (Sarcocornetea fruticosi).
Chesil and the Fleet on the south coast of England contains a major concentration of Mediterranean and thermo-Atlantic halophilous scrubs in the UK. A band of shrubby sea-blite Suaeda vera and sea-purslane Atriplex portulacoides lines much of the 13 km length of the seaward margin of the Fleet. The community forms a clear zone between the Fleet and the shingle vegetation of Chesil Bank. It appears to exist in a dynamic equilibrium with Annex I type Annual vegetation of drift lines dominated by sea beet Beta vulgaris ssp. maritima, for which the site is also selected. This replaces the scrub in areas subject to disturbance, and is in turn displaced by the scrub after disturbance ceases.
Habitats present as a qualifying feature, but not a primary reason for selection of this site:
Atlantic salt meadows (Glauco-Puccinellietalia maritimae).