New protections for the breeding and feeding grounds of tens of thousands of threatened seabirds are being announced by the Government.
Seabirds including little and common terns, avocets, ruffs and migratory knots could benefit from new and extended special protected areas (SPA) in the Solent and near Middlesbrough.
The conservation areas aim to protect rare and vulnerable seabirds from human activity, such as fishing or recreation.
Environment minister Rebecca Pow is also announcing plans for a seabird conservation strategy which will assess the vulnerability of each species in the light of pressures they face and propose actions to address them.
A new Solent and Dorset Coast special protection area will cover more than 891 square kilometres (344 square miles), an area equivalent to more than 125,000 football pitches.
It aims to protect almost 1,000 pairs of three species of tern, as the area is the fifth most important foraging site in the UK for little terns and the seventh most important for common terns during the breeding season.
The Teesmouth and Cleveland Coast SPA is being extended by 109 square kilometres (42 square miles), bringing the total size of the protected area to more than 122 square kilometres (47 square miles).
The Environment Department said with the extension in place, more than 35,000 birds including avocets, ruffs and knots will be protected.
The new and extended areas join 47 existing sites in English waters.
Ms Pow said: “As the devastating impacts of climate change are only too visible, it is vital that we take decisive steps now that make a real difference to help protect our wildlife and allow vulnerable species to recover.
“We have already protected important nesting sites for seabirds, such as the little tern, and these new and additional protections to their feeding grounds, together with the development of a new strategy to protect our seabirds, will help the coastal environment recover, develop and, importantly, thrive.”
Tony Juniper, chairman of government conservation agency Natural England, said: “Many of Britain’s sea and shorebird populations are globally important and for that reason we have a particular responsibility to protect and enhance them.
“I am delighted that, following an extensive evidence-based assessment by Natural England, these new areas, confirmed today by Government, will help to do that.
“They will ensure that species of conservation concern, such as terns and waders, have access to secure food sources, including during their critical annual breeding seasons.”
We look forward to working with the UK Government to make sure that these islands remain globally important for seabirds
The move was also welcomed by the RSPB, which warned that many seabirds were declining at an alarming rate globally and across the UK.
Martin Harper, director of global conservation at the charity, said the announcement “will be a first step in tackling this growing problem and is something that the RSPB has been calling for”.
“We look forward to working with the UK Government to make sure that these islands remain globally important for seabirds,” he said.
The UK plays host to around a quarter of Europe’s breeding seabirds and the SPA network conserves breeding sites and foraging grounds for an estimated 70% of UK breeding seabirds and 37% of UK non-breeding waterbirds.
Special Protection Areas are a designation under EU law but officials said the protected areas would be maintained after Brexit.