The southern and western coastlines remain relatively undeveloped, as do many of the islands. Much of this area has found a new purpose as important wildlife sanctuary sites. The harbour itself borders three Natural Nature Reserves, including Studland and Godlingston Heath NNR. Additional wildlife areas can be found at Sandbanks, Studland and Arne.
A wide array of wildlife, some with international importance, call the harbour or the surround lands home. The islands are known to be home to the endangered red squirrel, leading to an increase in protected areas. The common shelduck, pied avocet and black tailed godwit, all migrate to the area in large numbers and have also drawn international attention. Little egrets, who’s numbers were once on the decline, are now seen in more frequent and growing numbers.
The numerous mudflats, salt marshes and meadows of seagrass are not only important to nature conservation they also enjoy a growing popularity with recreational visitors. While the local authorities recognize the importance of tourism, and wish to accommodate the recreational users, they are careful to manage these activities in a way that balances all uses without damaging the fragile ecosystem further.