Marine protected areas
Our seas are home to some of the best marine wildlife in Europe, with a wide diversity of underwater habitats and species. Many of our marine habitats and species are particularly rare and therefore of international importance.
The government is aiming to protect habitats and species in our seas by contributing to an ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas. We are also working with the Devolved Administrations to achieve this.
We need these areas because the marine environment is coming under increasing pressure from human activity, which can damage and further threaten marine ecosystems.
By protecting our marine environment now, we can ensure that our seas, which are a common resource, will continue to contribute to our society for generations to come. To ensure this protection, restrictions may apply to some activities in marine protected areas eg fisheries.
The main types of marine protected areas in English waters are:
- European Marine Sites giving legal protection to species and habitats of European importance
- Marine Conservation Zones and SSSIs with marine components giving protection to species and habitats of national importance
There are now just under a quarter of English inshore waters within marine protected areas.
Natural England are responsible for providing conservation advice for all marine protected areas within English inshore and cross-border waters.
European Marine Sites
European Marine Sites or ‘Natura 2000′ sites consists of:
- Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) to protect habitats and species listed under the EU Habitats Directive
- Special Protection Areas (SPAs) to protect birds under the EU Wild Birds Directive
Based on current available evidence, the SAC network in UK waters is now complete. Defra is working with Natural England and JNCC to finish identifying and, where possible, classifying, more marine SPAs by the end of 2015. The Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) is responsible for identifying offshore SACs and SPAs and Natural England is responsible for identifying them in English territorial waters.
Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs)
MCZs protect areas that are important to conserve the diversity of nationally rare, threatened and representative habitats and species. Designation of these zones takes social and economic factors into account, alongside the best available scientific evidence.
Designation of MCZs
In November 2013 the minister announced the designation of 27 MCZs in English inshore and English and Welsh offshore waters and outlined plans for future zones.
You can see the location of the 27 designated sites and find out further information about each site at JNCC Interactive Map.
Management measures will be put in place by the regulators (Marine Management Organisation (MMO) and Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs)) on a site by site basis. Natural England and the JNCC will advise the regulators about the vulnerability of the features included within the Designation Order and activities that are currently occurring within the site that will have a negative impact on the protected features.
A second tranche of MCZs is planned for designation in 2015 with a third tranche to follow. This will complete the contribution to the ecologically coherent marine protected area network. Sites will be selected, largely based on the recommendation from the Regional MCZ Projects, to meet the requirements of the network. Further information on the second tranche was published in February 2014. A consultation on the sites proposed in the second round of designations is open until 24 April 2015. Natural England published their updated advice to Defra on these proposed sites in January 2015.
Defra is also undertaking a review of MCZ reference areas.
UK Overseas Territories and high seas Marine Protected Areas
We support the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as well the Overseas Territories’ governments, in developing MPAs in international waters.
The UK government supported the call in 2010 by governments of the states party to the Convention on Biological Diversity to strive for marine protected areas and other area-based mechanisms to protect 10% of our oceans by 2020.
We have designated these areas in South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, the British Indian Ocean Territory and the British Antarctica Territory.
In the Natural Environment White Paper, we committed to working towards delivering a new global mechanism to regulate the conservation of marine biodiversity in high seas (areas beyond countries national waters). Such an agreement should set up a clear means of designating high seas MPAs, building on the work undertaken by Regional Seas Conventions, eg OSPAR.