Marine Protected Areas: how to use conservation advice packages

Use Natural England’s advice packages to find out if your activity, proposal or area has a potential impact on MPAs and the species and habitats within them.


Natural England is producing updated conservation advice for Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) under regulation 37 of the Habitats Regulations 2017 (formerly regulation 35 of the Habitats Regulations 2010) and the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.

Conservation advice for MPAs covers the following designations:

  • Special Protection Areas (SPA)
  • Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) (including candidate sites)
  • Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs)
  • Ramsar sites

Natural England will only be providing high level conservation objectives for Ramsar sites, not full conservation advice packages.

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) underpin many MPAs, but conservation advice for SSSIs is not provided in the same way. Use Natural England’s designated sites system to find out more about SSSI advice under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Advice packages are listed by marine area on the conservation advice packages and supporting documents page. Use the marine area maps as an index to find the advice package you’re interested in.

Most packages are held on Natural England’s Designated Sites System (DSS) database. Some packages are still held on GOV.UK whilst the database is completed. You’ll be directed by links on the marine area pages to access the information you’re after.

The draft advice should be used for management and case work, because it’s the most current evidence held by Natural England.

Once the advice is formal it becomes Natural England’s statutory advice and replaces any previous conservation advice.

What each advice package includes

The advice package for each site consists of:

  • site information, which includes its designation or classification history, geographic area, feature descriptions and overlapping MPAs
  • background information and geography
  • site maps available through the MAGIC mapping system
  • high level conservation objectives and supplementary advice
  • advice on operations, including how an activity can affect a protected site feature on the site
  • advice on the seasonal sensitivity of features
  • condition assessment

Each advice package is site specific and tells you its:

  • designated or qualifying features
  • habitats and species that they are dependent on and where they occur
  • conservation objectives
  • minimum targets each feature needs to achieve to meet the conservation objectives
  • features which may be sensitive to human activity
  • condition of the designated or qualifying features
  • evidence-base

When to use the advice package

You must refer to this advice if you:

  • do a Habitats Regulation Assessment (HRA) for a plan or project that could impact a SPA, SAC or Site of Community Importance
  • provide information for a HRA
  • do a MCZ assessment when considering an activity
  • respond to specific measures to prevent the deterioration of habitats and significant disturbance of features
  • consider the need to put new or additional management measures in place

You may also find it useful to refer to this advice if you:

  • carry out any other activity which does not need a licence eg arranging a marine sporting event

Apply the advice

The advice package helps you decide whether any planned marine activity will have an impact on the features of a protected marine site.

There are several stages to go through when using the advice to assess if your activity, or one you regulate, is going to damage a site in some way. You should:

  • use the site information and maps to help you determine if your work is in, or near to, the site
  • use the advice on operations to determine those pressures your activity causes that could harm the habitat and/or species features of the site
  • screen those aspects of your activity into or out of an assessment
  • use the conservation objectives and the supplementary advice tables to assess the impacts of your work on the important attributes of each site
  • bring this together in an assessment of the overall impacts on the site

To help understand how Natural England will use the information in the conservation advice as part of the assessment process for different MPA types, see the flowcharts for the following MPAs:

You may need to apply for a marine licence or consent to undertake certain activities in the marine environment, such as depositing or removing substances or objects at sea. Find out about marine licensing from the Marine Management Organisation.

Published 30 March 2015
Last updated 16 May 2016 + show all updates
  1. Updated text to reflect that some information has moved across to Natural England's Designated Sites System.
  2. First published.