Contributing to a Marine Protected Area Network

The UK has signed up to the Convention on Biological Diversity and the OSPAR Convention, international agreements to establish an ecologically coherent network of well-managed Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The sites in the network will work together to provide more benefits than an individual area could on its own. MPAs established under international conventions, European and national legislation will all contribute to an ecologically coherent network of MPAs.


The UK's network contribution

In the UK, as of May 2019 approximately 25% of our waters are currently within MPAs. There are 115 Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) with marine components, 112 Special Protection Areas (SPAs) with marine components, 97 Marine Conservation Zones and 31 Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas. You can find more UK MPA statistics on our UK MPA network statistics  page. You can view and download the boundaries of the MPAs in UK waters on our interactive MPA map. 

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) with marine components and Ramsar sites will also form part of the UK’s contribution to an MPA network. Currently, the Statutory Nature Conservation Agencies are confirming those SSSIs and Ramsar sites that will contribute to the MPA network through their protection of marine features.

JNCC co-ordinates the MPA technical group which facilitates a collaborative approach to Marine Protected Areas work in the UK.  It enables JNCC and the statutory nature conservation bodies to discuss common issues across the UK and develop solutions where needed.


Red-throated diver with chick © Alex BrownPlumose anemone (Metridium senile) © Beth StokerGrey Seal (Haliochoerus grypus) at Lundy © Beth StokerBedrock reef with dead man's fingers (Alcyonium digitatum) and pink seafans (Eunicella verrucosa) © Keith Hiscock


Our international MPA work

Across Europe

As a Member State of the European Union, the UK contributes to European Commission discussions around implementing Directives relevant to MPAs across Europe: mainly the identification of Special Areas of Conservation under the EC Habitats Directive, the identification of Special Protection Areas under the EC Birds Directive, and any links between MPAs across Europe and the requirements of the EC Marine Strategy Framework Directive. JNCC leads on providing scientific support to the UK delegation at these discussions.

JNCC is a partner in the EU part funded Marine Protected Areas in the Atlantic Arc (MAIA) Project. The project aims to develop a network of MPA managers and stakeholders on an international scale.

Across the North-east Atlantic

The UK is a signatory to the Oslo and Paris Convention (OSPAR), which requires contracting parties to establish an ecologically coherent and well-managed network of MPAs across the North-east Atlantic as per the North-east Atlantic biodiversity strategy. In 2012, Defra and the Devolved Administrations published a statement setting out how the UK will contribute to this target.

The UK MPA network is intended to contribute toward the protection of OSPAR threatened and/or declining habitats and species, and the conservation of areas which best represent the range of species, habitats and ecological processes in the OSPAR Maritime Area.

JNCC leads on the provision of scientific advice to the UK delegation at OSPAR MPA working group meetings, including methods of assessment for ecological coherence and management effectiveness. Our work has included taking a leading role as part of an ecological coherence steering group in the OSPAR Commission’s contract to assess the ecological coherence of the MPA network across the North-East Atlantic. JNCC staff lead work within OSPAR on assessing ecological coherence through the OSPAR ecological coherence task group.

The UK has identified a total of 283 OSPAR MPAs to date, consisting of existing MPAs already established in UK waters (such as Special Areas of Conservation, Special Protection Areas, Nature Conservation MPAs and Marine Conservation Zones). Information on OSPAR MPAs that have been submitted by Contracting Parties is available from the OSPAR Commission.

JNCC has been involved in a number of pieces of scientific research to help develop our understanding of the key MPA network principles set out in the OSPAR Commission’s guidance on developing MPA networks across the North-east Atlantic:


  • Natural England Research Report (NECR 018) - Representativity and replication for a coherent network of Marine Protected Areas in England's territorial waters (2009)
  • Natural England Research Report (NECR 037) - Guidance on the size and spacing of Marine Protected Areas in England (2010)
  • JNCC Report (438) - A review of methodologies that could be used to formulate ecologically meaningful targets for marine habitat coverage within the UK MPA network (2011)
  • JNCC Report (439) - Meeting the MPA network design principles of representativity and adequacy: Developing species-area curves for habitats (2011)
  • JNCC Report (496). The use of biogeography and different biogeographic scales in MPA network design and assessment globally (2013).


In areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJs)

Through our work in OSPAR, JNCC supports UK Government and the Devolved Administrations in providing scientific advice on proposals for MPA nominations made in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) within the North-east Atlantic Maritime Area.

In overseas territories

We are sharing our knowledge and collaborating with UK overseas territories who are identifying MPAs. For more information please see our Overseas Territories MPA page.