Marine Conservation Zones

Protecting nationally important marine biodiversity
With nature conservation at the heart of the most comprehensive marine management legislation the UK has ever seen, JNCC’s newly formed Marine Protected Areas eam is busy. The Marine and Coastal Access Bill was introduced into Parliament in December 2008. After a raft of suggested amendments, Royal Assent is expected towards the end of the Parliamentary summer session, bringing with it the requirement for the establishment of a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

Figure 1: Existing UK MPA network

MPAs are areas of sea that are specifically managed to benefit marine biodiversity. To date, less than 3% of the UK’s waters are managed to maintain or restore the quality of their habitats and species (Figure 1). Primarily these areas have been designated for their European importance as Special Areas of Conservation under the Habitats Directive and Special Protection Areas under the Birds Directive. The Marine and Coastal Access Bill provides for the designation of new MPAs in English and Welsh territorial waters and UK offshore waters, called Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs). These MPAs will be established for the protection of marine features of UK importance and, in combination with the European sites and coastal SSSIs, will make up the UK MPA network.


Whereas European sites can be selected only on scientific grounds, MCZs will be selected to conserve biodiversity and ecosystems whilst minimising social and economic impacts, and in ways that seek to maximise wider benefits to society. The UK Government and Welsh Assembly Government recognise that this can be achieved only by ensuring that sea users play an active role in the identification of MCZs.


For English territorial waters and UK offshore waters adjacent to England and Wales, JNCC, Defra and Natural England have established the MCZ Project. This will be implemented through four regional MCZ projects. The Finding Sanctuary Project in the South West was the first of these regional groups to be established. Three additional regional projects are expected to be fully functional by summer 2009 (Figure 2). In partnership with JNCC these regional projects will be inviting regional, national and international sea users to join stakeholder groups that will have the responsibility for recommending regional MCZ networks. These recommendations will be submitted to Defra by JNCC and Natural England in late 2011 with a view to designation in 2012.


JNCC is working with the Welsh Assembly Government and Countryside Council for Wales on MPA work in Welsh waters. Owing to the high percentage of Welsh waters being protected through European designations, the majority of MCZs will be highly protected, restricting all extractive and depositional activities. The detail of how sea users can get involved in the identification of these sites is currently being finalised and will be announced shortly. JNCC is providing the coordination between the Welsh inshore project and the MCZ project.Figure 2: Regional MCZ project areas in England


Under the Marine & Coastal Access Bill, Scottish Government will be responsible for identifying MPAs in offshore waters around Scotland. Scottish Government will be publishing a Scottish Marine Bill in the Spring of 2009 that will set out provisions for delivering this responsibility. JNCC will be working with the Scottish Government to ensure any MPA provisions meet the requirements of the Scottish people and fulfills our UK commitments to international agreements. JNCC will provide the coordination between any Scottish work and the MCZ project.


More information on UK MPAs.


Sophie Elliott

UK MPA Stakeholder Engagement Officer.

Tel: +44 (0) 1773 866927


Nature News Issue 20 Spring 2009