Marine Conservation Zones


Protecting the UK’s rich marine environment and giving damaged areas the chance to recover are the ultimate aims of a planned network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The Government is committed to creating this network and ensuring that it is ‘ecologically coherent’.


In England and Wales this network will be made up of existing and new MPAs, including European marine sites, the marine components of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and Ramsar sites, as well as Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) designated under the Marine and Coastal Access Act (2009).


Marine Conservation Zone Project

Sea-fan anemones can be offered protection by Marine Conservation Zones. A sea-fan anemone has an unusual method of reproduction: it creeps along a rock leaving behind a trail of fragments from the base of its body, which grow into new anemones. © Keith Hiscock

The Marine Conservation Zone Project is a partnership between JNCC and Natural England, working with people who use the sea to identify MCZs in the inshore waters of England and the offshore waters of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.


MCZs aim to conserve areas of our seas, protecting rare, threatened and representative habitats and species and helping to ensure long-term sustainability of marine resources. They will protect precious habitats such as seagrass beds, deep-sea sponge aggregations and coral gardens and species such as seahorses, eels and anemones. The Project area has been split into four regional MCZ projects covering the south-west (Finding Sanctuary), Irish Sea (Irish Sea Conservation Zones), North Sea (Net Gain) and south-east (Balanced Seas).


These regional projects are working with representatives from a cross-section of sea user and interest groups - including the science, leisure, commercial fishing and industry sectors. The representatives are involved with regional stakeholder groups and are responsible for identifying locations for MCZs and recommending them to Government.


Science behind the zones


Click to download the MCZ Project Areas map PDFEnsuring that an ecologically coherent network is achieved will be the main consideration in the selection of MCZs. However, the benefits of taking socio-economics into account throughout the planning process are recognised. Involving sea users and interest groups will build understanding and support for the MCZ recommendations put forward by the regional stakeholder groups. JNCC and Natural England have produced detailed guidance on what should be conserved within the network. This Ecological Network Guidance describes the species and habitats to be included, provides guidelines on the amount, size and spacing of MPAs in the MCZ Project region, and sets out the framework for protection levels.


Scientific and socio-economic data are being gathered and anyone with knowledge of the variety and location of life in our seas, or how different areas of our seas are used, is being encouraged to share this information. This will ensure the selection of sites is based on the best available evidence and that management measures are appropriate for sea use alongside the conservation of the natural features for which the sites are designated. Where there are choices about where to designate sites, the  stakeholder groups aim to minimise the impact to sea users.


Marine Conservation Zones in Wales


In Welsh inshore waters Marine Conservation Zones will be identified through the Marine Conservation Zone Project Wales. This is a separate project led by the Welsh Assembly Government, which aims to identify a small number of highly protected Marine Conservation Zones.


More Info


If you are interested in finding out more about the progress of the Marine Conservation Zone Project you can read our recent newsletter and sign up to receive future editions.

Contact File


Amy Ridgeway

Marine Protected Areas Communications Co-ordinator

Tel: +44 (0)1733 866841

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