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Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs)

The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 (Part 5) enables Ministers to designate and protect Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs). These are a type of marine protected area, which will exist alongside European marine sites (Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protected Areas (SPAs)), to form an ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas by 2012. Similar schemes are operating in Wales and Scotland.

Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel, a former Marine Nature Reserve, became the first MCZ in January 2010.

What are MCZs?

MCZs will protect areas covering the habitats and species which exist in our seas. They will be both large enough, and close enough together, to support functioning communities of marine wildlife. They will be used to protect areas that are important to conserve the diversity of nationally rare, threatened and representative habitats and species. Unlike other marine protected areas, MCZs will also take social and economic factors into account when identifying potential sites, alongside the best available scientific evidence.

The Act also allows for the making of byelaws (and interim byelaws where urgent action is needed). These are localised measures to regulate otherwise unregulated activities, when this is necessary to further the conservation objectives for an MCZ (or potential MCZ).

Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) are Defra’s delivery partners for MCZs and have set up four regional projects covering the South-West, Irish Sea, North Sea and Eastern Channel to deliver recommendations on potential MCZ sites (see map of project areas). Each project is working with sea users and interest groups to recommend sites within their regions –  in this way those that use and rely on the sea the most will determine where the MCZs should best be sited.

The regional projects have now submitted their recommendations to the SNCBs and the Science Advisory Panel for independent review. Following receipt of the formal advice they provide (including, for the SNCBss, accompanying Impact Assessments), Ministers will decide, based on all the evidence before them, which of the recommended sites should go forward for public consultation.

The results of the public consultation will then inform Ministerial decisions on site designation.

Alongside the advice produced by Natural England and JNCC for the projects, Defra has also prepared four guidance notes to help with the delivery of  recommendations:

  • Guidance on the Selection and designation of Marine Conservation Zones (Note 1)
  • Guidance on the Duties on public authorities in relation to Marine Conservation Zones (Note 2)
  • Draft guidance on the byelaw and order making powers and general offence under Part 5 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act (Note 3)
  • Guidance note on SSSIs and National Nature Reserves in the subtidal area (Note 4)

You can find more information about:

Recommended MCZ sites

The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 provides for the designation of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) to contribute to a UK network of Marine Protected Areas (MPA). Delivering an ecologically coherent UK MPA network is central to conserving marine biodiversity and will contribute to wider marine ecosystem health.

A healthy marine ecosystem is a fundamental building block to the long-term economic viability of the UK’s fishing industry, coastal tourism businesses and coastal communities.

Proposals for MCZs have been developed in close collaboration with stakeholders through four regional projects managed by Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (SNCBs). Today the projects submitted their final recommendations on sites to the SNCBs and the independent Science Advisory Panel (SAP) for review. The press release can be viewed at  and

The recommendations can be viewed at:

and accompanying maps at

After receipt of formal advice from the SNCBs and the SAP, Defra will hold a public consultation on the proposals. Ministers will then examine all the evidence and make their final decisions on which sites to designate.

MCZ factsheets

These factsheets have been written to assist stakeholders by providing information on common issues and concerns that are being raised about Marine Conservation Zones

Marine Protected Areas Science Advisory Panel

The Science Advisory Panel is an independent body  of expert marine scientists, which has been established to support the four regional projects in selecting MCZs. It offers objective scientific assessment of site proposals and independent advice to Ministers. Panel members have been drawn from a diverse range of marine scientific disciplines  to ensure a balanced and comprehensive skill set.

You can find out more about the Panel in our factsheet (PDF). To see meeting papers contact:

The SAP has responded to the draft final recommendations from the 4 MCZ regional projects, published earlier this month. Their responses can be read here:

Page last modified: 4 October 2011