Planning MCZs > The Process

Guidance Documents

Additional guidance for licensed, planned or existing activities (click here)

Project Delivery Guidance (click here)

Ecological Network Guidance (click here)

Project Goal and Design Principles

The Net Gain planning process will be driven by a clear vision of what the MPA network in the region should achieve and how the MCZs will be selected.

The goal of the MPA network is to safeguard and encourage recovery of marine biodiversity, and to help ensure the long-term sustainability of marine resources in the region. In order to achieve this goal, the network will be based on a set of MCZ design principles. These provide clear guidance within which the project will operate.

Project Team

The Net Gain Project Team has two key components: The Liaison Team, who are responsible for liaising with and gathering information from stakeholders across the region and The Planning Team, who are responsible for gathering and processing scientific information and supporting stakeholders in the planning of the network.

The Liaison Team

Our stakeholder liaison officers are based across the region. From their individual locations, they are responsible for meeting stakeholders and ensuring that they are able to actively engage in the design of MCZs in the North Sea.

Stakeholder Engagement

The Net Gain Project has been set up to identify and recommend potential sites for Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) in the English North Sea. The Net Gain process is different from other similar projects in that it aims to involve all those who have an interest in the North Sea and its future from the start, from large scale fisheries and aggregates to divers and wildlife enthusiasts.

Stakeholders have vital knowledge to contribute to the process, which complements scientific data, and helps build a firm foundation for planning. Engaging stakeholders from the start enables them to share this knowledge with the planning team and other stakeholders, to help develop a shared understanding about the seas around us and how they are used. Allowing stakeholders to shape the locations of MCZs will furthermore build support for the MCZs once they are in place. MCZs which are broadly supported are more likely to be complied with, thus ensuring they provide real protection and deliver benefits.

The Planning Team

The best available ecological, human, geographical and physical data is currently being sourced and processed into a Geographical Information System (GIS).GIS is a powerful software mapping tool that allows us to visualise and analyse marine data. That includes data on the natural environment, such as the distribution of different types of sea floor, the shapes and depth contours of the sea floor, and the location of current and planned windfarms, transport and shipping routes, the location of sea floor cables, popular angling spots, and areas used for different kinds of fishing.

Planning MCZs and the MPA Network

Our planning and marine data specialists also have responsibility for supporting the Regional Hubs in developing potential maps that identify the location of MCZs by applying our design principles to the data we have within our GIS. One of the most fundamental features of the planning of MCZs is that they will change in shape, size and location as the project progresses.

Decision Support Software

Where MCZs will ultimately be located can never be decided by computer software alone- decisions are down to people. But there are powerful programmes that can make sense of multiple, complex datasets and can help people to make those decisions. Marxan is one such decision support tool, which we will use to analyse the data and explore multiple options for the locations of MCZs.

Project Board

Net Gain brings together a partnership of organisations. Representatives from these organisations meet quarterly to oversee the management and delivery of the project. In particular, they have a responsibility to make sure that the project goals are met and to oversee the management of the Project Team and the delivery of our obligations to funders. The Project Board has no involvement in the design of the regional MCZ network.

National Science Advisory Panel

A firm scientific foundation is needed to ensure that the network will deliver the desired benefits. A National Science Advisory Panel has been established to provide scientific support and guidance to all four of England's regional MCZ projects, including Net Gain. This guidance will focus on the design of the MCZ network, and the panel will provide feedback on how well each of the projects are meeting the Ecological Network Guidance.

Our Recommendations to Government

In 2011, our recommendations will be presented to Defra in a comprehensive report with detailed maps on both a regional and local scale. The report will show the sites that have been identified as potential MCZs and the level of protection needed.

The MPA network in the North Sea

We are not in search of an elusive 'perfect' combination of sites, but a network that has been designed to maximise the benefits to marine life and human users, and is broadly accepted and supported by stakeholders.

Goals and Principles

This overarching goal of the Net Gain MCZ Project is as follows:

"To ensure sites make a real contribution to an ecologically coherent MPA network, to safeguard and aid the recovery of marine ecosystems , the services they provide and promote sustainable use of the sea."

The Net Gain Stakeholder Advisory Panel will work within a set of MCZ design principles, which will govern how we design and select the location of MCZs to fit into the network of MPAs.

Ecological Principles

The project aims to deliver MCZs that are fully representative of the region's marine biodiversity. The project will use a 'coarse filter' approach to ensure representativity at broad physical habitat scales (landscape scales).

The project will use a 'fine filter' where detailed biological (species and habitat) data are available.

The project will place special emphasis on threatened, declining, rare or proportionally important features that can most benefit from protection as well as protecting the range of biodiversity in our seas.

The project aims to design a network that will support ecosystem resilience. MCZs for all the habitats (and other features where appropriate) in the region will be replicated and distributed spatially throughout the network.

The network will aim to maximise the ecological connectivity between each MPA through the spacing of sites, and building on the results of research into connectivity. Within the context of the network, each MCZ will be ecologically viable and large enough to contain ecological processes.

Building the Information Base

A detailed understanding of the ecological functioning of the region and the very best available scientific knowledge will be used to inform the design.

A clear spatial understanding of human uses and activities at sea will be developed in order to minimise conflicts and maximise potential benefits.

The known and potential impacts of climate change on species and habitats will be incorporated into the planning and design process.

Applying the Ecosystem Approach and addressing human needs

The network will have a strong ecosystem foundation based on the interconnections between species, habitats and humans.

The network will include areas with access and interpretation for the public to experience and appreciate the marine life.

The network will be designed to minimise negative economic and social effects on vulnerable coastal communities and maximise sustainability and stability.

Within the constraints of meeting its biodiversity goals, the project will aim to design a network that is efficient, with different MPAs complimenting each other.

All MCZs will be assessed as part of a functioning and coherent network of MPAs. Some may also be assessed on individual merits.

Implementation & Management considerations

The network will be developed to integrate with other marine management and conservation designations

Once a site is designated, the presumption should be that protection should be permanent. However, there should be flexibility to incorporate modifications if physical or ecological conditions change.

Each MCZ should be easily identifiable and enforceable through the use of geometric shapes and defined landmarks.

Net Gain will aim to deliver through its MCZ network:

- Protection for the natural biological diversity and abundance of marine life

- The safeguarding and protection of marine populations and rebuild those that are depleted

- The recovery of the structure and function of marine ecosystems

- The protection and/or recovery for all marine and coastal habitats and species up to the high water mark (except non-natives)

Latest News
[Net News]

Net Gain Final Recommendations available to download now

New Economist for Net Gain

click for more...
Find out more about MCZs
click here...
Home | About Us | Planning MCZs | National Context | Get Involved | Latest News | FAQs | About MPAs | Gallery | Current Vacancies