National Context

In order to contribute to the protection and recovery of the richness of our marine wildlife and environment, the UK Government is committed to establishing, by 2012, a strong, ecologically coherent and well managed network of marine protected areas, that is well understood and supported by sea users. In England this network will include the following types of Marine Protected Area:

Sites of European and international importance:

  • Special Areas of Conservation designated under the EC Habitats Directive;
  • Special Protection Areas designated under the EC Wild Birds Directive; and
  • Ramsar Sites designated under the Convention on Wetlands

Sites of national importance:

  • Marine Conservation Zones, as specified in the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009; and
  • Sites of Special Scientific Interest, designated under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (as amended).

Marine Conservation Zones will be aimed at conserving and promoting the recovery of:

  • The range of marine biodiversity in our waters;
  • Rare or threatened habitats and species;
  • Globally or regionally significant areas for geographically restricted habitats or species;
  • Important aggregations or communities of marine species, particularly biodiversity ‘hotspots’;
  • Areas important for key life cycle stages of mobile species, including habitats known to be important for reproduction and nursery stages;
  • Areas contributing to the maintenance of marine biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in our seas; and
  • Features of particular geological or geomorphological interest.

In contrast to the designation of European sites, the designation of MCZs may take socio-economic factors into account, as long as these factors do not undermine the creation of the network. This will ensure that a network of sites can be achieved in a way that minimises adverse impacts on sea users and maximises benefits for nature conservation.

The management measures required within Marine Conservation Zones will be decided on a site-by-site basis and will depend on what the site has been designated for.  In a similar way to protected areas on land, there will be sites where some activities are not allowed but others can occur, or where there are seasonal restrictions on activities rather than a complete ban.  Not all sites will need the same management measures and there is no presumption that any specific type of activity will be restricted.  There may however, be some sites where many activities are restricted.