New wave of protection for the sea announced today

New wave of protection for the sea announced today

Today The Wildlife Trusts welcome the news that the Government is designating a third phase of 41 new Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs). This historic move will help protect the seas around our shores and follows on from previous announcements of 50 MCZs (in 2013 and 2016). It is the third of three phases promised by the Government in order to fulfil the remit of the Marine and Coastal Access Act.
The 91 Marine Conservation Zones will form a vital series of underwater habitats which can be nursed back to health.

The 41 new MCZs are special places and include cold water corals, forests of sea fans, rocky canyons and sandbanks – an astonishingly varied range of submerged landscapes which support the stunning diversity of marine life found in the UK.  They include Bembridge MCZ which is very unusual because it is home to both species of native seahorse, Solway Firth MCZ whose sand banks are resting places for seals, and Holderness Offshore MCZ which is important for its crabs and lobsters.  All will contribute towards a network of areas which is urgently needed to ensure a healthy future for our seas. 

Joan Edwards, Director of Living Seas at The Wildlife Trusts, says

“It’s fantastic news that now we have 91 Marine Conservation Zones – they will form a vital series of underwater habitats which can be nursed back to health. The Wildlife Trusts have been calling for the government to give real protection to a network of diverse sea-bed landscapes since 2009 and over 22,000 people joined our call for better protection of our seas during last summer’s consultation.  Huge thanks to everyone who has supported this change! Now we need to see good management of these special places to stop damaging activities such as beam-trawling or dredging for scallops and langoustines which harm fragile marine wildlife.”

After the first 50 MCZs were designated, The Wildlife Trusts launched a Wave of Support campaign to coincide with the public consultation on the third phase. Over 22,000 people joined our call for better protection of our seas in just six weeks in the summer of 2018. The Wildlife Trusts believe that the new total of 91 MCZs* are a great step forward – but now the focus must be on caring for these special places effectively so that our ocean wildlife has the best possible chance of recovery.

Editors notes


Editor’s notes

91 Marine Conservation Zones here.

Marine Protected Areas
Marine Protected Area (MPA) is a general term used to describe an area of the sea or coast where management measures are put in place to protect habitats and wildlife.  They are a tried and tested means of conserving habitats and wildlife at sea and there are many around the world.  Find out more about what’s happening in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands at

Marine Conservation Zones
Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) are a new type of MPA designation created by the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.  They can be designated anywhere in English and Welsh inshore and offshore waters. MCZs can also be designated in Northern Irish inshore waters through a separate but concurrent process as legislated under the Marine Act (Northern Ireland) 2013.

In November 2013, The Wildlife Trusts welcomed Defra’s designation of 27 Marine Conservation Zones, the first step towards the creation of an ecologically coherent network.  The designation followed a consultation and two years of stakeholder negotiations involving fishermen, conservationists, divers, shipping companies and other sea-users where recommendations were made for a network of protected sites at sea.  Defra designated a second round – 23 MCZs – in 2016.

*With the latest announcement the total comes to 91 MCZs so far.  89 are in English waters, with the 2 others in Northern Ireland offshore waters (plus 5 in NI inshore waters, 1 in Welsh waters, and 31 Nature Conservation MPAs in Scottish waters).

To protect, restore and where possible enhance Scotland’s marine environment, the Scottish Government designated a set of 30 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in 2014 – 17 in inshore waters and 13 in offshore waters. These ‘nature conservation’ MPAs are designed to protect one or more habitats and/or species found on the Scottish Governments list of ‘Priority Marine Features’. In 2019, an additional ncMPA in Loch Carron was designated, following damage to flameshell beds from mobile fishing gear, and in summer 2019 the Scottish Government will be consulting on four new ncMPAs for mobile species and a ‘deep sea marine reserve’. In addition to ncMPAs, there is one ‘demonstration and research’ Marine Protected Area that aims to assess and develop potential marine management approaches and research, and eight ‘historic’ MPAs that preserve historic assets of national importance (e.g. shipwrecks and battle sites). In total there are 40 MPAs in Scotland (additional four to go to consultation), which, when combined with Scotland’s 58 Special Areas of Conservation, 47 Special Protection Areas (additional 15 in consultation), and 64 Sites of Special Scientific Interest, make up Scotland’s MPA Network.

In 2014, Skomer Island became Wales’ first Marine Conservation Zone. Before this, it had been a Marine Nature Reserve for 24 years. The Welsh Government is currently developing options to fill gaps in the UK-wide network of Marine Protected Areas. Grey seals and pink sea fans are just two of very many specie which are benefiting from this protection.

Northern Ireland
In December 2016, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) designated four new MCZs in the Northern Ireland inshore region to supplement Strangford Lough MCZ, designated in 2013. These sites, combined with the addition of the North Channel Special Area of Conservation in early 2017, increased the network of MPAs to 48 sites occupying 38% of the Northern Ireland inshore region.  It should be noted that the 48 MPAs comprise multiple designations within the same sites, e.g. Strangford Lough is designated as an SAC, SPA, ASSI, MCZ and Ramsar. The designation of these sites help protect marine species and habitats for Northern Ireland such as the vulnerable black guillemot found on Rathlin Island, fragile communities of quill-like sea pens in Carlingford Lough and the long-lived clam, the ocean quahog in Belfast Lough.. 

Friends of Marine Conservation Zones
More than 8,000 people have signed up to be a ‘Friend of Marine Conservation Zones’, opting to ‘befriend’ one or all MCZs, similar to becoming friends of local parks, historic buildings and community projects. Go to to sign up.