Government names new marine conservation zones

22nd November 2013

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  • Natural resources ,
  • Biodiversity ,
  • Ecosystems



Marine habitats close to Beachy Head, the Cumbrian coast and Torbay are among 27 sites that will be given greater protection under UK law

The areas are the first to have been designated as marine conservation zones (MCZs) under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, and will be protected from activities, such as fishing and marine energy schemes, that could harm biodiversity or ecosystems.

The 27 zones cover 8,000km2 of offshore and 2,000km2 of inshore waters and contain rare, threatened and representative native habitats and species. Habitats receiving protection include seagrass beds, while species ranging from the spiny lobster and the native oyster to the long-snouted seahorse will be safeguarded.

Each of the sites are protected under a designation order coming into force on 12 December. It lists the specific features and species under protection, and the new designation places restrictions on activities that could damage the sites. However, those limitations will vary depending on local needs and the habitats or species under protection. The orders state that temporary reduction of species numbers will be disregarded if the population is resilient enough to recover.

“Activities will only be regulated if they cause harm to wildlife or damage habitats that are being conserved in the MCZ,” states Defra.

Marine environment minister George Eustice said: “We are doing more than ever to protect our marine environment. Almost a quarter of English inshore waters and 9% of UK waters will now be better protected.

“These MCZs will safeguard a wide range of precious sealife, from seahorses to oyster beds, and our ambitions do not end there. This is just the beginning, we plan two further phases over the next three years and work to identify these will begin shortly.”

In 2011, 127 sites were initially proposed for MCZ protection and Defra consulted in December 2012 on designating 31 sites. The announcement of 27 MCZ’s means that the 2012 plans to designate sites at Stour and Orwell or Hilbre Island have been discarded, while decisions on the two remaining sites, Hythe Bay and North of Celtic Deep, will be made in the future. A consultation on the next phase of the MCZs is to be launched in early 2015.

The final list of MCZs include Chesil Beach and the Stennis Ledges off the Dorset coast, 30km2 of waters around the Scilly Isles, and the waters around Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel, which was established as England’s first marine nature reserve in 1986.

Dr Iwan Ball, WWF-UK marine programme manager, welcomed the creation of the MCZs, but said more action was needed to conserve the UK’s marine habitats.

“Our seas have been in a state of serious decline due to mismanagement for decades; this is a welcome but long overdue step towards reversing this decline and protecting our nationally important habitats and species,” he said.

“More needs to be done to secure the long-term future of our marine environment. These sites need to be accompanied by appropriate management measures and resourcing and additional action needs to be taken urgently to achieve an ecologically coherent network of sites to protect our best-loved marine wildlife such as cetaceans, basking sharks and seabirds.”

An interactive map of all the MCZs and details of the protected habitats and species is available on the Joint Nature Conservation Committee website.

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