Beachy Head West MCZ

Status: Designated


Site overview

This site is actually two spatially separate areas in the south-east of England. They run parallel to the East Sussex coastline extending from Brighton to the Beachy Head Cliffs near Eastbourne. This protects a total area of approximately 24 km2. Here, chalk reefs and gullies are home to a wide variety of animals, including the rare short-snouted seahorse. Seahorses have excellent eyesight and hunt for their food by sight. They feed on a variety of small crustaceans, such as shrimp, but do not have teeth so instead suck food up through their snouts.

Forests of kelp are found in the shallow areas here, whilst ridges and gully sides are covered with tightly packed blue mussels mixed with native oysters. Species such as lobsters, spider crabs and hermit crabs are also found here 

MPA Type

Marine Conservation Zone

Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) are designated under UK legislation (Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009) and have been established around England, Wales and Northern Ireland to contribute to the UK MPA network protect a range of nationally important marine wildlife, habitats, geology and geomorphology, and can be designated anywhere in English and Welsh territorial and UK offshore waters.

Surface Area

24.36 km2 (9.41 mi.2)


60.69 km (37.71 mi.)

Coordinates (central point)

50° 46' 15" North, 0° 4' 8" East

  • Short-snouted seahorse (Hippocampus hippocampus)

    One of two species of seahorses found in the UK. The biology of seahorses is poorly known as is the exact size and distribution of the population.

  • Moderate energy circalittoral rock

    Deeper water rock, with some shelter from waves and currents.

  • Subtidal mud

    A very rich and diverse muddy undersea habitat that supports high numbers of worms, cockles and other shellfish, urchins and sea cucumbers as well as sea pens, burrowing anemones and brittlestars.

  • Subtidal sand

    Sandy seascapes that can seem a bit like deserts, but can be full of life. Flat fish and sand eels camouflaged on the surface of the sand,worms and bivalves (with their paired, hinged shells) all live in places like these.

  • Subtidal mixed sediments

    Undersea beds of a mixture of stones, gravels, sands and muds. Because mixed seabeds are so varied, they may support a wide range of animals, both on and in the sediment.

  • High energy circalittoral rock

    Rocky areas affected by strong waves or currents where the water depth means there is not enough sunlight so marine animal communities like sponges, sea firs and soft corals dominate and seaweeds are mostly absent.

  • Subtidal chalk

    The chalk we see on our coastline can continue below the tide and create a very rich habitat for marine life. Becasue chalk is soft it is vulnerable to damage.

  • Intertidal coarse sediment

    Where small rocks, pebbles, and gravel, sometimes mixed with coarse sand are sometimes covered by the tide. While it may not look like much lives there - there are animals specially adapted to live in the moist spaces between the shingle and gravel.

  • Blue mussel beds (Mytilus edulis)

    These small, blue mussels are a common sight on UK coasts and form large beds in some places. They are particularly important where they create a haven for other creatures like starfish, crabs and anemones in otherwise sandy or muddy areas. 

  • Littoral chalk communities

    Special communities of animals and seaweeds that live on chalk seashores. Chalk is a soft, pure limestone and is easily eroded by seawater. This results in a characteristic type of beach, with a wide shore, often extending for many hundreds of metres, ba

  • Native oyster beds (Ostrea edulis)

    Native oysters are two shelled animals - one half is like a cup and attaches to the rock, the other is flat and forms a lid. In shallow water on fine, muddy sand, they can be found in huge numbers and form extensive beds, which become home to many other m

  • Infralittoral muddy sand

    Areas of muddy sand below the lowest tide where there is anough light for plants to survive.

  • Infralittoral sandy mud

    Areas of sandy mud below the lowest tide where there is anough light for plants to survive.

    Source: JNCC
  • Low energy infralittoral rock and thin sandy sediment

    Rocky areas with thin sandy sediment in wave and tide-sheltered conditions below the lowest tide dominated by seaweeds including kelp.

    Source: JNCC

Seasearch Logo

There has been Seasearch surveying at this site as for back as the 1990s by Robert Irving and partners at Sussex Seasearch. These early dives helped to identify Sussex Marine Sites of Scientific Interest.

Learn more about Seasearch

Did you know?…

Over 170 parliamentarians from across the political spectrum signed up to our Marine Charter calling for a network of ‘marine protected areas’ in UK Seas

An area over 9 times the size of Wales is now in marine protected areas in the UK, but less than 1% is considered by MCS scientists to be well managed

Over half a million people have voiced their support for ‘marine protected area’ designation in the UK through our campaigns