Proposed MCZs could mean 40% of English waters get protection

By: Clare Fischer
Date posted: 8 June 2018

Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, has set out plans to create more than 40 new Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) in English waters. The proposed protections – announced on World Oceans Day – will cover an area almost eight times the size of Greater London. A public consultation on the sites has opened and will run for six weeks.

Short snouted seahorse
© Paul Naylor

With every one of them designated, we will have enough of the sea in protected areas to provide a fantastic foundation for ensuring marine life can recover and thrive.

Sandy Luk,
MCS Chief Executive Officer

In welcoming the announcement MCS experts say it could have the potential to result in 40% of English seas being protected, but that designation is only the first step in creating a network of sites.

MCS says a ‘whole-site approach’ – not just protection of the vulnerable parts within a site - to management is key, and that adequate funding must be found to ensure these final sites are not protected in name alone.

“It is fantastic to have this last set of sites proposed after much painstaking work since 2009, when the process to select special places deserving protection began,” said Sandy Luk, MCS Chief Executive Officer. “With every one of them designated, we will have enough of the sea in protected areas to provide a fantastic foundation for ensuring marine life can recover and thrive.”

“Defra’s ambition in its 25 Year Environment Plan is to protect entire sites, and this consultation looks at providing areas with a high level of protection. It has never been more important that we deliver both of these ambitions!”

Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, said: “Today marks an important step towards completing our Blue Belt. We are creating safe havens for our cherished wildlife and putting the UK at the forefront of marine protection.”

Prime Minister, Theresa May, who’s attending the G7 summit in Canada, will call for urgent global action to protect the world’s oceans from plastics and other harmful waste. She is expected to urge other world leaders to follow the UK lead in working with business, industry and Non-Governmental Organisations to find innovative and effective solutions to this issue.

Whole site approach

MCS has been keen to see a ‘whole site approach’ to management of MCZs since the first sites were designated in 2012. Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, MCS Principal Specialist on Marine Protected Areas said: “At last we are seeing the opportunity to provide more comprehensive protection across a variety of habitats that can protect fish as well as worms, prawns, reefs, lobsters, coral and sponges. So far, management of England’s MCZs hasn’t resulted in any meaningful recovery. Perhaps this new approach will finally meet our goals for these important areas.”

MCS says it’s important that sound scientific advice isn’t ignored as has happened in the past when plans to protect many important sites, with plentiful evidence, were shelved.

Site specific

Among the sites put forward for the public consultation, which starts today, is Beachy Head East, which is well known for its offshore reefs, muds and sands around the Royal Sovereign Shoals lighthouse. It extends way offshore, but was initially rejected in the 2013 process and protection for the site was delayed until now.

South-West Approaches to Bristol Channel is an area that hosts a reef complex, and a sand and gravel seabed. Recovery of the fish populations and wider species in this rich sea would widely benefit the animals, and migratory species (such as the common dolphin, sharks and seabirds) that regularly visit this site.

Further offshore, South-West Deeps (East) is an area that could show phenomenal recovery following intense historical fishing pressure. MCS has received reports of massive hauls of giant mussel-like ‘fan shells’ in the past. Allowing such communities to recover will make the area highly productive once again.

South Rigg, and other sites in the Irish Sea could help recovery of fish such as cod, haddock, ling, and even common skate, a fish that is now extremely rare. Protection of these sites, coupled with a ban on discards from fisheries, could bring greater species richness and better support a thriving fishing community, too.

50 MCZs have already been designated around the English coast. It’s expected that this third and final tranche will be designated within 12 months of the consultation closing.

Actions you can take

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  2. Browse Marine Protected Areas

Did you know?…

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

To the shelf limits, Scotland has 61% of UK waters, of which 23% are now in existing or new ‘marine protected areas’