Lundy Island

Lundy: A pioneering Marine Protected Area

3 minute read

The Marine Protected Area around the island of Lundy in the outer Bristol Channel is 50 years old this year. In our summer members magazine, Robert Irving, a long-time participant in the management of the Lundy MPA, looks at what makes Lundy special.

Lundy’s Marine Protected Area (MPA) has had numerous accolades bestowed upon it during the last year. Many of these were firsts for Britain at the time: becoming a voluntary marine nature reserve in 1972; a statutory Marine Nature Reserve in 1986; having the country’s first statutory No Take Zone in 2003; becoming a Special Area of Conservation in 2005; and, most recently, a Marine Conservation Zone in 2010. Besides being valued for its marine life and habitats, there are also three historic wreck sites which lie within its boundaries. Consequently, since 2014, and for the sake of simplification, all of these designations have been grouped together under the umbrella term of Marine Protected Area.

So, what makes Lundy’s nearshore waters special?

There are several reasons, with location being a key one. As an island lying 18km off the north Devon coast, it’s remote from mainland sources of pollution as well as benefiting from oceanic water. It’s also affected by warmer waters flowing northwards from the Iberian Peninsula and from the Atlantic’s Gulf Stream. Together, these currents maintain a number of rarely seen Mediterranean–Atlantic species at the island which, for some, marks the northern extent of their distributions.

However, it’s the concentration of diverse seabed habitats in such a small area which stands out, particularly the presence of deep rocky areas around much of the island (reaching 40m in places) and wave-sheltered reefs and sediments off the east coast. These sediment areas support a wide range of species, some of great nature conservation importance. It was to protect these sediment communities from disturbance by bottom trawls and scallop dredges that a No Take Zone (NTZ) was set up by the Devon Sea Fisheries Committee (now the Devon and Severn IFCA (D&SIFCA)) in 2003. The exclusion of potting has also been of benefit to common lobster and edible crab populations, which have thrived.

A further influencing factor is the island’s north–south orientation, causing it to act like a 5km long breakwater against the strong tides surging up and down the Bristol Channel. The prevailing wind direction is west-south-west, so the island’s exposed west side typically experiences much rougher conditions than the relatively sheltered east side; and the north and south ends experience strong tidal races every six or so hours, giving rise to turbulent waters which act as a magnet for feeding dolphins and porpoises.

Seals in Lundy Island - Cathy Lewis

Credit: Cathy Lewis

Zoning scheme

In 1993, the Lundy MPA was the first in the country to experiment with a Zoning Scheme, based on the example of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (albeit on a much, much smaller scale!). We’re now on our fifth iteration of the scheme, reflecting the work done by the D&SIFCA in excluding bottom towed gear from all seabed types apart from sand. Users of the MPA are expected to adhere to an accompanying Code of Conduct.

How Lundy Island is managed

Management of the MPA is overseen by two bodies: an Advisory Group which provides representation for all interested users; and a Management Forum which oversees both terrestrial and marine environments and includes organisations with statutory powers. As Secretary to the Advisory Group, I’m responsible for conveying the discussion points raised at Advisory Group meetings to the Management Forum, on occasion requesting that binding decisions are made by the latter group.

Guidance for both groups is provided by a Marine Management Plan which highlights all aspects of the MPA, from seabirds to coastal archaeological sites, grey seals to rare cup corals. All are important and the welfare of each needs keeping an eye on. Day-to-day management of the MPA is the responsibility of the island’s Warden, Rose Ellis, and her Conservation Team.

The importance of monitoring

Sunset cup coral Leptopsammia pruvoti_Knoll Pins, Lundy_Paul Kay (1) (1)

Sunset cup coral

Credit: Paul Kay

However, certain aspects of ensuring the MPA remains in a favourable state are beyond the means of any immediate management measures. Over the years, for instance, there has been a dramatic fall in Lundy’s sunset cup coral population; its pink sea fan population was decimated after suffering from a bacterial infection (but is now recovering); and an apparently robust population of burrowing red band fish vanished in just a few years.

It’s vitally important that monitoring studies take place on a regular basis, and this can only be done if the funding of such studies is guaranteed. Sadly, this is not the case at present. We look enviously at our sister MPA at Skomer and marvel at the long-term monitoring studies they’ve managed to maintain over the years.

It’s great that Lundy has been selected as one of five MPAs included in a trial of remote satellite monitoring of vessel movements within MPAs. This could well be how Highly Protected Marine Areas in the future are ‘policed’, allowing the scientists and conservationists more time to keep an eye on the wellbeing of the marine life itself.