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Charting the progress of MPA networks in UK seas

Case Study 2019

Charting the progress of MPA networks in UK seas

The UK has committed to several international agreements on Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), including the OSPAR Convention target for an ecologically coherent and well-managed network of MPAs across the North-East Atlantic.

Ecological coherence is an evolving scientific concept, but in essence it refers to the way in which a collection of MPAs operate in synergy to provide ecological benefits over and above that which individual MPAs could provide alone.

JNCC plays an active role in providing advice to Government to support the OSPAR commitments; from the selection and designation of offshore MPAs, through to assessments of the effectiveness of the MPA networks in the UK and how this contributes to international targets and aspirations.


In partnership with the country agencies, JNCC has undertaken six MPA network assessments in UK waters to date:

  • three to support the designation of English Marine Conservation Zones in waters off England and offshore Northern Ireland;
  • one for Welsh waters;
  • one for the Northern Ireland inshore region;
  • and one for Scotland.


We have also played a leading role in working with countries that are party to the OSPAR Convention to develop and implement approaches to measuring the ecological coherence and management effectiveness of the OSPAR network of MPAs across the North-east Atlantic.


Our assessment approach

In 2012, Defra and the Devolved Administrations published a statement setting out how the UK will contribute to an ecologically coherent and well-managed network of MPAs across the North-east Atlantic as per the North-east Atlantic biodiversity strategy under the OSPAR Convention. To support UK Governments in achieving this aim, JNCC has been commissioned to undertake a series of country-level MPA network assessments to inform on both the progress of the network and identify where remaining gaps lie which may need addressing.

JNCC completed these detailed assessments of the existing components of each of the MPA networks under review, using the best-available evidence. Over the course of the assessments, which took place between 2013 and 2018, we allowed the methodology to evolve, adapting it for each assessment to make it specific to the requirements of each country government.

The assessments focused on the broad-scale habitats of specific regions; specific habitat features of conservation importance; and the species features of conservation importance that the habitats protect. They also took biogeographic factors into account (that is, the distribution of species and ecosystems geographically and over time) which is important when considering resilience. The MPA data used in the assessments were based on data collated through an intensive data collation exercise called the UK MPA stocktake. These data used in conjunction with large-scale biophysical datasets helped to identify both the progress of the networks and areas where further work is required. It therefore allowed conclusions to be drawn as to the adequacy of the networks as they currently stood and highlighted potential shortfalls. In this way, we have been able to undertake effective assessments at different biogeographic scales and times for a range of protected habitats and species.


Future activity

Through this work, we have developed extensive knowledge of MPA assessment approaches and the concept of ecological coherence. Using the results of these network assessments and six-yearly reporting on individual site and MPA networks as a whole, JNCC will continue to advise the UK Government on how the UK’s MPA network may be developed through further designations (if or where required) or other changes to the existing network.

We will also continue our leading role in the OSPAR Convention to support assessments of ecological coherence and management effectiveness.


Additional material/links:

Chaniotis, P., Cioffi, B., Farmer, R., Cornthwaite, A., Flavell, B. & Carr, H. 2018. Developing an ecologically-coherent and well-managed Marine Protected Area network in the United Kingdom: 10 years of reflection from the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Biodiversity, DOI: 10.1080/14888386.2018.1467791

UK Contribution to Ecologically Coherent MPA Network in the North East Atlantic, Joint Administrations Statement: Defra, DOE, Scottish Government, Welsh Government,


Team:  Marine ecosystems

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