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About Marine Protected Areas

The UK Governments have set out their aim to recover and protect the richness of our marine environment and wildlife through the development of a strong, ecologically coherent and well managed network of marine protected areas, that is well understood and supported by all sea users. JNCC has been at the forefront of providing technical advice on the development of the UK Marine Protected Area (MPA) network for over ten years.

MPAs are defined geographical areas of the marine environment established and managed to achieve long-term nature conservation and sustainable use. The development of a network of MPAs in the marine environment is part of the UK’s commitment to protecting its seas and associated benefits to society for future generations.

What are MPAs?

There are many definitions for MPAs. However, they can be defined broadly as a clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.

There are several types of MPA in the UK, which in combination are intended to form an 'ecologically coherent and well-managed network' as a contribution to the effective conservation and sustainable use of the UK’s marine environment:

Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) – designated to protect habitats and species of European importance.

Special Protection Areas (SPAs) – classified to protect bird species of European importance and regularly occurring migratory birds.

Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) and Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas – designated to protect nationally important species, habitats, ecological processes and features of geological/geomorphological importance.

English Highly Protected Marine Areas – designated to protect the marine ecosystem of the area (including all marine flora and fauna, all marine habitats and all geological or geomorphological interests, including all abiotic elements and supporting ecosystem functions and processes, in the seabed, water column and the sea surface).

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) / Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSIs) – designated to protect any area of special interest for its flora, fauna, geological or physiographical features. These are coastal (and terrestrial) designations with some sites protecting marine features. ASSIs are designated in Northern Ireland, which are equivalent to SSSIs in England, Scotland and Wales.

Ramsar sites – wetlands of international importance designated under the Ramsar Convention. These are coastal (and terrestrial) designations with some sites protecting marine features.

MPAs are just one of the tools that can help us to effectively conserve the marine environment and are used to compliment wider approaches such as those associated with marine planning more broadly.


JNCC's role

JNCC is responsible for providing scientific advice to the UK Government and the devolved administrations on MPAs in UK offshore waters beyond territorial waters, and on the UK MPA network. JNCC collaborates with the country nature conservation bodies (CNCBs) for the inshore (within territorial waters) to provide advice on MPAs which fall within both inshore and offshore waters. 


MPA implementation cycle

JNCC is involved with all stages of the MPA implementation cycle, described below.

Site Identification
Threats & Impacts
MPA Management
MPA Monitoring
MPA Assessment

Site Identification – The best-available evidence is collated and used to provide advice to UK Government and the devolved administrations on the identification and designation of MPAs.

Threats & Impacts – Relevant threats and impacts on the protected features within MPAs are identified and appropriate conservation advice developed which in turn supports advice on the management of human activities within these MPAs. 

MPA Management – JNCC provides advice to regulators on the impacts of offshore industries (such as oil and gas developments) on the conservation status of MPAs in UK offshore waters. JNCC has also been actively working with governments across the UK to develop fisheries management proposals.

MPA Monitoring – JNCC provides scientific advice on the monitoring of offshore MPAs. Monitoring these sites aims to collect information that will be useful for understanding whether the conservation objectives of offshore MPAs are being achieved and determine if management is being effective or needs to be adapted.

MPA Assessment – Assessment of the condition of the protected features within MPAs can inform whether further management is required for sites to meet their conservation objectives. JNCC uses information gathered from monitoring surveys to inform these assessments and draw conclusions on feature condition, whether conservation objectives are being met and management measures effective. The outcomes of these assessments may result in a conservation objective or management approach being modified.


MPAs in territorial waters

The responsibility for MPAs within territorial waters sits with the relevant country nature conservation body:


Contact us

Have you got information regarding an offshore MPA which you would like to share with us? Please get in touch.


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