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Marine Conservation Zones

Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) are a type of marine protected area that can be designated in English, Welsh and Northern Irish territorial and offshore waters.

MCZs protect a range of nationally important habitats and species such as cold-water coral reefs which thrive in the UK’s deeper waters, sedimentary seabed habitats vital for a range of marine processes and other species, and the slow-growing ocean quahog identified as an OSPAR Threatened and/or Declining species.

JNCC's role

JNCC is responsible for identifying and recommending MCZs in the offshore marine area, but has worked closely with the relevant country nature conservation bodies to ensure a consistent process is undertaken across each of the countries. MCZs in English, Welsh and Northern Irish offshore waters are designated under the Marine and Coastal Access Act (2009), which provides the legal mechanism to assist in the conservation of and enable recovery of the protected wildlife and habitats within them. The Marine Act (Northern Ireland) 2013 makes provisions for MCZs in Northern Irish territorial waters. 

There are currently 89 MCZs designated in England and a further two in Northern Ireland. An overview of the MCZs that fall partly or wholly in UK offshore waters is provided in the table below, with links to further information on individual sites and their protected features included.

MCZ site name Designated feature(s)
East of Haig Fras Moderate energy circalittoral rock, High energy circalittoral rock, Subtidal coarse sediment/Subtidal mixed sediments mosaic, Subtidal sand, Subtidal mud, Sea-pen and burrowing megafauna, Fan mussel (Atrina fragilis)
East of Start Point Subtidal sand
Farnes East Moderate energy circalittoral rock, Subtidal coarse sediment, Subtidal sand, Subtidal mud, Subtidal mixed sediments, Sea-pen and burrowing megafauna communities, Ocean quahog
Fulmar Subtidal sand, Subtidal mud, Subtidal mixed sediments, Ocean quahog
Greater Haig Fras Subtidal coarse sediment, Subtidal sand, Subtidal mud, Subtidal mixed sediments, Sea-pen and burrowing megafauna communities, Haig Fras rock complex
Holderness Offshore Subtidal coarse sediment, Subtidal sand, Subtidal mixed sediments, Ocean quahog (Arctica islandica), North Sea glacial tunnel valleys (Inner Silver Pit)
Inner Bank Subtidal coarse sediment, Subtidal sand, Subtidal mixed sediments
Markham’s Triangle Subtidal coarse sediment, Subtidal sand, Subtidal mud, Subtidal mixed sediments
North East of Haig Fras Subtidal coarse sediment, Subtidal sand, Subtidal mud
North East of Farnes Deep Subtidal coarse sediment, Subtidal sand, Subtidal mixed sediments, Subtidal mud, Ocean quahog
North West of Jones Bank Subtidal coarse sediment, Subtidal sand, Subtidal mixed sediments, Subtidal mud, Sea-pen and burrowing megafauna communities
Offshore Brighton High energy circalittoral rock, Subtidal coarse sediment, Subtidal mixed sediments
Offshore Overfalls Subtidal coarse sediment, Subtidal mixed sediments, Subtidal sand, English Channel outburst flood features (Quaternary fluvio-glacial erosion features)
Queenie Corner Sea-pen and burrowing megafauna communities, Subtidal mud
South of Celtic Deep Subtidal coarse sediment, Subtidal sand, Subtidal mixed sediments
South of the Isles of Scilly Subtidal sand, Subtidal coarse sediment/Subtidal mixed sediments mosaic, Fan mussel (Atrina fragilis)
South Rigg Moderate energy circalittoral rock, Subtidal coarse sediment, Subtidal sand, Subtidal mud, Subtidal mixed sediments, Sea-pen and burrowing megafauna communities
South West Approaches to the Bristol Channel Subtidal coarse sediment, Subtidal sand
South West Deeps (East) Subtidal coarse sediment, Subtidal sand, Deep-sea bed, Celtic Sea relict sandbanks
South West Deeps (West) Subtidal coarse sediment, Subtidal sand, Subtidal mixed sediments, Subtidal mud, Fan mussel, Celtic Sea relict sandbanks
South Dorset Moderate energy circalittoral rock, Subtidal coarse sediment, Subtidal chalk
Swallow Sand Subtidal coarse sediment, Subtidal sand, North Sea glacial tunnel valley (Swallow Hole)
The Canyons Deep-sea bed, Cold-water coral reefs, Coral gardens, Sea-pen and burrowing megafauna communities
Western Channel Subtidal coarse sediment, Subtidal sand
West of Copeland Subtidal coarse sediment Subtidal sand, Subtidal mixed sediments
West of Walney Subtidal sand, Subtidal mud, Sea-pen and burrowing megafauna communities
West of Wight Barfleur Subtidal coarse sediment, Subtidal mixed sediments

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Designation process

Offshore and English inshore MCZs

The Marine Conservation Zone Project was launched in 2008 to identify MCZs in English inshore and English, Welsh and Northern Irish offshore waters to recommend to Government. The Project was led by the JNCC and Natural England and four regional project groups covering the south-west (Finding Sanctuary), Irish Sea (Irish Sea Conservation Zones), North Sea (Net Gain) and south-east (Balanced Seas). These groups were established to work with a range of sea users and interest groups to identify recommendations for MCZs within their regions. There is various guidance that aided this process for selecting recommended MCZs following review of the evidence available.

Tranche 1

Recommendations made by the regional MCZ projects were submitted to JNCC, Natural England and the Science Advisory Panel in September 2011, who in turn reviewed these and submitted formal advice to the Government in July 2012. The provision of this advice used a set of agreed protocols that set out the standards against which we produced our advice. Between December 2012 and March 2013, Defra held a formal public consultation on all recommended MCZs and indicated which sites they felt had a case for designation in 2013 for the first Tranche of designations. Sites were designated in November 2013.

 

Tranche 2

Advice was provided in June 2014 by JNCC to Defra on how the remaining recommended MCZ (rMCZ) site options could help fill ‘big gaps’ in the existing network of MPAs around England and offshore waters of Wales & Northern Ireland. Defra used this information alongside socio-economic impact assessments of sites to identify the list of candidate rMCZs and additional features in designated MCZs for the second tranche of sites to be considered for designation. JNCC provided formal scientific advice on these shortlisted sites in offshore waters. Defra compiled a list of candidate Tranche Two sites and a public consultation was held in 2015. Additionally, a second assessment of progress towards an ecologically coherent network of MPAs was undertaken by JNCC to help Defra assess what further designations may be required to meet the commitment to establishing an ecologically coherent MPA network and the second tranche was designated in 2016.

 

Tranche 3

The third tranche of MCZs were designated on 31 May 2019. Following the assessment of network progress undertaken in Tranche Two, JNCC made a further review of what would be protected following that Tranche of MCZs. As a result of this network analysis in 2016, an approach was developed to identify new site options to complete the MPA network. A workshop to discuss Tranche Three and development of new site options was held and helped to inform pre-consultation advice to Government for the third Tranche of MCZs. These sites were consulted upon in summer 2018 and post-consultation advice on offshore MCZs under consideration provided by JNCC in Autumn 2018. Thirteen offshore sites and additional features in two existing MCZs were designated in Summer 2019. Further information on the sites can also be accessed through the Defra website.

 

Welsh inshore MCZs

In Welsh inshore waters Marine Conservation Zones are being identified through the Marine Conservation Zone Project Wales. Sites are selected to protect not just the rare and threatened, but the range of marine wildlife found in UK waters.

The Welsh Government requested an analysis of the progress towards an ecologically coherent network of MPAs in waters around Wales, together with advice on whether there are any potential gaps that need to be filled for Wales to meet its MPA network obligations. This work enabled the Welsh Government to demonstrate the level of progress, Wales’ contribution to the wider network of MPAs in the UK and helps to inform next steps including developing options to fill any gaps identified.

 

Northern Ireland inshore MCZs

The Guidance on selection and designation of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) in the Northern Ireland inshore region was used to underpin the selection and designation of MCZs in the Northern Ireland inshore region. After a number of stakeholder workshops and data collation, MCZ proposals were subject to public consultation in late 2015 to early 2016. Four sites were designated in 2016 alongside a Marine Nature Reserve which was re-designated as an MCZ after the introduction of the Marine Act (Northern Ireland). Following these new designations, DAERA asked JNCC to assess the progress of the MPA network against Northern Ireland’s marine conservation policy commitments. The ecological coherence of the MPA network was examined within the context of the Northern Ireland inshore region, but JNCC also assessed Northern Ireland’s contribution to the broader UK MPA network. The report considers whether there are any remaining ecological gaps that could be addressed to further the progress of the Northern Ireland MPA network.

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Management of offshore MCZs

Management measures may be required in order to restore or maintain the conservation status of the protected features of MCZs.

The Marine Management Organisation is the lead authority regarding the implementation of, and compliance with, any measures implemented for the management of fishing activity in offshore MCZs.

Licensable activities such as oil and gas exploration within MCZs have to comply with the Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017. JNCC's conservation advice supports the consents process by setting out the conservation objectives for the protected feature of this MPA and advice on activities that may result in pressures to which the protected feature is considered sensitive.

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About Marine Protected Areas

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