Charting the progress of MPA networks in UK seas
There are national and international commitments for networks of MPAs that are ecologically coherent and well managed. 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 it in essence 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 has applied its specialist knowledge on MPAs and analytical expertise to support all four countries in considering the building blocks of their MPA networks and where effort should be placed to invest in additional MPAs to achieve an ecologically coherent network.
The UK MPA stocktake
The UK MPA stocktake is a standardised catalogue of UK MPAs and their protected features that JNCC has developed. This is important at a UK level because of the different approaches adopted within each country in identifying MPAs and required close working between JNCC and the UK country nature conservation bodies to ensure the stocktake provided a comprehensive and consistent picture of the UK MPA network.
This package of work involved the creation of a UK-level MPA network features list which consists of EUNIS broadscale habitats relevant to the UK, OSPAR Threatened & Declining habitats and species and UK Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 (NERC) (or equivalent) features listed on the countries’ individual MPA features lists. This is essential to building an inventory at a UK level and to avoid duplicating the same or very similar features that have different names by virtue of the legislation under which they were designated.
To support this process, a range of supplementary guidance was produced which is available in the Additional materials and links section below. This included guidance on identifying which protected areas and their features contribute to the protection of the marine environment in the UK MPA stocktake.
Delivering MPA network assessments for all four countries
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. To support UK governments in achieving this aim, JNCC was 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.
In partnership with the UK country nature conservation bodies, JNCC has now completed MPA network assessments for all four countries.
- 2014 – Identifying the remaining MCZ site options that would fill big gaps in the existing MPA network around England and offshore waters of Wales & Northern Ireland
- 2014 – Assessing progress towards an ecologically coherent network of MPAs in Secretary of State Waters in 2014
- 2016 – Assessing progress towards an ecologically coherent MPA network in Secretary of State Waters in 2016: Results & Methodology
- 2018 – Assessing progress towards an ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas in the Northern Ireland inshore region
JNCC completed these detailed assessments using the best-available evidence collated through the MPA stocktake. Focussing on broad-scale habitats, and habitat and species features of conservation importance, the assessments 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 key result is that the assessments identify both the progress of the networks as they currently stood, and areas of potential shortfalls where further work is required.
Using our expertise to support progress internationally
On behalf of the OSPAR Convention for the protection of the marine environment across the North-east Atlantic, JNCC has played a leading role in working with international partners to develop assessment approaches for determining the ecological coherence and management effectiveness of the UK MPA network. As an example this work forms a key component of the OSPAR MPA Status Reports, which are produced every other year.
As an active partner for the European Topic Centre on Inland, Coastal and Marine Waters, JNCC works with international partners across Europe to support the European Environment Agency in improving understanding of MPA network effectiveness across Europe. JNCC has contributed significantly to a number of reports on assessing the effectiveness of MPAs, for example proposed methodologies and scenarios for assessing MPA network sufficiency across Europe’s seas.
Additional materials and 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, https://www2.gov.scot/Resource/0041/00411304.pdf