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MPA network assessments

There are national and international commitments for networks of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that are ecologically coherent and well managed. The UK has committed to several international agreements on 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 provided specialist MPA knowledge and analytical expertise, to support all four UK countries in assessing the MPAs that can contribute to their MPA networks and identifying where additional MPAs should be invested in, 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 UK 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.





Northern Ireland




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.


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

Chaniotis, P., Cornthwaite, A., Ridgeway, A. 2018. Defining ASSI/SSSIs with 'marine biological components' and setting out a process for determining their contribution to the UK MPA network

Cornthwaite, A., Carr, H., Wright, H. 2015. Defining RAMSAR site protected features and RAMSAR sites with marine components

UK Contribution to Ecologically Coherent MPA Network in the North East Atlantic, Joint Administrations Statement: Defra, DOE, Scottish Government, Welsh Government (December 2012).

Approach to providing information on marine Geological and Geomorphological features as part of the UK MPA Stocktake

Guidance on what represents a UK MPA Network Feature afforded protection by existing sites

Aish, A. 2007. Defining SACs with marine components and SPAs with marine components: JNCC and country conservation agency guidance



About Marine Protected Areas

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