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South Dorset MPA

Please note, as of 13 June 2022, new fisheries management measures are in force for South Dorset MCZ. For more information about these fisheries measures, please visit the website. Updated conservation advice will be provided in due course.

Status: Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ)

South Dorset MCZ is a joint inshore and offshore site, 30–60 m deep, located approximately 17.5 km south of St Albans Head. Natural England and JNCC are responsible for advising on the site’s protected features within and outside the 12 nm limit boundary respectively.


Located approximately 17.5 km south of St Albans Head South Dorset MCZ is a joint inshore and offshore site, 30–60 m deep, and therefore Natural England and JNCC are responsible for advising on the site’s protected features within and outside the 12 nm limit boundary respectively.

South Dorset MCZ protects four seabed habitats: Moderate energy circalittoral rock, High energy circalittoral rock, Subtidal coarse sediment and Subtidal chalk. The MCZ is important as it protects exposed outcrops of subtidal chalk in relatively deep water (over 50 m) despite this habitat usually found in shallower water (5–20 m) on the south-east and eastern coasts of the UK.

More detailed site information can be found in the Summary section below.

Map displaying the South Dorset MPA boundary and associated protected feature data. Visit JNCC's MPA Mapper to further view and explore data for this MPA.

Map showing South Dorset Marine Protected Area and linking to the MPA mapper


Legislation behind the designation: Marine and Coastal Access Act (2009)


Protected Features

 Protected Feature Feature type
Moderate energy circalittoral rock Broad-scale habitat
High energy circalittoral rock Broad-scale habitat
Subtidal coarse sediment Broad-scale habitat
Subtidal chalk Habitat feature of conservation importance

Specific information on the conservation objectives relating to this site is provided in the Conservation Advice section.

The acquisition of new data may result in updates to our knowledge on feature presence and extent within this site. The most up-to-date information is reflected on the map at the top of the page and in JNCC's MPA Mapperwith the evidence underpinning available in the Monitoring and Evidence section.


Site Timeline

The diagram below is a summary of the key milestones involved in the selection and designation of South Dorset MCZ. More detail can be found within the Relevant Documentation section and in the post consultation advice.

September 2011
Regional Projects recommended a total of 127 Marine Conservation Zones (rMCZs) to Defra and the statutory nature conservation bodies (SNCBs).
November 2013
Tranche One designations announced, South Dorset MCZ designated.
January 2016
Tranche Two designations announced, additional feature designated in South Dorset MCZ.
June 2018
Formal public consultation on Tranche Three rMCZs, including additional feature for South Dorset MCZ.
May 2019
Tranche Three designations announced, additional feature designated in South Dorset MCZ.


Relevant Documentation

The documents referred to below and any other historical documents relating to South Dorset MCZ were produced during the selection and designation process and therefore may be out of date. This Site Information Centre is the most up-to-date source of information for South Dorset MCZ, and will reflect any additional information gathered since these documents were produced. Further information about the MCZ site selection process and historic MCZ advice is available on JNCC's MCZ webpages.



Last updated: October 2020

This site summary was adapted from the MCZ Site Report and incorporates any information gathered since this document was produced. Please refer to the report for further details and information sources.

Site overview

South Dorset MCZ is located approximately 17.5 km south of St Alban’s Head. The site lies approximately 4 km to the west of the Wight-Barfleur Reef SAC, and 5 km south of Studland to Portland SAC. The seabed in the MCZ is characterised by circalittoral rock with overlaying deposits of subtidal coarse sediment of varying depth. The eastern half of the site has longitudinal furrows of alternating cobbles and gravel, oriented in the direction of the tide. Bryozoans such as the sea mat (Electra pilosa) and hornwrack (Flustra foliacea), sea squirts such as orange sea grapes (Stolonica socialis) and the baked bean ascidian (Dendrodoa grossularia), and encrusting sponges dominate rocky areas within the site. Crustaceans such as the long-clawed porcelain crab (Pisidia longicornis) and common spider crab (Maja brachydactyla) hide in the crevices and cobbles in furrows. In addition, the great scallop (Pecten maximus), common sunstar (Crossaster papposus) and goose foot starfish (Anseropoda placenta) can be found in areas of subtidal coarse sediment, and the small-spotted catshark (Scyliorhinus canicula) has also been found at the site.  

The site currently has four designated features: moderate energy circalittoral rock, high energy circalittoral rocksubtidal coarse sediment and subtidal chalk. Subtidal chalk is typically found on south-eastern and eastern coasts of the UK, but this site protects the only known example of this habitat in deeper water and beyond the 12 nautical miles boundary limit.

South Dorset MCZ was originally recommended by the Finding Sanctuary regional project in 2011 to help meet the broad-scale habitat targets set and due to the occurrence of subtidal chalk within the site. South Dorset MCZ was designated in 2013 for subtidal coarse sediment and subtidal chalk. Since the site was recommended, further data analysis and an additional site survey in 2013 confirmed the presence of moderate energy circalittoral rock and subtidal chalk within the site. A new modelled habitat map based on the 2013 site survey data was also produced that revised the extent of subtidal mixed sediments and subtidal coarse sediment within the site.

A further survey was carried out by Natural England in 2015, identifying the presence of high energy circalittoral rock within the MCZ. This feature was designated as an additional protected feature of the site in Tranche Three.  Further detail on the evidence for this MCZ can be found in the Monitoring and Evidence section.

Site location: Co-ordinates for this MCZ can be found in the designation order in the Relevant Documentation section.

Site area: 193 km2, approximately one-third of the size of the New Forest (571 km2).

Site depth range: 35 m–59 m.

Charting Progress 2 biogeographic region: Eastern Channel.

Site boundary description: The site is a simple polygon with boundary lines running north to south and east to west in line with the MCZ project Ecological Network Guidance. The boundary of South Dorset MCZ was developed by the Finding Sanctuary regional project and has not changed since it was recommended in 2011. The site boundary was guided by information on renewable energy companies and the round 3 wind-farm licensing area and intersects the 12 nm territorial limit boundary line.


Monitoring and Evidence

Last updated: November 2023

There are a range of data that underpin this MCZ. The full overview of these data used to support site identification along with information on confidence in feature presence and extent is available in Natural England's 2013 Tranche One post-consultation advice, 2015 Tranche Two post-consultation advice and Tranche Three MCZ pre-consultation and post-consultation scientific advice for the additional feature proposed for designation in 2019. JNCC will be adding relevant survey data for this MPA to its MPA Mapper in due course.

Some of the data for this MCZ have been collected through Defra-funded or collaborative surveys, and some through other means. Data from these surveys provide direct evidence confirming the presence of the protected features within the site.


Survey and data gathering

  • South Dorset MCZ Baseline Monitoring Survey (2015) – Cefas-led survey that aimed to establish monitoring sample stations for the site and collect further data to determine the extent of subtidal chalk in the site. Video, images, acoustic data and grab samples were collected across the site.
  • South Dorset MCZ Survey (2013) – JNCC and Natural England collaborated with Cefas on two MCZ site verification surveys to South Dorset MCZ, funded through the MB0120 Defra data collection project. Video, images, acoustic data and grab samples were collected across the site.


Data analysis reports

  • South Dorset MCZ characterisation report (2015) – Cefas undertook analysis of data collected on the South Dorset baseline monitoring survey (2015). This will form the initial point in a time series against which feature (and site) condition can be assessed in the future.
  • South Dorset rMCZ Post-survey site report (2014) – Cefas undertook analysis of the data collected on the South Dorset MCZ survey (2013).  The data, analysed as part of the MB0120 Defra contract, led to the creation of a revised habitat map that has been used to inform the presence of broad-scale habitats within the MCZ.


Additional relevant literature

References for further supporting scientific literature consulted during the identification of this site can be found in Natural England's 2013 post-consultation advice2015 pre-consultation adviceand 2016 post-consultation advice, 2017 pre-consultation and 2019 post-consultation advice. Please be aware that although these sources contain information in relation to this MPA, they do not necessarily represent the views of JNCC.


Knowledge gaps

As part of the UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy (UKMMAS), JNCC led the development of a UK Marine Biodiversity Monitoring Strategy, working with partners across the UK monitoring community. The Strategy spans UK territorial and offshore waters, focusing on biodiversity in the wider environment and within Marine Protected Areas.  Its aim is to implement efficient, integrated monitoring of marine biodiversity to provide the evidence needed for all the UK's policy drivers.

The evidence collected during MPA monitoring surveys is used in combination with other available evidence to:

  • Enable assessment of condition of the features within sites;
  • Contribute to the assessment of the degree to which management measures are effective in achieving the conservation objectives for the protected features;
  • Support the identification of priorities for future protection and/or management; and,
  • Enable Government to fulfil its national and international assessment and reporting commitments in relation to MPAs and help identify where further action may be required.

More detail on offshore MPA monitoring can be found on the Offshore MPA monitoring webpage. A list of monitoring surveys and relevant reports can be found  on the MPA monitoring survey reports webpage.

If you are aware of any additional data not listed here or scientific papers relevant to this site, please contact us.


Conservation Advice

Last updated: March 2022

JNCC and Natural England have published updated conservation advice for South Dorset MCZ (March 2022). This advice is available through Natural England’s Designated Sites System for South Dorset MCZ.

The advice reflects the most up-to-date evidence held by Natural England and JNCC. The conservation advice should be taken into consideration to assess the effects which a planned activity can have on the site’s integrity and when making decisions regarding management and consenting of marine activities in or near the site. 

For more information on JNCC’s approach to conservation advice please see our 'Conserving MPAs' webpage. Information can also be found on Natural England’s website.



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