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Marine Protected Areas

Marine protected areas are parts of the sea with special controls to protect species and habitats and support the wider marine ecosystem. There are different types of marine protected area in UK seas.

European marine sites

These are areas of the sea designated under the Habitats Directive and Wild Birds Directive. They are known as marine Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and marine Special Protection Areas (SPAs). You can find out more here.

National marine protected areas

Until 2009, areas could be designated as Marine Nature Reserves in order to protect nationally important habitats and species. Only three Marine Nature Reserves were ever created - in Lundy, Skomer (Welsh waters) and Strangford Lough (Northern Ireland).

The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 reformed the law to try to make it more effective. The government can now create Marine Conservation Zones (known as Marine Protected Areas in Scotland) which can be protected in order to achieve special conservation objectives. Conservation objectives could include things like improving a fish population or maintaining the condition of a habitat. The new laws aim to make it possible to protect more marine species and habitats than before.

The Marine Nature Reserve at Lundy became the first Marine Conservation Zone in January 2010. There are now 50 designated Marine Conservation Zones in waters around England. In 2017 the government will consult on further areas to designate in 2018. The zones will form part of an 'ecologically coherent network' of marine protected areas.

Once an area has been designated as a Marine Conservation Zone it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly kill or injure the protected features of the site if that may significantly hinder achievement of the conservation objectives. Protected features could include certain types of fish or plant. Other kinds of damage are also forbidden. There is an exemption in the Act for commercial fishing and it is anticipated that MCZs will be protected from fishing activities under fisheries legislation.

Public bodies will be under duties to help deliver the site's conservation objectives. Byelaws can be introduced to some regulate activities like navigation.


Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009: Part 5, Chapter 1

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