Natural England - Marine Protected Areas

Marine Protected Areas

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are zones of the seas and coasts where wildlife is protected from damage and disturbance. The Government is committed to establishing a well-managed ecologically coherent network of MPAs in our seas.

By linking MPAs together into a coherent network, supported by wider environmental management measures, we will promote the recovery and conservation of marine ecosystems. The network will contain MPAs of different sizes containing different habitats and species, connected through movements of adults and larvae, with a range of protection levels that are designed to meet objectives that single MPAs cannot. A well designed network is key to achieving biodiversity goals.

The UK has committed to establishing an ecologically coherent network of MPAs under several agreements including the OSPAR Convention, World Summit on Sustainable Development and Convention on Biological Diversity.

Why do we need MPAs?

Marine Protected Areas are essential for healthy, functioning and resilient ecosystems – they help us deliver the Government’s vision of a clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas.
Some human activities damage or cause disturbance to marine habitats and their species. Within an MPA such activities will be managed or restricted.

Specifically, MPAs enable us to:

  • Protect and restore the ecosystems in our seas and around our coasts.
  • Ensure that the species and habitats found there can thrive and are not threatened or damaged.
  • Maintain a diverse range of marine life that can be resistant to changes brought about by physical disturbance, pollution and climate change.
  • Provide areas where the public can enjoy a healthy marine environment learn about marine life and enjoy activities such as diving, photography, exploring rock pools and coastal walking.
  • Provide natural areas for scientific study.

Lundy Marine Conservation Zone: case study of a marine protected area

Marine Protected Areas in England

There are five designations which together will form the MPA network in England:

SPAs and SACs are together termed ‘European Marine Sites’ or ‘Natura 2000 sites’ designated under the European Habitats and Birds Directives.

  • Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)
    Although most SSSIs are on land and intertidal area there are some which extend into the marine environment below low water mark.
  • RAMSAR sites
    Protect internationally important sites for wetland birds
  • Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs)
    Protect nationally important habitats, species and geology. The Government designated 22 inshore and 5 offshore MCZs (Lundy MCZ previously designated in 2010) in November 2013. For more information about these new sites please visit JNCC’s interactive mapexternal link

The Joint Nature Conservation Committee have produced an information documentexternal link on different types of MPAs.

Marine Protected Areas and the Marine and Coastal Access Act

The Marine and Coastal Access Act strengthens the network of Marine Protected Areas in England and Wales. The Act created a duty on Ministers to designate new areas of national importance as Marine Conservation Zones to protect the range of marine habitats and species in England’s seas contributing to a network of MPAs. The Act also provides for improved duties and powers for public bodies to manage MPAs. Lundy MCZ has now been joined by 21 new inshore sites and 5 offshore sites.

Natural England’s work on Marine Protected Areas

Natural England aims to achieve the favourable condition of all MPAs in the network. This will be delivered by:

New UK Marine Protected Area Interactive Map

The Joint Nature Conservation Committee have just launched an interactive map to display UK Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). This is an innovative new tool which provides information on the designated MPAs throughout the UK and where in UK waters the habitats and species that the MPAs are designed to protect occur.

Explore the UK MPA Interactive Mapexternal link