Natural England - Marine Conservation Zones

Marine Conservation Zones

Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) are a type of Marine Protected Area. They protect areas that are important to conserving the diversity of nationally rare or threatened habitats and/or species and those places containing habitats and/or species that are representative of the biodiversity in our seas.

Latest news

Defra announces 37 new Marine Conservation Zones will be considered as potential candidates for consultation in 2015.

On 24 February 2014 Defra held a stakeholder event on Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) where a long list of possible candidate recommended MCZsexternal link for the second tranche of sites to go forward for public consultation was revealed.

The second tranche of MCZs will address ‘big gaps’ in the network and will add to the network of marine protected areas that started on 21 November 2013, with the designation of 27 MCZs, covering an area of around 9,700 sq km. Defra will take final decisions on which sites to propose in the public consultation taking account of advice provided by JNCC and Natural England, and updated information on the costs and benefits of designation.

What has Natural England’s role been?

Natural England and JNCC are working with Defra to take stock of the habitats and species protected in existing and planned MPAs and to identify gaps in the existing MPA network. Defra has reviewed this analysisexternal link and has identified 37 sites as potential candidates for the second tranche of MCZs; these sites address ‘big gaps’ in the network.  Natural England will be providing Defra with updated advice on the inshore candidate sites this summer, which will include an assessment of any newly available ecological evidence.

Defra will then select candidate MCZs for inclusion in a public consultation in early 2015 based on advice from Natural England and JNCC together with updated socio-economic information.

What are MCZs?

The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 (Part 5)external link enables Defra Ministers to designate and protect Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs). These are a type of marine protected area, which will exist alongside European marine sites [Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protected Areas (SPAs)], SSSIs and Ramsar sites to form an ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas. Similar schemes are operating in Walesexternal link and Scotlandexternal link and soon in Northern Ireland to contribute to a UK wide network of Marine Protected Areas.
Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel, a former Marine Nature Reserve, became the first MCZ in January 2010.


In 2009 the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and Natural England set up a project to give sea-users and interest groups (stakeholders), from local fishermen to international corporations, the opportunity to recommend possible MCZs to UK Government through the establishment of four regional MCZ projects. In September 2011, these regional MCZ projects recommended 127 MCZs including 65 reference areas to JNCC and Natural England. The recommended MCZs cover approximately 15% of the Defra marine area (English territorial waters and UK offshore waters adjacent to England, Wales and Northern Ireland).

Natural England and JNCC, as the Government’s advisers on the natural environment, reviewed these recommendations. In July 2012 we submitted our formal advice to Government on the science behind these recommendations, the quality of the ecological data and our views on the overall regional MCZ Project process. This advice was considered alongside the regional project recommendations and did not change any of the outputs from the stakeholder process.

The MCZ Advice Package produced in July 2012 is available to read on both the JNCCexternal link and Natural Englandexternal link websites.

At the beginning of 2013 Defra ran a public consultation on 31 recommended MCZs which gave stakeholders the opportunity to comment on the proposals for site designation and the underpinning evidence, and provide any additional evidence on the proposed designations before they are finalised.

In order to create well managed MCZs in the right places it is important to have good evidence about the sites and the habitats and species within them. A second MCZ Advice Packageexternal link looked at new data that had become available through the consultation and since the submission of the 2012 advice. The evidence received from the consultation, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and Natural England adviceexternal link submitted in July 2012 and other recent evidence can be found here.

Following the recent designation of MCZs, Natural England has a statutory responsibility to provide conservation advice that sets out their conservation objectives and the operations that may impact on the features of the sites. Please see our improving MPA conservation advice pages for more information.

You can view a map of the recommended sites at www.mczmapping.orgexternal link and read about the type of features they protect on our MCZ Features Catalogue.

How to stay in touch

For further information about the advice produced by Natural England and JNCC please email: 
For further information about the public consultation and next steps please contact Defra:
or visit the following websites:

The guidance and protocols followed by the regional MCZ projects, Natural England and JNCC are here: