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Protecting the Marine Environment – Marine Conservation Zones

Marine wildlife and habitats are being impacted globally by a variety of pressures, including fishing activities and physical structures such as oil rigs.

One way in which the adverse consequences of these pressures can be combatted is the “protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems”, as advised by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO).

In the UK, areas known as Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) have been introduced with the aim of implementing this advice, as part of a network of similar projects throughout Europe and the North-Atlantic. 

MCZs will be used to protect nationally important marine wildlife, habitats, geology and geomorphology. Different levels of protection will be applied to each MCZ, from voluntary controls to “reference areas”, where no damaging activities are allowed.

How were Marine Conservation Zones selected in England?

The Marine Conservation Zone Project (MCZP), which acted according to the Ecological Network Guidance (ENG), was created in order to allocate MCZs. ENG was provided by the Government’s statutory conservation advisors, whom were led by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and Natural England (NE).

In September 2011, 127 MCZs were proposed, 65 of which were selected to be “reference areas”.

 Which sites will be designated?

In July 2013 the Government said that it would not take forward all of the proposed 127 MCZs at this stage due to concerns about the evidence supporting their designation.

On 21 November 2013, the Government designated 27 MCZs covering 8,000 sq km of offshore and around 2,000 sq km of inshore waters.

In the February of the next year, Defra announced that work on the second tranche of 23 additional MCZs was underway, with plans for a public consultation on the candidate sites expected in early 2015. The consultation closed on 24 April 2015 and the results are expected by January 2016.

Looking forward, it is expected that the Government will announce a third tranche of candidate MCZ sites in 2016.

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