Our seas are suffering from overfishing, exploitation for resources and damage to natural habitats. Marine Protected Areas – parts of the sea where wildlife and habitats are protected – are key to the future health of our seas, their ecosystems and wildlife.

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are places at sea where human activities such as fishing are restricted. They are a tried and tested means of conserving habitats and wildlife at sea and there are many around the world.

MPAs don’t just protect wildlife. They can have an influence beyond their boundaries, as growing wildlife populations spill out into the surrounding (non-protected) sea. In the UK there is a well-researched example of this at Lundy in the Bristol Channel where lobster in a ‘no-take’ zone were growing to be larger than those in the surrounding fished area as they were protected from fishing. Eventually the lobsters in the surrounding fished area became larger as they spread out from the area excluded to fishing.

We are calling for an ecologically coherent network of MPAs in UK waters - a "Blue Belt" around our island home. If they are in the right place and part of a wider well-managed network, MPAs can bring even greater benefits, improving the overall health of the marine environment and helping it recover from past impacts and sustain current pressures – living seas. However, MPAs are not effective in isolation and can only work if they are: big enough, close enough, representative, numerous enough and actively protected. 

To achieve better seas for both people and wildlife, our MPA network must protect not just rare and threatened wildlife, but the whole range of ‘typical’ habitats and wildlife found in healthy seas. For us in the UK this includes habitats like our cold water reefs, seagrass meadows, kelp forests and sandy, gravelly or muddy sea floors.

In the UK, Marine Protected Areas is the name we give to all types of protected area at sea and there are a number of different sites which make up our network of MPAs.

The Marine Charter

Alongside other environmental charities, The Wildlife Trusts are promoting the Marine Charter. The aim of this Charter is to gather MP support for a network of Marine Protected Areas around the UK, and to show support for the designation of Marine Conservation Zones as part of this process.

Find out more about the Charter and which MPs have signed here.

Our Marine Protected Areas in the UK

UK-wide: European Marine Sites

These are areas at sea protected for their habitats and species under EU legislation (e.g. the wildlife present is important at a European level). In the UK these fall into two types Special Areas for Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs). Find out more.

Across the UK, each country will also create protected sites at sea at a national level.

England – Marine Conservation Zones

In England, nationally important habitats and species will be protected through Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs). The UK Government are designating the MCZ network through a phased approach and designated the first 27 sites at the end of 2013. A further 23 sites were designated at the start of 2016, bringing us up to 50 MCZs in English and Secretary of State waters. You can find out more about MCZs and our campaign to secure an effective network of sites here.

Scotland – Marine Protected Areas

National sites in Scotland are known as Marine Protected Areas. The Scottish Government designated 30 MPAs in 2014. MPAs for the protection of whales, dolphins, basking sharks and offshore SPAs for seabirds are likely to follow in 2016. More information about Scottish Wildlife Trust’s campaign to secure well managed MPAs can be found here.

Northern Ireland – Marine Conservation Zones

Northern Ireland’s long awaited Marine Act passed at the end of 2013, creating Nothern Ireland’s first national Marine Conservation Zone in Strangford Lough. The Northern Irish Assembly are now consulting on the designation of 4 further Marine Conservation Zones. You can follow Ulster Wildlife’s campaign for healthy seas in Northern Ireland here or add your voice to the public consultation here.

Wales – Marine Conservation Zones

National sites in Wales will also be called Marine Conservation Zones. The Welsh Government initially held a consultation into the designation of 10 highly protected MCZs in Welsh waters. However, following a large response to the consultation in which concerns were expressed, the Welsh Government are now giving further consideration to their proposals. You can find out more about the work that Wildlife Trust Wales are doing to secure Marine Conservation Zones in Wales here.

Isle of Man – Marine Nature Reserves

As well as five Fisheries Closed or Restricted Areas, designated to promote the recovery of scallop stocks, the Isle of Man has one Marine Nature Reserve. Designated in 2011, the Ramsey Marine Nature Reserve protects important habitats and species in the area. You can find out more here.

Alderney – Marine Conservation 

Alderney Wildlife Trust support the creation of Marine Protected Areas within the Channel Islands, the UK and France. Alderney Wildlife Trust currently manages the island's Ramsar Site (the Alderney West Coast & Burhou Islands Ramsar Site) on behalf of the local Government, the States of Alderney. The Trust also provides a key role in marine conservation, awareness and education on the island of Alderney. You can find out more here.

Become a Friend of Marine Conservation Zones in English seas

Use the link below to join our campaign for Marine Conservation Zones in the seas around England.

The way back to Living Seas

Marine Protected Areas are a key part of our strategy for a new way of managing our seas, which will help create a UK surrounded by inspiring, life-filled and sustainable Living Seas. Learn more about this revolutionary new approach with our new report, The Way Back to Living Seas.


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Seabed User and Developer Group Joint Statement, May 2016169.13 KB