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.

If they are in the right place and part of a wider well-managed network of protected areas, 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.

To achieve this, MPA networks 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, gravelling or muddy sea floors.

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

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, designating the first 27 sites at the end of 2013. A further 23 sites were consulted on at the start of 2015 with a decision on these sites expected by the beginning of 2016 at the latest. 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 still known as Marine Protected Areas. The Scottish Government designated 30 MPAs in 2014. MPAs for the protection of whales, dolphins, basking sharks and seabirds are likely to follow in 2015. More information about Scottish Wildlife Trust’s campaign to secure 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 considering designation of further Marine Conservation Zones. You can follow Ulster Wildlife’s campaign for healthy seas in Northern Ireland 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 Bay and Ballacash Channel Marine Nature Reserve protects important habitats and species in the area. You can find out more here.

Alderney – Marine Conservation 

Through Living Islands, Alderney Wildlife Trust are helping to create, plan and apply for potential marine protected areas. The Trust is also providing a key role in marine conservation, awareness and education. 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.

Sea Bed User and Developer Group - Joint Statement 

In conjunction with the Sea Bed User and Developer Group, Marine Conservation Society, RSPB and WWF, we have produced a joint statement, addressing our shared vision for marine conservation in the UK. To read the statement click here.