These waters range from the mid-Kent coastline to just south of the Dart Estuary in Devon. There are 14 existing Marine Conservation Zones here, with a further 17 recommended for protection.
Marine Conservation Zones in the consultation
This June, the Government announced a consultation on designating 41 more Marine Conservation Zones in seas around England, asking the public to share their views on these new sites. In the Eastern Channel, these 17 special areas have been recommended for protection for their wildlife and habitats. Protecting these parts of the seabed will help to create an ecological network of protected areas around the UK, giving wildlife the chance to recover and thrive. You can learn more about each of these recommended Marine Conservation Zones below.
The famous Goodwin Sands, which have sheltered many a ship from the ravages of storms and rough seas, comprise of massive areas of gently rolling sandbanks. The sandbanks are home to a diversity of marine life which attracts predatory fish. These in turn encourage grey and common seals, which forage around the banks. The seals haul out to rest when the banks are exposed at low tide and common seals can even give birth to their pups here.
Beds of blue mussels are mixed in with the sandy tubes of thousands of tiny ross worms. Together these form a habitat structure which provides shelter and food for other animals such as crabs, anemones, snails and fish.
Thornback rays lay their ‘mermaid purse’ egg cases around the Goodwin Sands, and the area is also important for many other fish and for foraging birds.
If designated, this site would provide protection for very important foraging grounds for seabirds and nursery grounds for commercially important fish species including cod, sandeels and plaice. It is also one of two primary seal haul out sites in the south east of England. Kent Wildlife Trust has Seasearch data backed up by photographs and video evidence of the presence of two important features in the site: blue mussel beds and rossworm reefs.
This area extends along the middle of the channel between Kent and France, at the end of a geomorphological feature that evidences the megaflood that separated England from the rest of mainland Europe.
The seabed has deeply gouged channels where the flood water broke through. The area also contains rocky habitats, as well as impressive sand wave features where sandeels and weaver fish dart in and out of the sand and hermit crabs scuttle across the surface.
Consequently, this area of seabed, lying beneath the cross-channel ferry routes and above the channel tunnel, has an unusual complexity which supports distinctive communities of wildlife.
This area lies due south of Dungeness point, in the English Channel shipping lane running inside the Bullock Bank.
Relatively rare for the South-East region, this area features significant areas of exposed rocky reef, lying at the end of the Palaeochannel (the geological remnant of an ancient river system). This rocky habitat supports a rich diversity of animal life, including beautiful blue lobsters, with one claw designed for cutting and the other for crushing its prey.
Elsewhere in the site, the rock is covered by a thin veneer of sediment which comes and goes, leaving rocky exposures which can be colonised by a variety of animal species.
This site contains the largest area of shallow water, moderate energy rock habitat in the entire recommended MCZ network and is considered important as it contains an ancient river system which increases the complexity of the sea floor. It also contains a seasonal thermal front which makes it an area of high productivity. This site was also identified as being at high risk of damage and degradation by Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee due to the presence of sensitive features.
Beachy Head East
Rich in habitats and marine life, this site is a real gem!
The area is characterised by the Royal Sovereign Shoals, an extensive wildlife-rich sandstone reef with outcrops of chalk. Marine life includes a variety of sponges, anemones, sea squirts, erect bryozoans and starfish. Soft corals colonise the underside of slab surfaces together with tube worms.
Animal ‘reefs’, known as biogenic reefs, are made out of consolidated tubes of ross worms or mussels. Possibly one of the best regional examples of mussel beds is found here. These structures provide homes for a diversity of marine life which would otherwise not be present on the seafloor.
Fish include short-snouted seahorses, cuckoo wrasse and large numbers of bib and poor cod. This is one of the most important nursery areas within 0.25nm of shore for plaice and Dover sole. Black-headed gulls, kittiwakes and common terns all come here to feed.
This site was originally proposed by the local fishing community who use static fishing gear, seeking to protect the reef habitats on which their fishery depends from damage by mobile fishing gear. Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee has identified the site as being at high risk of damage and degradation due to the presence of sensitive habitats or species within the site. It contains one of Plantlife’s Important Plant Areas for the huge diversity of algae found in The Pound, where rocky ridges run roughly in line with the cliffs, creating seaweed-filled pools and lagoons at low tide
Selsey Bill and the Hounds
Situated to the south-east of Selsey Bill is the famous Mixon Hole. Thought to be a segment of an ancient river gorge, this almost vertical 20 metre high clay cliff has numerous ledges and crevices which provide homes for many marine species. Species include short-snouted seahorses, squat lobsters and crabs along with red algae and kelp in the shallower parts. Selsey is a crucial foraging area for three species of tern and seals also regularly use this area for foraging. Bottlenose dolphins have also been recorded here.
To the north-west of Selsey Bill, the Hounds limestone reef lies in relatively shallow water (0-8m) and is covered by a fascinating array of sponges, sea squirts and soft coral. Covering the cliff are numerous holes made by piddocks, a type of mollusc, similar to mussels. Charismatic tompot blennies and leopard-spotted gobies are frequently seen on cliff ledges, while colourful wrasse are often observed near the top of the cliff face.
Hosting a greater number of habitats and species eligible for protection than any other site, this area is the biodiversity jewel of the South-East.
The area is a national stronghold of the peacock’s tail seaweed and one of only two sites in the South East where both species of seahorse have been found. The kaleidoscope stalked jellyfish has also been found here: one of only two locations in the region which supports this beautiful and delicate species.
Mud dominates in the north and is home to one of very few regional examples of spoon worms. These bizarre creatures have brains in their long tongues, which extend out of the burrows in search of food.
Bembridge is the only known regional location of maerl. This fragile, calcareous, red seaweed resembles a knotted mass of twigs and provides shelter for lots of other species. This site is the only one put forward in the region for protection of maerl beds, and is only one of two sites put forward in the region to protect the kaleidoscope stalked jellyfish and the long-snouted seahorse. It is also considered to contain the most important and extensive population of peacock's tail seaweed in the country.
The site has also been identified as being at high risk of damage and degradation by Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee due to the presence of sensitive habitats and species within the site.
Yarmouth to Cowes
With thriving wildlife communities and ancient underwater cliffs, Yarmouth to Cowes is an exciting ecological and archaeological treasure trove.
This area has some of the best peat exposures in the region, notably at Bouldnor where an underwater peat cliff rises up nine metres from the seabed. This cliff is thought to be 8,000 years old. Before it was submerged by sea level rise, it was inhabited and is rich in archaeology.
In Thorness Bay, clay exposures form ledges at low water and expose the holes of piddocks: molluscs which use their serrated shells to excavate protective holes in soft rock. Sheltering under the many limestone boulders at Thorness are thriving wildlife communities, which include porcelain crabs, sea squirts and sponges. Newtown Harbour is one of the few locations for estuarine rock in the region.
Studland Bay recommended MCZ runs from the iconic Old Harry Rocks to the northern tip of Studland Bay.
Extensive and dense seagrass meadows in the sheltered south of the bay are home to breeding populations of both British seahorses, as well as pipefishes, wrasses and juveniles of commercial species like bass, bream and flatfish. The endangered undulate ray also appears to be using this area as a nursery ground.
In the wider bay, shallow-water, sandy plains support a range of shellfish, including the native oyster, the Chinese-hat shell, hermit crabs and the masked crab. Within the sand live many species of burrowing bivalves and worms such as lugworms and the sandmason worm.
Studland Bay is an important site as it represents the only known breeding site for long-snouted seahorse in the UK, the only site proposed to protect undulate ray in the region and is important for the seagrass beds that are found within the site. It has also been identified as being at risk by Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, with the seagrass beds and the short-snouted seahorse identified as being most at risk.
South of Portland
South of Portland recommended MCZ lies close to Portland Bill in an area of very strong tidal currents. These currents, called the Portland Race, have eroded deep depressions in the soft rock layers underlying Portland, creating a unique feature of geological importance, known as the Portland Deep.
Elsewhere, sand and coarse sediments have been sculpted into banks and ripples on the seafloor. The area is known to have a high diversity and unusual mixture of seabed life, including wonderful fan worms.
The site also includes an area of blue mussel bed known to provide a stable habitat for many other species to utilise for food and shelter.
The seabed of this site, characterised by canyons and strong tidal streams, creates a very specific sea-floor habitat not found elsewhere in the south west. Because of this, this site has been recognised as an area of higher than average benthic species diversity, and is important for seabirds and cetaceans. Failure to protect this site will mean that Portland Deep remains unprotected.
The Axe Estuary extends from its mouth, at the seaward edge of the shingle bar east of Seaton, inland as far as the mouth of the River Coly, near Colyford.
The estuary is of ecological importance because of the areas of saltmarsh and mudflats that it contains. Mudflats provide an important source of food for a wide range of species and, as a result, the Axe Estuary is an important nursery area for fish, including bass. The endangered European eel has also been recorded in the estuary.
Inland of the recommended MCZ, the River Axe itself is designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), and there are several Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) recognising the value of the river’s distinctive communities of floating vegetation.
The Otter Estuary extends from the mouth of the estuary, at the eastern end of the shingle beach at Budleigh Salterton, inland as far as the aqueduct near East Budleigh.
The lower 2km reach of the River Otter is bounded by an embankment to the west and sandstone cliff to the east. The estuary broadens to a maximum width of 500m. Here the deep, fine sediment has enabled tidal mudflats to form. Species that thrive here include the peppery furrow-shell, ragworms and crustaceans, which all provide food for wading birds.
A shingle barrier running eastwards from the west shore virtually closes the estuary from the sea. Behind this there is an extensive saltmarsh with a rich diversity of flora and fauna. This is an important area for birds such as curlews and lapwings.
This site provides important and productive nursery habitat for fish as well as important feeding grounds for wading and migratory birds. It is also relatively well supported amongst stakeholders and Defra has indicated that there are currently no costs to industry associated with designation of the site.
The sheltered Dart Estuary is valuable for both wildlife and people. It is potentially very important for seahorse populations as it provides food and shelter. Both short and long-snouted seahorses have been seen here, as far upstream as Dittisham.
Estuaries are highly productive habitats providing food and shelter for many species, including oysters, mussels, sponges, anemones and more. Coastal saltmarshes and saline reedbeds offer shelter for many species here and meandering mudflats abound with ragworms, which estuarine birds feed upon. Young fish also take refuge in the estuary, which acts as a nursery.
This site is of particular interest for the intertidal mud habitat found within its boundaries. If designated, it would be the second largest protected site in the region for this habitat. The mud is particularly important as it is highly productive and provides important year-round feeding for wading and migratory birds. The salt marshes within the site are also important habitat for many birds, juvenile fish and crustaceans.
This recommended MCZ would cover 5 km2 of Poole Bay, Dorset, not far from the existing Poole Rocks MCZ. It has been recommended for its importance to black sea bream, which nest here.
Black sea bream are picky about their breeding grounds, favouring shallow waters with smooth bedrock and a thin covering of sand or gravel. The male digs a shallow crater, in which the female lays her eggs. He then guards the eggs until they hatch, fanning them with his tail to keep them clear of sand and other debris.
Found 20 km south of Poole Harbour, this recommended MCZ covers around 192 km2 and a range of different types of habitat. These habitats are mainly subtidal course and mixed sediments - from gravelly sands to areas of exposed bedrock and boulders.
With such a variety of habitats on offer, Albert Field is home to a diverse range of species, including starfish, anemones, urchins and tube-building worms.
Purbeck Coast recommended MCZ is an inshore site located in the Eastern Channel that covers an area of 282 km2. Stretching from Ringstead Bay in the west to Swanage Bay along the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, the site overlaps with the Studland to Portland Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
Purbeck coast covers the intertidal portion of the proposed Broad Bench to Kimmeridge Bay Regional Project MCZ; encompassing the intertidal features it was proposed for, in addition to a variety of subtidal (coarse and mixed sediment) habitats. This site would protect critical black sea bream nesting ground, and long-lived, rare maerl beds, and vital habitat for Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) species such as the stalked jellyfish and peacock’s tail seaweed.
Rocky features (intertidal coarse sediment and high energy intertidal rock) like rockpools and boulders support colonial animals like sponges and bryozoans (“moss animals”). Rockpools are also important foraging ground for wading birds such as oystercatcher, and are home to numerous fish, like the shanny. Subtidally, sediments ranging in size from coarse sand to cobbles support a range of species such as barnacles, algae, sea cucumber, tube worms, and anemones.
West of Wight-Barfleur
This recommended MCZ is an offshore site in the English Channel covering an area of 138 km2.
Designation of this site would protect the mix of subtidal mixed and coarse sediments home to a wide range of animals living on and in it, particularly starfish, bivalves (animals with paired, hinged shells), anemones, and worms.
East of Start Point
An offshore site approximately 20 km off Torquay and 19 km south of Lyme Bay in the Eastern Channel region, this recommended MCZ covers an area of 116 km2.
The seabed at this offshore site is mostly subtidal sand, which while it may appear like a bare desert, supports animals both on the surface of the sand and buried within it. Many species of flatfish, bivalves, and worms are reliant on this habitat, and it is also an important nursery and spawning ground for fish including lemon sole, sand eels, mackerel, thornback ray and spotted ray.
Existing Marine Conservation Zones
There have been 14 Marine Conservation Zones designated in the Eastern Channel so far, from the chalk reefs of Dover to Deal, to the seagrass beds of Torbay, Devon.
This site has been designated for habitats including rock and sand habitats, as well as to protect the sponge communities and honeycomb and ross worm reefs found here.
Around five miles off the coast between Folkestone and Dover, the seabed drops into an area of huge boulder strewn bowls, with exposed greensand forming craggy ridges around the sides. Lobsters and crabs shelter under deep ledges, while ballan and goldsinny wrasse swim among branching sponges, soft corals and colonies of sea beard and hornwrack. Delicate orange anemones and feather duster worms are picked out against the small white blankets of sea squirts, while hermit crabs and mini squat lobsters scurry around the boulders.
Out beyond these rugged seabed depressions, there are areas of soft muddy seabed consolidated by sandy tubes constructed by both honeycomb worms and ross worms. These closely related species do not normally live side by side, but here they create reefs together which provide valuable habitat for other wildlife.
Beachy Head West
This site has been designated to protect a range of habitats including sand and mud habitats, blue mussel beds and chalk communities. It will also provide protection for the native oyster and short-snouted seahorse.
The chalk we see on land, most impressively at the iconic Seven Sisters, extends some 500m out to sea as a wave-cut platform. The gullies, crevices and ledges are home to a fascinating array of marine life. The surface of the chalk is pitted with holes, mostly caused by burrowing piddocks and boring worms. Ross coral, sponges, sea squirts, anemones, bryozoans and hydroids all cloak the chalk reefs.
Forests of kelp occupy shallow areas whilst ridges and gully sides are covered with tightly packed blue mussels mixed with native oysters. Species such as lobsters, spider crabs and hermit crabs are often spotted on the move in search of food.
Populations of both long-snouted and short-snouted seahorses are found here, with other fish including the long-spined sea scorpion and ballan wrasse. European eel elvers also migrate along the coastline into the estuaries.
This site has been designated for the rock and chalk habitats found here, as well as to protect the black seabream. Kingmere MCZ is the most important regional location for breeding black seabream, which build their nests on hard bedrock overlain with thin sands and gravels.
The area contains excellent examples of rocky habitats, which support abundant marine life. Nooks and crannies provide shelter and a solid foundation for species to cling to. Kingmere Rocks, 10km south east of Littlehampton, includes a large area of sandstone and mudstone reef where fan worms protrude from cracks between boulders and edible crabs shelter under overhangs.
Worthing Lumps, 8km south-west of Worthing sea front represents the best exposures of underwater chalk cliffs in Sussex. Red algae dominate the top of the cliff with hydroids, bryozoans, tube worms and sponges covering the vertical face. Molluscs, including blue mussels and piddocks, are present. Tompot blennies and catsharks make use of the shelter as do lobsters and spider crabs. The seabed at the base of the cliff is home to anemones, whelks and topshells which live in the gravel and chalk pebbles
This site has been designated to protect the seagrass beds found in the area, as well as for the lagoon sand shrimp and Defolin's lagoon snail.
This small area is one of just three places in the UK where the exceptionally rare Defolin’s lagoon snail occurs. This snail’s rarity makes it very vulnerable. Any changes to the lagoons in which it lives could result in its complete disappearance. This minute (up to just 2mm long!) snail lives in the spaces between small pebbles in the site's shingle spit at the harbour mouth.
Pagham Harbour is renowned for its rich marine life. Species include the lagoon sand shrimp, found in Ferry Pool on the west side of the harbour, the beautiful starlet sea anemone, native oysters, and adult eels and elvers, the juvenile eels that swim up rivers to mature, after which they return to the sea.
Poole Rocks is a Marine Conservation Zone designated in 2013 to protect the low-lying rocky outcrops found in the largely sediment-dominated Poole Bay.
The water is more turbid than areas to the west of Poole Bay. The shallow-water, rocky seabed of Poole Rocks is cloaked in animal turf, which include sponges, bryozoans and hydroids, rather than seaweeds. A few solitary pink seafans have been recorded on nearby patches of rock.
The rarely recorded Couch’s goby has been spotted here and other fish, such as pouting and pollack, often shoal over the rocks. Several wrasse species use these reefs, including Ballan wrasse, which nest among the rocks. The native oyster is found here both among the rocks and on the surrounding sediment.
This site was designated as an MCZ in 2013 for its chalk and gravel habitats.
South Dorset was the most offshore area proposed off Dorset’s coastline. The seafloor here is mostly between 40 and 50 metres deep and includes areas of rocky seabed swept by tidal currents and large stretches of sandy gravel.
The area also includes rare chalk reef - one of the few places where this is found in the south-west. In deeper water, the chalk environment is important for marine life, particularly when it forms reefs and sea caves, where it can support rare species of deep-water sponge.
Chesil Beach and Stennis Ledges
This site was designated as a Marine Conservation Zone in 2013 to protect the intertidal rock and gravel habitats, as well as for the native oyster and pink sea fans found within the site. Habitats here range from building-sized boulders with massive sponges to sponge and coral-rich rocky ledges.
The site covers Chesil Beach, between Portland and Abbotsbury, extending out to sea for just under 2km, with an extension seawards to cover the reefs of the Stennis Ledges.
Just west of Portland, the seabed is strewn with huge boulders exhibiting some massive boring sponges. The stretch of sediment alongside Chesil Beach is home to starfish and brittlestars, queen scallops, burrowing anemones and otter shells.
The Stennis Ledges is an area of parallel rocky reefs rich in reef species such as pink sea fans, sponges and bryozoans.
This site was designated as a Marine Conservation Zone in 2013 to protect a wide range of habitats found in the area, including rock and sediment habitats and seagrass beds, as well as for long-snouted seahorse and native oyster.
Stretching from Hope’s Nose to Berry Head, Devon Wildlife Trust describes Torbay as ‘the jewel in south Devon’s crown’ for marine wildlife. Torbay is a large natural harbour bordered by the busy holiday towns of Torquay, Paignton and the fishing port of Brixham. Torbay protects the homes of a rich array of marine wildlife.
Much of the bay consists of sand with limestone outcrops. In sandy areas close to shore lie large areas of vulnerable seagrass ‘meadows’, which offer a vital nursery ground and feeding place for many marine animals including the long-snouted seahorse.
Torbay’s seabed holds good communities of heart urchins and brittlestars, while its rocky areas support anemones, native oysters, sponges, sea squirts and the uncommon peacock’s tail seaweed. At its edges, sea caves offer shelter to rare corals including the carpet coral and the Devonshire cup coral. Torbay also has extensive reefs built from sand particles by the honeycomb worm. The area is important for breeding bird colonies.
Dover to Deal
Running between Kingsdown, Deal, to the north and Dover to the south is an important stretch of rich chalk reef, lying below the famous white cliffs of Dover.
The naturally eroding chalk cliffs give rise to boulder-strewn shores, and shaded habitat for unusual assemblages of colourful sponges and sea squirts, while ross worm reefs mixed with mussel beds provide valuable habitat for a diversity of small crustaceans and molluscs.
The chalk platform extends across the shore and out to sea, with deep sand-filled gullies between tall ridges of chalk covered in seaweeds, sponges and anemones. Large crabs and lobsters find shelter in recesses within the chalk, while baby cuttlefish swim around the outcrops, demonstrating their amazing camouflage.
Farther offshore, the chalk gradually becomes covered in coarse sediments. Here, thousands of sandy tubes made by tiny ross worms form significant reefs, which can harbour a wonderful diversity of wildlife and support the whole food web.
Dover to Folkestone
Lying between Dover and Folkestone is a surprising diversity of seabed structure which mirrors the geology on land.
Below the white cliffs is an important stretch of marine chalk reefs, interrupted by the Samphire Hoe platform which contains the spoil from the Channel Tunnel. Heading towards Folkestone, both on the shore and out to sea, the chalk gives way to soft grey clay and then to the lower greensand that can be seen at Copt Point. Twin-shelled molluscs called piddocks live in the holes they bore in the soft chalk and clay.
Harder rock is rare in the South-East, and the rugged outcropping ridges of Folkestone’s sandstone support many fragile branching sponges, alongside soft corals, fan worms and anemones. Crevices in the rock harbour crustaceans, fish, and even cuttlefish, while the edges are adorned with light-bulb sea squirts or bottlebrush bryozoans.
Situated south of Brighton and extending out to the median line with France, this large area is situated in deeper offshore waters within the English Channel.
These deeper waters are less influenced by natural disturbance than those which are inshore, allowing a wide range of species to colonise the gravel undisturbed. Such diverse gravel communities provide rich hunting grounds, supporting a range of other species, such as rays. The area is also important for rarer deep-water rocky habitats.
Ross worm ‘reefs’, known as biogenic reefs, are present here. Formed out of consolidated tubes of ross worms, these structures add additional complexity to the seafloor and encourage other marine species to live there.
This area is diverse and species-rich, with a variety of habitats including sandstone reefs. It also encompasses the Overfalls, an unusual area of mixed sediment, sands and gravels that form sandwaves, which are particularly important for bony fish and elasmobrachs like thornback rays, undulate rays and tope.
Commercially and ecologically important species have been recorded here: bass, cod, sandeels, and Molgula sea squirts to name a few. Ross worm beds and the invasive American slipper limpet are present at several locations, while blue mussel beds are also thought to occur here.
This site hosts the geomorphological remains of an ancient river valley that once flowed through the Channel before it flooded to separate England from the mainland continent.
In Utopia, a rocky reef rises from the surrounding seabed to create beautiful, intricate and diverse communities of corals, sponges and anemones.
Over 15 species of sponge have been recorded here, with many more yet to be identified. Corals, such as dead man’s fingers, and white striped anemones are also common within the area. Utopia has been designated as an MCZ on the grounds that it hosts one of only two regional examples of these fragile sponge, coral and anemone communities.
Utopia's idyllic name actually refers to the tope shark, as it partly makes up an important pupping ground for this UK species.
The surrounding seabed is largely covered in deep deposits of sand and gravel. Utopia is close to an aggregate extraction area, where the sand and gravel is dredged for use in the construction industry.
Inshore around Alum Bay and the Needles, the seabed is predominantly made up of chalk reefs with deep gullies, and is rich in seaweeds. In Totland and Colwell Bays, the seabed is largely sandy and supports seagrass meadows, which in turn host breeding colonies of sea hares – a type of marine slug.
This site contains the only record of the stalked jellyfish Lucernariopsis campanulata in this region. It is also one of only a handful of locations where peacock’s tail seaweed can be found – a brown alga that prefers warm water and is thought to be restricted in this country to Devon, Dorset and the Isle of Wight.
This area is an important site for black-headed gulls, cormorants and other seabirds which come to forage for food.