Plans unveiled for 127 Marine Conservation Zones in England’s waters

Plans have been unveiled today for 127 Marine Conservation Zones in England’s waters, enacting a requirement of the 2009 Marine and Coastal Access Act. Four regional projects have engaged stakeholders from local communities, industry and the Government over the past two years in order to develop these proposals, which now go forward to an independent panel for assessment.

The ultimate aim of the four regional projects is to create an ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas which will protect scarce species, geological sites and significant heritage sites, whilst also safeguarding species representative of biodiversity in England. The final network will cover 37,000 sq km, or almost a quarter of England’s waters.

The Marine Protected Area Science Advisory Panel will examine the proposals and in October will provide an assessment of the extent to which the resulting composite network of MCZs will achieve the goal of ecological coherence. The Government will then make a final decision on the final location of sites in 2012.

The Guardian is reporting this morning that although no decision has yet been made about the activities which will be allowed or prohibited within each site, it is likely that only 20 sites will receive a high degree of protection, meaning that all extractive or damaging activities will be prohibited. However, the article also suggests that half of the sites designated will include highly protected areas within them.

Meanwhile, Dogger Bank has become the largest marine protected area in Europe after the Government put this forward to the European Commission for consideration the site’s subsequent designation as a ‘candidate Special Protected Area’. The site is the largest sandbank in UK waters and is home to significant populations of sand eels, which provide a food resource for seabirds, cetaceans and other commercial fish species, such as cod. The UK site links up with Special Protected Areas already designated in German and Dutch waters.

Original articles:
BBC News, Marine Protection Bids Unveiled (Richard Black)
Guardian, 127 areas to be proposed as English marine conservation zones (John Vidal)