“Marine Conservation Zones are areas that protect a range of nationally important, rare or threatened habitats and species”1.
UK Marine Conservation Zones
Under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009,
government is required to establish a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to protect nationally
representative habitats and species. This includes designation of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs), known as Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas (NCMPAs) in Scotland, to
complement other types of MPAs.
Unlike other designations, economic and social implications
can be considered when determining MCZs. There is therefore a balance between
conservation and socio-economic factors. As well as nature conservation
interests, the interests of the users of the sea may be taken into
Designation of MCZs follows different processes in England,
Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) are
responsible for designating MCZs in English inshore waters (up to 12nm
offshore) and those in English and Northern Irish offshore waters, with
projects led by the Joint Nature Conservation Commission (JNCC) and Natural
England. The Welsh Government are responsible for MCZ designations in Welsh inshore
waters, and those in Welsh offshore waters will soon also be devolved to them. Advice
is provided by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and JNCC. Marine Scotland lead the
designation process of NCMPAs in Scottish waters on behalf of the Scottish Government,
and the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural affairs (DEARA)
is responsible for MCZ designations in Northern Irish inshore waters.
Analysis was undertaken on a biogeographical basis, from
regions identified during the ‘Review of Marine Nature Conservation’
in 2004, to ascertain gaps within the existing MPA network to ensure representation
of the full range of habitats and species. A further gap analysis,
undertaken by JNCC, was published in 2014.
An interactive MCZ map is available on the JNCC and MMO websites.
For most MCZs, current management relating to activities
such as recreational boating consists of monitoring. For further information on
site-specific management, look at the MMO strategic management table.
The RYA fought hard to ensure the importance of
socio-economic activities could be taken into consideration in the designation
of MCZs during the Marine and Coastal Access Bill process.
The RYA has been
involved in all four of the English Regional Stakeholder Groups (RSG) and
continues to work with stakeholders and Defra. RYA Northern Ireland, RYA
Scotland and RYA Cymru Wales
are engaging directly with the MPA process in their respective countries with
support from RYA HQ.
The RYA's primary objectives of engaging in the MCZ
consultation process are to protect the public right of navigation and to
ensure, as far as possible, that recreational boating interests are not
adversely affected by the designation of such MCZs. The RYA wants to minimise the impact of management measures introduced
in MCZs on recreational boating.
MCZs in English inshore waters
MCZs in English offshore waters
Proposals for MCZs in English inshore and English, Welsh and
Northern Irish offshore waters were identified and recommended by Natural
England (NE) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) through the Marine Conservation Zone
Project, set up in 2008.
Possible sites for MCZs were initially recommended through a
stakeholder-led approach, under four regional projects: Irish Sea Conservation Zones,
Sanctuary (Southwest), Balanced
Sea). Recommendations for 127 MCZ locations were made in September 2011, but
due to limitations in the scientific evidence base, it was decided to designate
MCZs in tranches.
Advice was provided to Defra by NE for inshore sites (within or straddling the 12nm limit) and JNCC for offshore sites. After a formal consultation from December 2012 to March 2013, with
40,000 responses, 27 MCZs were designated in November 2013 (including 6
offshore), covering 9,700 km2 of seabed.
A further 23 MCZs (including seven offshore sites) were designated
by Defra in January 2016 after pre-consultation advice by NE and JNCC,
and a public consultation between January and April 2015, to which there were over 9,000 responses. These
MCZs, selected to fill the ‘big gaps’ in the network2 protect 10,760 km2
of seabed, and brought MCZ coverage of English waters to over 20,000 km2,
an area nearly the size of Wales.
A third tranche of 41 sites (and 12 additional features of existing sites) was
designated in May 2019. This tranche completed the English component of the UK's contribution
to a network of marine protected areas in the north east Atlantic.
The RYA has been involved in the MCZ process since
stakeholder engagement began in 2009. The RYA submitted a detailed and robust
response to the public consultation on both the first and second tranche of
MCZs. In addition, we gathered new socio-economic data though our clubs and
regions, and submitted this in response to Defra's call for additional
stakeholder evidence. The RYA continues to be involved in the consultation
process on the third tranche.
MCZs in Welsh waters
In Welsh inshore waters the MCZ Project Wales was set up to identify Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs). Initially, the Welsh Government
planned to designate Highly Protected Marine Conservation Zones (HPMCZs),
likely to have strong conservation management measures. However, after huge
controversy following the public consultation on ten such sites in 2012, plans
In July 2013 Alun Davies AM, then WG Minister for Natural
Resources and Food, released a statement on MCZs and other types of existing
marine protected areas (MPAs) in Wales. Following this, an assessment by JNCC
and Natural Resources Wales (NRW), and subsequent 2016 report,
identified some gaps in the existing Welsh MPA network, particularly in waters
deeper than 75m.
In December 2014, Skomer,
an existing Marine Nature Reserve, was designated as the first MCZ in Welsh
Designations of offshore sites in Wales will now also be devolved
to the Welsh Government. Recommended MCZ sites previously included Celtic Deep,
East of Celtic Deep, Mid St George’s Channel, North of Celtic Deep, and North
St George’s Channel.
The RYA has been working with Welsh Government
(WG) about its plans for MCZs for some time, and together with the RYA Cymru Wales,
is well placed to represent the views of recreational boaters in these
discussions. As well as meeting with WG directly, the RYA is a member of the Welsh Marine
Strategic Advisory Group, ensuring the interests of recreational boaters
are represented. The working group represents users including industry and
NCMPAs in Scottish inshore waters
NCMPAs in Scottish offshore waters
Scotland can designate Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 (for territorial waters), and the Marine and
Coastal Access Act 2009 (for sites further offshore). The Scottish MPA Project is an initiative between Marine Scotland, the Joint
Nature Conservancy Committee (JNCC), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Historic
Scotland, and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA).
SNH and JNCC worked together
to compile a list of habitats, species and geological features that need to be
protected; known as MPA search features. A gap analysis then identified which
MPA search features were poorly represented in the network. In November 2012,
SNH and JNCC submitted formal advice on their recommendations for MPAs.
National stakeholder workshops were held, along with meetings with stakeholder
representatives and marine user groups. A formal consultation was held between July and November 2013, with over
In July 2014 30 new Nature
Conservation Marine Protected Areas (NCMPAs) were designated, 17 in territorial waters, and 13
further offshore, in total covering 10% of Scottish seas.
SNH submitted formal advice
for a second tranche of proposed NCMPAs in July 2014. If designated, the
additional four NCMPAs will “protect important areas on Scotland's
west coast for basking sharks, minke whales and Risso's dolphins
as well as protecting seabed habitats around the Shiants”3.
A report (from here) was published in 2015 assessing the adequacies of the Scottish MPA network in
covering the MPA search features, which identified most features to have
adequate coverage, provided the four proposed NCMPAs are designated.
For further information on
Scottish MPAs, including an interactive map, see the SNH website.
In order to conserve protected features, some MPAs and SACs
in Scotland have management measures implemented, which mainly relate to
fisheries. The two-phase approach to determine management measures for the 17
inshore MPAs and 22 SACs started in 2014 with a series of regional stakeholder management workshops. The
aim was to “develop practical and proportionate management approaches that
achieve the conservation objectives without unnecessarily hindering economic activity”4. A public consultation followed from November 2014 to February
2015, with results published in the consultation analysis document.
breaches of voluntary arrangements at two sites, statutory
management provisions have been introduced. Management for four of the sites are
implemented using Marine
Conservation Orders under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010, while management of the others are
implemented by an Inshore Fisheries Order under the Inshore
Fishing (Scotland) Act 1984. The Omnibus Fisheries Order, and the Luce Bay Fisheries Order were laid at
the end of 2015. Draft Marine Conservation Orders (MCOs)
for were consulted on in 2015. South Arran MCO came into effect in February
2015, followed by Loch Sunart to Sound of Jura MCO and Wester Ross MCO in March
2016. The MCO for Small Isles MPA is still in draft form. Management measures
to these sites relate to fisheries. Further information is available from Marine
and interactive maps of
management approaches for each site are available.
RYA Scotland has
developed a close working relationship with Marine Scotland (the body leading
the MPA process on behalf of the Scottish Government) and Scottish Natural
Heritage. The views of the RYA and RYAS were taken into consideration
throughout the Scottish MPA process. RYA Scotland has also
worked with other marine recreation organisations in the Scottish Boating
Alliance, and with the associated cross-party Recreational Boating and Marine
Tourism group of Ministers of Scottish Parliament. There has been much stakeholder involvement in
the process, including workshops.
Many of the MPAs
are in water that is much too deep to affect recreational sailors and in other
areas the features being protected are not affected by recreational craft. Work
has been undertaken with SNH to identify habitats that might be at risk
from anchoring, with few areas, if any, where anchoring is a real risk to
sensitive habitats. Loch Creran has
already provided a good example of how to protect vulnerable habitats without
adversely affecting boating.
MCZs in Northern Irish waters
In September 2013 The Marine Act (Northern Ireland) 2013 was enacted
which makes provisions for MCZs in Northern Irish territorial waters, under the
responsibility of the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural affairs
an existing Marine Nature Reserve, was designated as Northern Ireland's first
Marine Conservation Zone in 2013. A consultation on a further four proposed MCZs (Rathlin, Waterfoot, Outer Belfast Lough and
Carlingford Lough) closed on 11 March 2016, with a synopsis of responses
available from DAERA.
All four sites were formally
DAERA also plan to undertake a network assessment in 2017
and will target future MCZ designations to filling network gaps5.
The RYA and RYANI considered the Government’s
proposals and reflected the interests of affiliated clubs and members in our
response to the consultation. This included
raising concerns about the impact of potential management
restrictions within the new MCZs on activities associated with recreational boating, particularly
anchoring, mooring and vessel speed. In
response, the Department said it will work closely with stakeholders to develop
appropriate management measures
for each MCZ post designation.
Anchoring in emergency situations will not be restricted.
 Defra. Marine Conservation Zones: Update. (2016).
 DAERA. Consultation on Proposed MCZs in Northern Ireland
Waters: Synopsis of Consultation Responses. (2016).
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