The UK marine
environment is protected through a variety of conservation areas, designated
under international agreements, and both European and national legislation.
The UK MPA network
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) describe a wide range of
marine areas which "have some level of restriction of activity to protect
living, non-living, cultural and/or historic resources”1. They have been
designated primarily to “help conserve or recover nationally significant or
representative examples of marine biodiversity, including threatened or
declining species and habitats of European and national importance”1. The Government
has committed to delivering a Blue Belt of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) around
our coasts, to protect important species, habitats and geological features2.
This Blue Belt of MPAs forms part of an international network of MPAs in the
north east Atlantic, contributing to our commitments under OSPAR.
OSPAR define an MPA as “an area within the maritime area for
which protective, conservation, restorative or precautionary measures,
consistent with international law have been instituted for the purpose of protecting
and conserving species, habitats, ecosystems or ecological processes of the
The UK has committed to establish an ecologically
coherent network of well-managed Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), that will
work together to provide more benefits than each individual area could on its
commitments to MPAs include in the Marine Policy Statement, Biodiversity 2020, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (or see here, here, or here), the Convention on Biological Diversity (or see further information from the JNCC), the United Nations Conference on Sustainable
Development, and the Oslo and Paris Convention (OSPAR) (or see further information from the JNCC). The UK’s approach to establishing an
ecologically coherent network of MPAs in the North East Atlantic, underpinned
by OSPAR guidance, is laid out in the Joint Administrations Statement1.
The MPA network includes designations under national and European legislation, and international
|Marine Conservation Zone
||Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009
|Nature Conservation Marine Protected Area
||Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 / Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009
|Site of Special Scientific Interest
||Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
|Area of Special Scientific Interest
||UK (N. Ireland)
||Environment (Northern Ireland) Order 2002
|Special Area of Conservation
|Special Protection Area
As of May 2019 approximately 25% of UK waters are currently within MPAs. There are 115 Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) with marine components, 109 Special Protection Areas (SPAs) with marine components, 97 Marine Conservation Zones, and 31 Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas4.
The UK has 283 OSPAR MPAs, which can be seen on the OSPAR interactive map.
To see whether you’re in an MPA, or where they are, you can look on:
You can also search designated sites databases through Natural England,
For most MPAs, 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 position
The RYA supports the UK and Devolved Governments’ shared
vision for clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and
seas. We recognise that establishing an ecologically coherent network of marine
protected areas would contribute towards achieving this vision. The RYA
believes that in most cases this vision can be achieved without any adverse
effect on either the public right or the safety of navigation for recreational
there are three key issues that are critical to recreational boating interests
in both the designation and management of marine protected areas (MPAs). These
impact of MPAs on legitimate uses of the sea
- The need
for objective and robust evidence in the decision-making process
- The proportionality, enforceability and effectiveness of
Find out more about the RYA's
Position on Marine Protected Areas
The RYA has given evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee on Marine
Protected Areas (MPAs) in the UK and the Overseas Territories. The inquiry
is examining the Government’s current progress so far on implementing MPAs, and
ask what more it needs to do to meet its manifesto commitment. It will
follow-up on the recommendations made in its previous reports and it will
undertake post-legislative scrutiny of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.
This follows on from the previous Committee’s reports into Marine Protected Areas and Sustainability in the UK Overseas Territories.
The RYA will continue to be involved in any future
 Joint Administrations Statement. UK Contribution to
Ecologically Coherent MPA Network in the North East Atlantic. (2012).
 Defra. Marine Conservation Zones: Update. (2016).
 OSPAR 2003 Annex 9 A-4.44
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