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Marine Protected Areas

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North Foreland rockpools 1

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are areas where species and habitats of national, European and international importance are protected. To ensure this protection, restrictions may apply to some activities in these areas of our seas.

The main types of MPAs in English waters are:

* European Marine Sites (EMS) protect habitats and species of Europeans importance. There are two types of EMS in UK waters;

– Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) for habitats and species of European importance

– Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for birds

Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) for nationally important habitats and species

Ramsar sites are wetlands of international importance designated under the Ramsar Convention

Sites of special scientific interest (SSSI) are designated to protect the best examples of the UKs flora and fauns under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. They are also used to underpin other national and international nature conservation designations.

These sites will contribute to an ecologically coherent network of MPAs.

Need for protected areas

With a coastline of over 18,000km, the UK has a large marine area, rich in life and natural resources. The UK’s seas are home to some of the best marine wildlife in Europe, with a wide diversity of underwater habitats and species. Many of our marine habitats and species are particularly rare and therefore of an international importance.

The marine environment is coming under increasing pressure from human activity, which can damage and further threaten marine ecosystems. By protecting our marine environment now, we can ensure that our seas, which are a common resource, will continue to contribute to our society for generations to come.

MPAs are one way in which we can:

– protect threatened species and habitats to help ensure biodiversity is not lost as a result of widespread damaging activities

– protect representative species and habitats to help ensure that they do not become threatened as a result of human activities

– provide some relatively unaffected areas of high biodiversity value to support the structure and functioning of the wider marine ecosystem


MPAs that are situated within territorial waters (less than 12 nautical miles from the coast) are the responsibility of the relevant Statutory Nature Conservation Body (SNCB), which in English waters is Natural England.