DEFRA and its conservation agencies have commissioned a total of 21 projects to inform the selection process for Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) and the establishment of a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). An additional 20 projects have also been commissioned by the Countryside Council for Wales, Scottish Executive, and Scottish Natural Heritage. Further work has been commissioned by Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) to look at issues of representativity and replication, and the usefulness of percentage habitat targets within an MPA network.
A table providing further details on all known research projects relating to MCZ designation has been placed in the Library of the House. This list includes research occurring in Welsh and Scottish territorial waters, as well as collaborative research DEFRA has established with the devolved administrations on areas where there is mutual benefit to do so. In addition to the projects in the table, the JNCC is currently scoping further research.
The Government published a draft Marine Protected Area Strategy (‘Delivering Marine Conservation Zones and European Marine Sites') for public consultation on 20 April. This makes clear the fact that we fully expect to designate Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) that will have a high level of protection for all, or part of, a designated area. The provisions in the Marine and Coastal Access Bill already allow for this.
Ministers will be able to designate a range of MCZs requiring different levels of protection, determined according to the features we wish to protect and the evidence we have available. Sites requiring a high level of protection could include areas with rare or threatened species or habitats that are susceptible to human activities. In those instances where MCZs are designated with a higher level of legal protection, the DEFRA Secretary of State will be required to report to Parliament in 2012, and at least every six years thereafter, on the number of sites designated where licensable and fishing activities are prohibited, or significantly restricted.