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Marine Conservation Zones

Volume 570: debated on Thursday 21 November 2013

Today I am pleased to announce the designation of 27 marine conservation zones (MCZs) in the waters off the English coast. A 28th MCZ at Hythe bay in Kent, will be further investigated by the Kent and Essex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority and Natural England before I make a final decision on this site early in the new year.

These new MCZs will protect nationally important habitats and species around the English coast and help improve our marine environment. The designations are the culmination of a great deal of hard work by a wide range of stakeholders in co-operation with Government and their agencies. This has been a huge undertaking and I would like to thank all who have contributed.

I am also pleased to announce that the process for designating further MCZs will now start in earnest with the aim of designating a second tranche in 2015-16 and a third in 2016-17. We anticipate that these tranches will combine with other marine protected areas to complete our contribution to an ecologically coherent network including the waters around our islands. To support this process we have been working with the devolved Administrations in the UK, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and national conservation agencies to take stock of the habitats and species protected in existing and planned marine protected areas so that we can identify areas to be protected by future designations.

We will continue to make full use of the work of the earlier regional MCZ projects including considering whether some of the sites recommended by those projects are more suitable to be assessed as potential inter-tidal sites of special scientific interest. A review of reference areas as recommended by Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee is planned to start in early 2014.

The new MCZs will complement the protection given to the existing 113 English sites of special scientific interest with marine components, 44 English marine special areas of conservation (SACs) established under the EU habitats directive and 44 English marine special protection areas (SPAs) established under the EU wild birds directives. These marine protected areas taken together cover over 30,000 sq km in English inshore and offshore waters, an area broadly the size of Belgium. Since 2010 the area of inshore marine sites around England has increased substantially and with the MCZs designated today, just under 25% of English inshore waters are now within marine protected areas.

All of our marine SACs have now been adopted by the European Commission as sites of community interest which means that they will formally become part of the EU’s Natura 2000 network. Work is continuing to identify the remaining marine SPAs. We will shortly be consulting on two further SPAs for the protection of seabirds at Flamborough and Filey coast and at Falmouth bay to St Austell bay.

Successful management of marine protected areas requires stakeholders to work in partnership and co-operate with each other, with conservation advisers and with regulators. I want to see well managed sites which conserve and protect our important habitats and features and I strongly urge all those with an interest to work together, in partnership, to achieve this. Successful management of these areas also requires a good evidence base to inform the measures that need to be taken to protect their habitats and species. In the last three years DEFRA has spent over £8 million gathering evidence to support designation and management. I am pleased to announce that we have allocated a further £2 million this year and will continue to support this work going forward.

Building our network of marine protected areas is one strand of our ambitious programme to protect and enhance the marine environment while supporting sustainable use of its resources. We are working to implement the reforms we secured to the common fisheries policy to manage fish stocks more sustainably and eliminate the waste of discarding dead fish into the sea. We are pressing ahead with measures to protect cetaceans, sharks, skates and rays. We are also for the first time establishing marine plans around our coast to help achieve efficient management of competing uses of our seas while safeguarding the environment. These initiatives will all contribute to achieving good environmental status in our seas by 2020 as required under the EU marine strategy framework directive and move us towards achieving our vision of clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas that everyone can enjoy for years to come.