Marine Protected Areas

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are zones of the seas and coasts where wildlife has been highlighted to be of importance and are subject to protection from damage and disturbance. The Government is committed to establishing a well-managed ecologically coherent network of MPAs in our seas.

By linking MPAs together into a coherent network, supported by wider environmental management measures, we will promote the recovery and conservation of marine ecosystems. The network will contain MPAs of different sizes containing habitats and species, connected through movements of adults and larvae, with a range of protection levels that are designed to meet objectives that single MPAs cannot. A well designed network is key to achieving biodiversity goals.

The UK has committed to establishing an ecologically coherent network of MPAs under several agreements including the OSPAR Convention, World Summit of Sustainable Development and Convention on Biological Diversity.

The Southern IFCA District has many Marine Protected Areas these are classed as:

European Marine Sites - the Southern IFCA district contains eleven EMSs. 
Marine Conservation Zones - there are nine MCZs within the Southern IFCA district. 

Click here to find out more about Southern IFCA management in MPAs.
Click on the images below to see maps of MPAs in the Southern IFCA District. 

Why do we need MPAs?

Marine Protected Areas are essential for healthy, functioning and resilient ecosystems – they help us deliver the Government’s vision of a clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas.

Some human activities damage or cause disturbance to marine habitats and their species. Within an MPA such activities will be managed or restricted.
Specifically, MPAs enable us to:
  • Protect and restore the ecosystems in our seas and around our coasts.
  • Ensure that the species and habitats found there can thrive and are not threatened or damaged.
  • Maintain a diverse range of marine life that can be resistant to changes brought about by physical disturbance, pollution and climate change.
  • Provide areas where the public can enjoy a healthy marine environment learn about marine life and enjoy activities such as diving, photography, exploring rock pools and coastal walking.
  • Provide natural areas for scientific study.

The Natura 2000 Network

In May 1992 European Union governments adopted legislation designed to protect the most seriously threatened habitats and species across Europe. This legislation is called the Habitats Directive and complements the Birds Directive adopted in 1979. At the heart of both these Directives is the creation of a network of sites called Natura 2000. The Birds Directive requires the establishment of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for birds. The Habitats Directive similarly requires Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) to be designated for other species, and for habitats. Together, SPAs and SACs make up the Natura 2000 series. All EU Member States contribute to the network of sites in a Europe-wide partnership from the Canaries to Crete and from Sicily to Finnish Lapland.

Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are classified under the Birds Directive to help protect and manage areas which are important for rare and vulnerable birds because they use them for breeding, feeding, wintering or migration.

Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) are classified under the Habitats Directive and provide rare and vulnerable animals, plants and habitats with increased protection and management.


What makes these sites special?

These sites protect vulnerable habitats, which in turn helps to safeguard the animals and plants which need these places to survive. Across the EU a diverse range of habitats are protected, from flower-rich meadows to seagrass beds, even cave systems, and a huge variety of animals throughout the EU benefit from this, such as golden eagles, pink sea fans and salmon.

How are they designated?

Each Member State must compile a list of the best wildlife areas containing the habitats and species listed in the Habitats and Birds Directive. The lists are then submitted to the European Commission. In the case of sites according to the Habitats Directive, an evaluation and selection process is taking place at European level, under the Birds Directive no such process is foreseen. For both types of sites it is the task of the Member State to put the necessary protection provisions/designations in place.

Where are they?

The network of Natura 2000 sites is spread throughout Europe, from Finland in the North to the Canary Islands in the South. Today, sites cover about 22% of the European territory, so most European citizens will not live far from a Natura 2000 site. This equates to a total figure of 26,400 sites, covering an area of 986,000km2.
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