Bitter Disappointment at Marine Conservation Zones Consultation Published Today

Thursday 13th December 2012

Long Spined Sea ScorpionBitter Disappointment at Marine Conservation Zones Consultation Published Today

The Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country responds to Defra's announcement on Marine Conservation Zones.

Today Defra released its long-awaited consultation on the next stages of designation of Marine Conservation Zones in English and non-devolved waters.

Along with other English Wildlife Trusts, we are bitterly disappointed by the lack of ambition shown in this consultation. Defra proposes to designate only 31 of the 127 sites recommended by experts and stakeholders at the end of August last year.

The 127 recommended Marine Conservation Zones were chosen after two years of hard work by more than one million stakeholders from all sectors of the marine environment and at a cost of over £8.8 million to Government.

You can visit these zones on the interactive map on the Wildlife Trusts website and see some of the wonders they are home to at

Marine Conservation Zones should protect the species and habitats found within them from the most damaging and degrading of activities whilst mostly allowing sustainable activity to continue. The network was designed to ensure that we don’t end up with isolated and vulnerable sites and to ensure that the wide range of marine habitats found in UK seas are protected. Failure to designate all but a very small proportion of sites recommended by these stakeholders will mean that we lack the ecologically coherent network that our seas so badly need to recover. 

The UK’s marine habitats are rich and diverse but largely unprotected - which is why The Wildlife Trusts spent a decade asking the government to pass the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. This included a commitment to designate this ecologically coherent marine network of protected areas.

Our surrounding seas have an astonishingly varied range of submerged landscapes which support wonderful marine life: from cold water coral beds to sponge meadows, canyons and sandbanks. Without these there simply wouldn't be any fish, let alone fantastic jewel anemones, seahorses, dolphins, brittlestars and all the other wild and extraordinary creatures which are part of a healthy marine ecosystem.

Despite the variety of fantastic species and habitats, our marine environment is in decline. In the last 400 years, two species of whale and dolphin have gone extinct in UK waters and of the 11 commonly sighted species found in UK waters, all are considered to be in decline. Basking shark numbers have declined by 95% and species such as the common skate, once abundant in our waters are now critically endangered. For too long, we have taken this environment for granted, taking too much, with too little care, destroying fragile habitats.

Designation of an ecologically coherent network would provide our seas with the protection they need to recover from past abuses and help them to be restored to their full potential. 

The Wildlife Trusts will be responding to the Government consultation at the end of January. We will be publishing our recommendations on the consultation on our webpage. Meanwhile, we urge those interested in responding to the consultation, to sign up to be an MCZ friend so that we can contact you when we considered our response to the consultation. Go to to sign up.

Background to recommended MCZs: At the end of 2009, the UK Government passed a piece of landmark legislation, the Marine and Coastal Access Act. This was swiftly followed, at the start of 2010, by similar legislation in Scotland - the Marine (Scotland) Act. These pieces of legislation place a duty on the UK, Welsh and Scottish Governments to dramatically boost protection by creating an ecologically coherent network of protected areas.

By 2013, the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments should designate their network of protected areas. The 127 recommended MCZs mentioned above cover England and non-devolved waters.

The Scottish Executive and the Welsh Assembly are in the process of determining their network. The Welsh Assembly is in the first round of consultations for its sites and the Scottish Assembly is expected to release its proposed network for consultation later this year. 

The Northern Irish Assembly is currently consulting on its Marine Bill which should ensure this network extends into Northern Irish waters.