England’s First Marine Conservation Zone Announced

Lundy Island, one of England’s most spectacular marine habitats, has today become England’s first Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ). Its new status establishes it as the first example of the new approach to marine protection being taken under the Marine and Coastal Access Act, which will contribute towards the creation of the network of ecologically coherent and well-managed marine protected areas by 2012.

Dr Helen Phillips, Natural England’s Chief Executive, welcomed the announcement: “As England’s first Marine Conservation Zone, Lundy represents the first step in delivering the marine protection ambitions of the Marine and Coastal Access Act, and it is fitting that an area of such obvious environmental importance is being designated in this way.”

The seas around Lundy are home to an impressive range of wildlife, such as grey seals, red band fish, crawfish and at least eight species of coral (which include pink sea fans, red sea fingers and sunset cup corals). Lundy is also the only place in the UK where five cup corals exist together. Its importance was recognised by its designation as a Marine Nature Reserve in 1986 and it was also designated as a Special Area of Conservation in 2000 in recognition of the significance of its special habitats, which include reefs, sea caves and sandbanks.

The new Lundy Marine Conservation Zone will cover the same area as the former Marine Nature Reserve (and is being created by the automatic legal transition from MNR to MCZ). A timetable for developing conservation objectives, and for carrying out public consultation on them, is currently under consideration by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). The existing management of the island’s waters, including the No Take Zone, will remain in place unchanged.

Helen Phillips concluded: “Lundy is a showcase of what a well protected marine environment can become. Today’s designation ushers in a new era of marine protection and it is important that the momentum to develop more Marine Conservation Zones is now sustained.”

MCZ next steps

Lundy’s designation accompanies a much wider project to identify and designate new MCZs elsewhere.  Through an ambitious, nationwide initiative, the MCZ Project is inviting people who use and value the sea to recommend the locations of future MCZs. No other country in the world has attempted to engage so many people in developing plans for marine protection on such a large scale before.

There are currently four independent, stakeholder-led MCZ Projects – Balanced Seas (south-east), Finding Sanctuary (south-west), Irish Sea Conservation Zones (Irish Sea) and Net Gain (North Sea). Each regional project has a stakeholder group made up of representatives of sea users and interest groups, which will submit its recommendations for MCZs to Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) by June 2011. On receipt of these recommendations and any further advice provided by Natural England and JNCC, DEFRA will draft designation orders, and carry out a formal public consultation in early 2012. The aim is for DEFRA to complete the MCZ designations by December 2012.