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Marine Protected Areas (MPA)

There are a range of MPA types within England established under different legislation and international conventions. Each type of MPA has its own set of conservation objectives to fulfil and together they create a ’blue belt’ of marine protection around the English Coast. The UK has committed to establishing an ecologically coherent network of MPAs under several agreements including the Oslo and Paris Convention (OSPAR), World Summit on Sustainable Development and Convention on Biological Diversity. By linking different types of MPAs together into a coherent network, all of which protect different habitats and species, we can achieve greater benefits than individual MPAs can achieve alone.

MPA is an ‘umbrella term’ for an area of the sea that is designated to protect marine habitats and species. They are one of the tools used to protect the marine environment and promote the sustainable use of marine resources. 

Watch a JNCC video that explores the Marine Protected Area cycle from concept to protection.

MPA National Steering Group

The MPA National Steering Group (NSG) has representatives from key MPA management authorities and advisers that have responsibilities in England. The NSG was established at the request of the Defra MPA Network Board in 2014 and its purpose was to support the delivery of a well-managed network of MPAs by 2016 and beyond. In particular, the main aims of the NSG are to facilitate improved reporting and co-ordination of MPA management within English waters. It is chaired and coordinated by the Marine Management Organisation.

The MPA National Steering Group (NSG) has prepared a management note on the Duties of Public Authorities in relation to MPAs.

National MPAs

There are several different kinds of national MPAs in the UK, including marine conservation zones (MCZs) for which the MMO has powers to manage through byelaws. Other national MPAs include existing sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs), voluntary marine conservation areas (VMCAs – areas of coastline which enjoys a level of voluntary protection), voluntary marine nature reserves (VMNRs) and any other marine areas closed to any activity.

SSSIs are wildlife and geological sites legally protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Natural England are the relevant authority for protection and enforcement of these sites.

European MPAs

European marine sites (EMSs) are those designated either as special areas of conservation (SACs) under the Habitats Directive or special protection areas (SPAs) under the Wild Birds Directive. Together, the network of SACs and SPAs in Europe is known as Natura 2000.
In the UK, the term EMS includes:

International MPAs

Ramsar sites are wetlands of international importance designated under the 1979 Ramsar Convention.

JNCC Links and Datasets

SACs terrestrial and onshore:

SACs offshore:  

SPAs terrestrial and onshore:  

SPAs offshore: