1.Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are areas of the sea that are partially or fully protected from damaging activities. MPAs aim to protect the marine environment and to allow for recovery or conservation of marine habitats, features and species. Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) form one component of the MPA network. In contrast to other UK MPAs, MCZs may reflect the social and economic impacts of designation in the selection of sites. The other components of the network are Special Areas of Conservation (designated under the EU Habitats Directive), Special Protection Areas (designated under the EU Wild Birds Directive), Ramsar sites (designated under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands) and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (designated under the Wildlife and Countryside Act). The UK has currently designated 50 MCZs and 267 MPAs that meet at least one of the ecological criteria outlined under the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR).
2.The Conservative Manifesto committed to “complete the network of MCZs” and to create a ‘Blue Belt’ of protected sites around the UK Overseas Territories. The UK has also made a series of international commitments relating to MPAs, including commitments under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), OSPAR and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 requires MCZs to form a network with other UK MPAs that “contributes to the conservation or improvement of the marine environment in the UK marine area”. The habitats and species that the network protects must represent the full range that exist in the UK marine environment, whilst reflecting that conservation might require the designation of more than one site. The Government are required to report to Parliament every six years on the extent to which MCZs and the MPA network are achieving their objectives, the first of these reports was published in 2012.
3.Four regional projects were created in 2009 to recommend potential MCZ sites; over one million stakeholders came together to recommend 127 sites which covered 15% of waters under Defra’s jurisdiction. The Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and Natural England examined the evidence base for these proposals. Their scientific advice, published in July 2012, indicated that these 127 sites represented “good progress” towards the achievement of an ecologically coherent network. To date, only 50 of these MCZs have been designated. Designation has taken place in two tranches, with 27 sites designated in the first tranche and a further 33 in the second tranche. A third tranche of MCZs was originally expected to be designated in 2018, but there is now “a chance it could slip into 2019”. The Government have stated that they intend for this third tranche to help complete their contribution to creating an Ecologically Coherent Network in the North East Atlantic.
4.Responsibility for MPA management is split across various different organisations. In waters under Defra’s jurisdiction, fishing activities within 6 nautical miles are managed by Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs), whilst the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) have responsibility for licensing other marine activities and for fisheries management beyond 6 nautical miles. These organisations are able to implement bye-laws and voluntary measures to protected designated MPA features from potentially damaging activities. The designation orders for MCZs confer duties on public authorities to “carry out their functions in such a way as to further or, if this is not possible, to least hinder the achievement of the conservation objectives of the sites”. Once a site is designated as an MPA its conservation objectives must be taken into account when considering licence applications. The Government are advised on marine conservation by the statutory nature conservation bodies. The JNCC give advice in offshore waters (beyond 12 nautical miles) and Natural England provide advice in inshore waters (within 12 nautical miles).
5.MPAs have also been created in some of the UK’s 14 Overseas Territories (UKOTs). The UKOTs contain diverse marine habitats and an estimated 90% of the biodiversity found within the UK and the Territories combined. Our 2014 report on Sustainability in the Overseas Territories noted that Aichi Biodiversity Target 11 (agreed by all 193 Parties to the CBD) requires at least 10% of coastal and marine areas to be “conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well connected systems of protected areas” by 2020. Our report recognised that the UK could make a substantial contribution to this target by designating more MPAs in the UKOTs. To date, MPAs have been established in the British Antarctic Territory, the British Indian Ocean Territory, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and the Pitcairn Islands. In September 2016, St Helena declared a sustainable-use MPA, whilst the Ascension Island Government has agreed to establish an MPA that covers at least half of its maritime zone by 2019.
6.Our inquiry follows on from the previous Committee’s reports into Sustainability in the UK Overseas Territories and into Marine Protected Areas. Our previous MPA report criticised the slow pace of designation and lack of ambition in the first tranche of MCZs. It argued that the Government must improve co-ordination and management immediately by setting out “management plans for individual MCZs, and an overarching strategy for MCZ management”. The aim of this inquiry is to follow-up on the recommendations made in our previous reports and to assess the progress that the Government has made in designating, implementing and enforcing MPAs in both the UK and the Overseas Territories.
7.We held four evidence sessions and questioned a range of experts including academics, environmental groups, industry representatives and the management organisations. We received 38 pieces of written evidence. A full list of witnesses can be found at the end of this report. We are grateful to everyone who gave evidence to this inquiry. We would also like to thank our specialist adviser James Marsden, former Director, Marine at Natural England.