Marine Protected Areas Revisited Contents

Conclusions and recommendations


1.It is essential that the UK has a well-coordinated and ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas. The Government aims for the third tranche of MCZ to help complete its “contribution to the Ecologically Coherent Network in the North East Atlantic”. To fulfil this ambition, the Government must put forward an ambitious third tranche of MCZs and improve cross-border collaboration. However, the current evidence threshold for MCZ designation set by Defra is unreasonably high. Despite having one of the best marine evidence bases in the world, evidence for some features in recommended MCZs cannot reach the standards set by Defra. Defra have exacerbated this problem due to their unwillingness to provide adequate investment for the gathering of further evidence. (Paragraph 16)

2.As it stands, the network fails to adequately protect mobile species, sand, and mud habitats. Although we welcome the Department’s recent call for third party proposals on Tranche 3 zones for mobile species, we believe that the six-week timeframe and high evidence threshold placed unrealistic expectations on respondents, limiting the quality and number of submissions received (Paragraph 17)

3.The Government should not make perfection the enemy of the good by using a lack of ‘perfect data’ as an excuse to delay the designation of sites. The Government must adopt a precautionary principle approach to Tranche 3 site selection and designations should be made using ‘best available’ data. In selecting the third tranche of MCZs, Defra Ministers must take note of the statutory nature conservation bodies’ ‘gap analysis’ and ensure it fills all the gaps identified. This must include designation of sites to protect both sand and mud habitats and sites for mobile species. The third tranche must be considerably more ambitious and larger than the two previous tranches, bringing the total number of MCZs much closer to the 127 zones originally recommended. Given the time that has elapsed since the 127 zones were identified, we are concerned by the delay in designating all the sites that will be required to achieve an Ecologically Coherent Network. The Government has indicated that the timescale for the third tranche may slip even further. We think this is unacceptable, and call on the Government to bring forward proposals as soon as possible (Paragraph 18)

Management Measures

4.Whilst designating MPAs is important, their benefits will only be realised if they are effectively managed. Once a site is designated as an MPA, the MMO and the IFCAs should make this the primary consideration in management and decision-making. It is essential that the Government put in place strong monitoring and surveillance regimes to deter illegal activity. The Government must establish a fully integrated monitoring and surveillance regime. To achieve this, the management organisations should approve an inshore vessel monitoring system suitable for tracking smaller vessels. The Government should also consider investing in aerial and seaborne drones. The Government should integrate intelligence from inshore VMS into the current VMS hub, so that all information can be viewed centrally. (Paragraph 22)

5.We are very concerned that funding cuts to the MMO and the IFCAs will place great strain on their ability effectively to manage and enforce the MPA network. The designation of the largest and most complex tranche of MCZs in 2018/19 will put further pressure on them. (Paragraph 27)

6.In response to this report, the Government should provide its assessment of any additional budget and resources that will be provided to the MMO and the IFCAs to enable them effectively to manage the third tranche of MCZs and designated MPAs. The Government should look at using revenues raised by the aggregates levy to fund marine protection. If the Government is not prepared to provide extra resources, it should set out what consultation it has had with these bodies and provide evidence which shows that the considerable additional responsibilities can be met within existing budgets. The Government should also ensure all IFCAs receive the full funding they are entitled to and that the MMO’s budget is not cut further. The Government should commit to make up any loss of EU funding to the MMO as a result of Britain’s exit from the European Union. (Paragraph 28)

7.We are shocked and disappointed by the Government’s decision to exclude reference areas from the third tranche of MCZs. Despite commissioning a study from the CEFAS on ‘Highly Protected Marine Areas’, it appears that the Government has already made up its mind not to include reference areas within the MPA network. The Government seem content to compare sites which are degraded to different degrees, failing to understand what the ecosystem can regenerate towards. Without reference areas the Government will be unable to establish an effective and coherent MPA network, as they will have no benchmark against which to assess the effectiveness of management measures. Whilst we recognise the initial concerns of various industry representatives, we believe that these could be alleviated with proper consultation and selection of a smaller number of carefully chosen sites. (Paragraph 35)

8.The Government should recognise that reference areas are an essential component of any ecologically coherent and well-managed network of MPAs. Therefore, to complete the network, the Government must commit to establishing reference areas within MPAs in each biogeographic region, using best available evidence assessed against the Ecological Network Guidance criteria. The Government must consult those likely to have an interest in the sites selected. (Paragraph 36)

9.Reference areas provide the Government with a means to assess how well the MPA network is performing and help them to understand the potential for recovery in the absence of human activities. This data should then be utilised to provide management targets for other sites. Given the problems with the current MPA communications strategy, reference areas must be utilised to showcase the potential benefits of MPAs. We believe that these areas should be called ‘recovery areas’ rather than ‘reference areas’ to more accurately reflect the conservation objectives of these sites. (Paragraph 37)

10.The Government must publish the outcomes of the CEFAS study and, if it chooses not to proceed with reference areas, it must outline what other forms of data will be used to assess progress against conservation objectives. (Paragraph 38)

11.The Government should ensure that all European Marine Sites are transferred into English law via the Great Repeal Bill and that reporting, monitoring, evaluation and enforcement structures are preserved and set out in a new Environmental Protection Act, or Fisheries Act. To contribute to the health of the marine environment as a whole, the Government must continue to designate sites to protect habitats and species of both European and national importance. Designation does not guarantee protection so the Government should ensure that this is carried out in such a way that retains or improves upon the level of environmental protection and enforcement currently provided in the EU. The Government must work with other member states to ensure that management recommendations are in place for all designated MPAs before the UK leaves the EU. It must ensure that the process of exiting the EU does not create paralysis in establishing effective management measures in MPAs beyond 6 nautical miles. If the Government withdraws from the Common Fisheries Policy, it should recognise that there are likely to be significant changes to the management of offshore MPAs. In light of this, it should undertake a review of current management arrangements, with a view to creating a less complex management system. (Paragraph 47)


12.MPAs should be the jewels in Britain’s crown and seen as national parks of the sea. Raising awareness of MPAs amongst the general public should be an important part of the programme’s implementation both in the UK and in the Overseas Territories. The Government needs to do a better job of promoting the benefits of marine protection. Despite this Committee having identified this as a concern in 2014, the Government’s communications strategy is still unsatisfactory. Information is both fragmented and overly technical and the Government has made little progress in using innovative methods to communicate the benefits of MPAs. An improved communications strategy is vital given that the third tranche of MCZs is likely to contain some of the most controversial sites. (Paragraph 51)

13.To gain support from stakeholders, the Government needs to implement a robust communications strategy that aims to raise awareness of the MPA network amongst businesses and the general public. This improved communications strategy should be implemented alongside consultations for the third tranche of MCZs. The Government must develop a consolidated central source of MPA information and be more creative in the ways that it communicates information about the network. The Government should ensure that its plans for marine protection are fully set out in its forthcoming 25 year plan for the environment. The IFCAs and the MMO should work together with Natural England to provide information about MPAs along the entire length of the Coastal Path. The Government must ensure it consults with stakeholders at a local level to secure widespread support for designations. (Paragraph 52)

Overseas Territories

14.To gain support for the MPA network, the Government must ensure that it consults more effectively and transparently with Governments and local communities in the Overseas Territories. It should ensure that any concerns of the UKOTs are given due consideration before designating MPAs in their waters. (Paragraph 56)

15.Designation of an MPA is only the first step. MPAs will only be effective if they are properly resourced, managed, monitored and enforced. Many UKOTs lack the necessary resources to effectively manage their MPAs. (Paragraph 60)

16.The Government must provide support to the UKOTs to help them properly detect and deter illegal activities. The Government must explore ways of strengthening surveillance and monitoring, to help detect illegal fishing activities in resource-poor UKOTs. (Paragraph 61)

17.A lack of funding in the UKOTs hampers the ability to effectively manage and enforce designated MPAs. We welcome the Government’s commitment of £20 million over the next four years to support the implementation, management, surveillance, monitoring and enforcement of MPAs in the UKOTs. However, we are concerned about the loss of EU BEST funding which currently provides approximately 1/3 of all environmental project funding in the UKOTs. (Paragraph 67)

18.We recommend that the Government commits to replacing BEST funding after we leave the European Union. The UK Government should explore and promote opportunities for the UKOTs to access funding sources from environmental initiatives, NGOs, conservation groups and charities for environmental projects in the UKOTs. This should be used as an additional source of funding for projects in the UKOTs and not be utilised as an excuse to replace any existing sources of funding. This would help the Government contribute to achieving the Global Goal 14 ‘Life Below Water’. (Paragraph 68)

19.The UK Government must assess the likely impact of leaving the EU on Gibraltar’s Marine Protected Areas. In response to this report, it must set out what additional support it intends to provide to Government of Gibraltar to prevent incursions in their territorial waters. It must set out in the Great Repeal Bill and any new Fisheries or Environmental Protection Act how the funding, monitoring and evaluation of Gibraltar’s MPAs will proceed to minimise any future difficulties with Spain over management measures. (Paragraph 70)

21 April 2017