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Marine protected areas

The Government has a vision to produce clean, healthy and biodiverse seas around the coast of the UK. One of the means of achieving this will be through the establishment of a network of marine protected areas (MPAs).

The establishment of an ecologically coherent network of well managed MPAs is in accordance with the requirements of the European Commission’s Habitats Directive, Birds Directive, Marine Strategy Framework Directive and part 5 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. In English waters this network will comprise of European marine sites (EMS) and marine conservation zones (MCZ).

EMSs comprise special areas of conservation (SACs) for annex I natural habitat types and annex II protected species and special protection areas (SPAs) for wild birds.

In addition to EMSs, marine conservation zones (MCZs) protect nationally important species and habitats.

MMO role in MPA management

We have statutory responsibilities to further the conservation objectives of MPAs in English waters out to the continental shelf limits. These responsibilities derive from the Conservation of species and Habitats Regulations 2010 (as amended), the Offshore Marine conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 2007 (as amended) and the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.

There are 83 EMSs and 27 MCZs in English waters. Our main areas of responsibility relate to licensable marine activities, sea fisheries and otherwise unregulated marine activities (such as recreation).

The MPA strategic management table provides a high-level view for all EMSs in English waters (MCZs will be added shortly). It summarises information about the sites, including some of the statutory nature conservation advice about the impact of human activities upon habitat features in the sites and any management actions we are undertaking.

Please note that we have considered only the advice in relation to activities for which we have management responsibilities, so the table does not address questions such as water quality and eutrophication which are the responsibility of the Environment Agency.

Our risk rating has been increased to high or medium for a number of sites in the table. This has been done to support Defra’s revised approach to the management of commercial fisheries in European marine sites. Some of the sites have since decreased because of management measures introduced in the sites.

If you have any comments or queries relating to MMO’s role in MPA management please contact

The aims of the strategic management table are to:

  • provide a transparent decision making process to openly illustrate how MMO is working to manage the network of MPAs
  • use evidence properly to provide a meaningful and consistent approach to the management of MPAs
  • recognise high, medium and low areas of importance to prioritise resources accordingly
  • encourage stakeholders to input evidence and provide feedback which will assist us in assessing and reviewing potential risks
  • create a flexible, dynamic and robust assessment process

Other nature conservation activity

Strategic management table

The current risks and MMO activity for all sites are detailed in the Marine protected areas: MMO strategic management table. This is available as a spreadsheet or a PDF.

Last updated: 8 April 2014

Further information

These links to external websites provide more information about nature conservation.

Marine protected areas (Natural England)

UK protected sites (Joint Nature Conservation Committee)

Help with documents

Some of these documents are in the portable document format (PDF) for downloading. Adobe Acrobat Reader can be freely downloaded from