Marine Conservation Zones protect our diverse species and habitats in the “blue belt” around the English Coast.

Marine Conservation Zones are areas that protect a range of nationally important, rare or threatened habitats and species.

There are 91 MCZs in waters around England. You can see where the zones are on JNCC’s interactive map.

These were designated in two phases after a process closely involving stakeholders. The first 27 zones were designated on 21 November 2013. 23 sites were designated in the second phase on 17 January 2016. Following consultation, 41 sites and 12 additional features were designated on 31 May 2019. Updated GIS data for all designated MCZs has been published.

The third phase essentially completed the UK Blue Belt and our contribution to the ecologically coherent network in the North East Atlantic in terms of the representation of species and habitats.

Similar schemes are operating in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to contribute to a UK wide network of marine protected areas. 

The Dart Estuary MCZ is an inshore site that covers an area of approximately 5 km². The site is located in south Devon and encompasses the upper part of the Dart Estuary down to Anchor Stone, south of Dittisham.

The Dart Estuary MCZ supports a diverse array of habitats and species, including a number of rare species. Estuaries are important contributors to a healthy environment and have an important role as a nursery ground for juvenile fish. Large areas of the site consist of intertidal mud, which is a highly productive habitat and provides feeding and resting grounds for wading and migratory birds. This is also an important habitat for the nationally scarce tentacled lagoon worm. This is a tiny bristleworm which grows up to 5 mm in length and creates and lives in tubes within the mud habitats of the estuary. These worms have tentacles around their mouths used for gathering food from the surrounding muddy sediments. The tentacled lagoon worm is particularly vulnerable to activities that cause changes in its habitat. 

Lundy MCZ is an inshore site that covers a rectangular area of 31 km2 around Lundy Island. Situated 19 km off the North Devon coast, Lundy is the largest island in the Bristol Channel. The marine area around Lundy has long been recognised for its ecological importance and as such was established as England’s first Marine Nature Reserve (NMR) in 1986. When the Marine and Coastal Access Act came into force in 2009 the site was converted from an NMR to a MCZ in January 2010. The MCZ boundary is identical to the boundary of Lundy Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and contains an existing no-take zone.

Lundy’s unique situation in the mouth of the Bristol Channel means it is subject to a range of environmental conditions. Both sheltered and exposed areas can be found with some being subject to strong tidal currents and waves. The seabed landscape varies considerably with steeply sloping, vertical and overhanging underwater cliffs all present within the site. The combination of these physical conditions supports a range of complex biological communities, making the area a biodiversity hotspot. Reefs, sandbanks, seacaves and grey seals are already protected as features within the area under the SAC; the MCZ offers additional protection for Spiny lobster that was not previously protected.

Torbay MCZ is an inshore site that covers an area of 20 km2 and is located on the South Devon coast between Oddicombe Beach and Sharkham Point.

The high level of biodiversity in the area surrounding Torbay MCZ has previously been recognised, with Torbay being described as “the jewel in South Devon’s crown” for marine wildlife. Extending from the shoreline out to a depth of 30 metres the site includes a range of habitats exposed to different environmental conditions. This variation creates an area that is capable of supporting a rich array of marine wildlife. 

The Tamar Estuary MCZs are located in two spatially separate areas. The MCZs cover an area of approximately 15 km2 and include the upper reaches of the Tamar and Lynher estuaries of South Devon and Cornwall.

The sheltered habitats found within this site are subject to various salinity levels and tidal exposures. This diverse estuarine environment supports a number of features of ecological importance. These MCZs are particularly important as they are the only site where smelt (Osmerus eperlanus) is protected. Smelt is a migratory fish species which has suffered large declines throughout its range and is known to breed in the Tamar. 

The Skerries Bank and Surrounds MCZ is an inshore site located on the South Devon coast. It runs along the coast from Leek Cove at Limebury Point to Torcross, and extends from the coast line out to depths of approximately 70 metres. The site overlaps with the Start Point Inshore Potting Agreement. Skerries Bank and Surrounds is an area that supports a highly diverse range of species that live on the seabed or in the water column and is also known to be an important breeding area for flat fish. 

Skerries Bank and Surrounds is known to cover an area that has a high diversity of seabed-dwelling species. The wide range of seabed types within the site contributes to this level of biodiversity by providing a variety of environments where marine wildlife can live. Skerries Bank and Surrounds has the largest extent of moderate energy infralittoral rock found within any of the Marine Conservation Zones in the south west region. Protecting this, as well as 10 other habitat types means this is an important site. 

The Devon Avon Estuary MCZ covers an area of 2 km2 and is located on the south coast of Devon, in the Western Channel and Celtic Sea region. The site extends from the mouth of the estuary up to a tidal weir at Aveton Gifford.

The Devon Avon Estuary is a narrow meandering drowned river valley of about 7 km in length, which lies within a steep sided valley. It is characterised by a subtidal river channel bisecting the intertidal areas, which are sandy in the outer reaches and muddier in the inner reaches. The mouth of the estuary has semi-exposed rock platforms with rich rockpool, under-boulder and overhang communities on the lower shore.

The Erme Estuary MCZ is an inshore site that covers an area of approximately 1 km². The Erme is located on the south coast of Devon and opens into the Western Channel and Celtic Sea region.

The site covers the whole estuary from the mouth of the river to the limits of the tidal influence near the village of Ermington. The MCZ falls within the Erme Estuary Site of Special Scientific Interest and at the mouth of the river it overlaps with the Prawle Point to Plymouth Sound and Eddystone Site of Community Importance. 

The Axe Estuary MCZ is an inshore site that covers an area of approximately 0.33 km². The site is within the Axe Estuary in Devon which runs from near Colyford to Axmouth and Seaton, opening up into Lyme Bay. The site is constrained by the boundaries of the estuary and lies adjacent to the Seaton Wetlands, a series of local nature reserves. 

The Axe Estuary is an important link between the surrounding wetlands and the open sea. The areas of coastal saltmarshes, intertidal sediments and rocky habitats act as important nursery grounds for juvenile fish, including sea bass, and support habitats for sensitive species of birds, crustaceans (such as crabs, lobsters and barnacles) and molluscs (such as mussels, native oysters and cockles). The estuary is also home to the critically endangered European eel. 

The Otter Estuary MCZ is a small inshore site that covers an area of approximately 0.11 km². The estuary opens into the eastern Channel on the south coast of Devon by the town of Budleigh Salterton. The site extends from the mouth of the river up to the aqueduct near East Budleigh.

The Otter Estuary is a small but important ecosystem supporting a range of habitats and wildlife. It is an essential link from the sea to the River Otter where it serves as a migratory route for European eel, Atlantic salmon, sea trout and shad. The mouth of the estuary is almost completely covered by a shingle bank of intertidal coarse sediment extending from the west coast of the river. The sheltered areas behind the bank have created the perfect environment for the formation of highly productive intertidal mudflats and saltmarshes. 

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