Protected marine areas and legislation in the UK

On land the concept of protecting and conserving areas considered to be of prime importance, in terms of the wildlife and habitats they contain, is well established. The first National Nature Reserve was declared in the UK in 1951 and there are now over 200 with 43 that are over 1000 ha in size (IUCN, 1994). In contrast, as of 1996, there are only two statutory Marine Nature Reserves, Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel and Skomer Island off the Pembrokeshire coast. These were declared in 1986 and 1990 respectively. The area protected amounts to only 3700 ha in total.

Some protection has been afforded to intertidal marine habitats and species through other designations such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Parks and National Scenic Areas where these have included part of the coast. Intertidal areas down to LWM can be included in Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) but these do not have full statutory protection. Until 1981, there was no provision for declaring Nature Reserves below the LWM. New legislation included in the UK 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act provided the necessary framework to declare Marine Nature Reserves, but the process is complicated and difficult to implement (Gibson and Warren, 1995). Consequently, the conservation organizations have had to seek other ways of gaining protection for important areas (Gubbay, 1995). Most of these new designations are, like many of the coastal ones, being set up on a voluntary basis. It can be seen from Table 10.5 that there are currently many ideas under consideration which will have to be modified and integrated if they are to be effective. The voluntary approach is not a new idea. Both Lundy and Skomer MNRs started as voluntary Marine Nature Reserves and at least nine others are well established (Gubbay and Welton, 1995).

Currently attention has been once more directed to marine protected areas in the UK because of European Community legislation in the form of the EC Directive on the Protection of Natural and Semi-Natural Habitats of Wild Flora and Fauna (commonly known as the 'Habitats Directive'). This lays down categories of habitats in both marine and terrestrial environments for which each member state must develop proposals for protection. The central aim is to conserve biodiversity across the area of the European Union through a coherent network of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs).

Table 10.6 Types of established and proposed marine protected areas in the UK (modified from Gubbay, 1995).

Title and status

Year (of introduction or proposal)

No. of sites


Voluntary Marine



Locally based management groups. Not

Conservation Areas

necessarily at sites of major marine


biological importance. Strong educational component.

Marine Nature



Government conservation agencies. To


conserve marine flora and fauna or


geological or physiographical features of special interest. Opportunities for study and research.

Marine Consultation



Scottish Natural Heritage (government

Areas (Scotland)

agency). A general management


arrangement for sites considered to be of particular distinction in respect of the quality and sensitivity of their marine environment. Mainly in response to the rapid growth of marine fish farming in sea lochs.

Marine Protected



Proposal not followed up yet by Marine


Protected Areas Working Group (group of

(proposed statutory)

conservation organizations and individuals).

Marine Consultation



Proposed by the DOE and Welsh Office

Areas (England &


(government depts). Similar idea as for



MCAs in Scotland.

(proposed voluntary)

Sensitive Marine



Proposal only at present, by English Nature


(government body). Generally similar to

(proposed voluntary)

MCAs. Possibly the ideas will be combined.

Special Areas for



EC Habitats and Species Directive


(adopted 1994)

(92/43/EEC) Regulation adopted in 1994 by


government agencies.

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