First Marine Conservation Zones for our region

© Linda Priestley

With the welcome news that three Marine Conservation Zones have been designated in the Hampshire and Isle of Wight region, we recap on the process so far, our current position and the challenges still to come.

This time last year, Defra opened a consultation on the designation of a second tranche of up to 23 Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) to add to the 27 MCZs already designated across England in the first tranche in 2014.

We were excited as for the first time, some of our regional recommended MCZs (rMCZs) were being considered; a relief having missed out completely in the first tranche. Three sites would be considered; The NeedlesUtopia and Offshore Overfalls. But, we were also anxious as the second tranche list of 23 rMCZs had started out as a list of 37, and three more of our local sites; Yarmouth to CowesNorris to Ryde and Bembridge, all on the Isle of Wight, had been among the 14 sites dropped from the consultation.

Dahlia anemone

© Amy Lewis

By the close of the consultation in April 2015, we had submitted all our supporting data, completed a lengthy and detailed response to the consultation supporting the designation of the three MCZs (and all the others on the list) and asking for all our wonderful Friends of MCZs to sign up and respond to the consultation – which they did in impressive numbers!

What followed next was almost an anti-climax: Defra had a year from the start of the consultation to analyse all of the consultation responses and make their final decisions, so we weren’t expecting a rapid response.

Fast forward to 2016 and we now have the tremendous news that all of the 23 sites have been designated and that we now have three MCZs in our region! For Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust and for all of our members and supporters, this is a landmark moment representing the first positive outcome of years of work gathering and submitting data, attending endless stakeholder meetings and campaigning for these site to be protected.

Tompot blenny

© Paul Naylor

It is not, however, the end of the story, in fact, in many ways, it is the beginning of a new phase of hard work. Designation of these MCZs does not mean that the important, diverse and threatened wildlife and habitats they contain is automatically protected.

The next stage of the process is critically important in achieving real protection and conservation benefits and requires the development of an effective management plan for each MCZ.

The data will be reviewed and all the potentially harmful activities which take place in each MCZ will have to be assessed against the impacts on the species or habitats for which the MCZ has been designated. Next, the specific measures needed to remove or reduce impacts will have to be decided and agreed. Only then will the benefits of MCZ designation start to be felt by the marine life within the sites.

Many agencies will be involved in the management of MCZs and the Trust will aim to work with all of them to ensure that the sites benefit from the best management.

For our three MCZs the leading agencies will be the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs) with Southern IFCA responsible for The Needles and Sussex IFCA for Utopia. For the Offshore Overfalls MCZ the lead may be taken by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) as part of it lies outside the 6 mile limit for inshore waters which define the IFCAs responsibility. We will continue to gather evidence and work with the regulators to ensure the best management of these MCZs.

Crab in rockpool

© Samuel Chamberlain

This second tranche of MCZ designations means that there are now 50 MCZs designated in English waters (officially now known as, “Secretary of State Waters”) but, the original recommendation which came from the four regional stakeholder projects which identified and submitted candidate MCZs was for an Ecologically Coherent Network of 127 MCZs for English waters to sit alongside designations in Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland waters as part of a UK-wide network of Marine Protected Areas.

So, what of the rMCZs yet to be considered for designation, and of the fourteen sites dropped from the second tranche consultation? The good news is that Defra has announced its commitment to completion of the network of MCZs in English waters through a third tranche of designations in 2018 and that all sites yet to be considered are eligible for the third tranche.

This doesn’t mean that they will be designated - some of the remaining MCZs are also some of the more difficult cases which may face considerable opposition to their designation. But it does mean that we will be able to continue to work and campaign for the designation Yarmouth to CowesNorris to Ryde and Bembridge, all on the Isle of Wight and of Fareham Creek, the only rMCZ on the Hampshire Coast.

We will also be calling on our members, and supporters to sign up as Friends of Marine Conservation Zones and take an active role in the third and final consultation. The journey isn’t over yet, but we have taken a very significant step forward.