Marine Conservation Zones

Marine Conservation Zones

Underwater © Paul Naylor

Thank you for creating a Wave of Support for our wildlife

In summer 2018 the government consulted on another tranche of potential Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs), and a huge thank you to the thousands of you that helped to make the case for our local wildlife.

Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) are places at sea that are recognised by government as needing a special plan to make sure that they are managed to allow nature to recover from damage and be restored. They are managed for the benefit of conservation, while allowing economic and leisure activities like fishing and yachting, as long as they are sustainable.

Find out more about what makes our seas areas so special and why they need our protection:


Stalked jellyfish at Bembridge

© Polly Whyte

Hosting a greater number of habitats and species eligible for protection than any other site, the Bembridge area is the biodiversity jewel of the South-East.

The area is a national stronghold of the peacock’s tail seaweed and one of only two sites in the South East where you can find both British species of seahorse, the spiny seahorse and the short snouted seahorse. The kaleidoscope stalked jellyfish has also been found here: one of only two locations in the region which supports this beautiful and delicate species.

Mud dominates in the north and is home to one of very few regional examples of spoon worms. These bizarre creatures have brains in their long tongues, which extend out of the burrows in search of food.

Bembridge is the only known regional location of maerl. This fragile, calcareous, red seaweed resembles a knotted mass of twigs and provides shelter for lots of other species. This site is the only one put forward in the region for protection of maerl beds, and is only one of two sites put forward in the region to protect the kaleidoscope stalked jellyfish and the long-snouted seahorse.

Yarmouth to Cowes

Broad clawed porcelain crab

© Paul Naylor

With thriving wildlife communities and ancient underwater cliffs, Yarmouth to Cowes is an exciting ecological and archaeological treasure trove.

This area has some of the best peat exposures in the region, notably at Bouldnor where an underwater peat cliff rises up nine metres from the seabed. This cliff is thought to be 8,000 years old. Before it was submerged by sea level rise, it was inhabited and is rich in archaeology.

In Thorness Bay, clay exposures form ledges at low water and expose the holes of piddocks: molluscs which use their serrated shells to excavate protective holes in soft rock. Sheltering under the many limestone boulders at Thorness are thriving wildlife communities, which include porcelain crabs, sea squirts and sponges. Newtown Harbour is one of the few locations for estuarine rock in the region.

Norris to Ryde

Spider crab

© Amy Lewis

This area boasts one of the largest seagrass meadows in the south-east region; the meadow in Osborne and Wootton Bays extends 4.5km along the coast and covers more than 200 hectares. They provide important nursery areas for juvenile fish and crustaceans such as spider crabs. The lagoons at the top of Wootton Creek have one of the largest populations of the tentacled lagoon worm Alkmaria romijni in the country.

Further offshore are large expanses of subtidal mud, in which creatures like mantis shrimps burrow. The Solent is considered a hotspot for these fascinating crustaceans. Mantis shrimps hide in burrows waiting for unsuspecting prey to pass. They locate their prey accurately, with some of the most advanced eyes in the animal kingdom, and then unleash their awesome weapon: a spear-like barbed claw that impales their prey at the speed of a bullet.

This site contains one of the best examples of seagrass beds in the Solent. These beds act as a nursery for juvenile fish and provide a major food source for overwintering wildfowl. 

Fareham Creek

Native oyster

Native oyster © Jon Oakley

This small area has been proposed to protect the native oysters (Ostrea edulis) which live in the creek. Sheltered muddy gravels and saltmarshes also provide important habitat for many other mollusc and fish species.

The Solent used to have one of the largest natural populations of native oysters in the country, but over the years populations have declined, probably due to several factors including disease, predation and overfishing.

Native oysters still occur throughout the Solent and are targeted by fishermen. In Fareham Creek, a bylaw already restricts some fishing activities, so this site should not impact on fishermen

Seahorse in seagrass

© Julie Hatcher

Safe havens at sea

MCZs will provide safe havens for important and nationally rare species like native oysters, seahorses, stalked jellyfish and mantis shrimps and will protect our important seagrass beds and marine reefs which support marine life and economically important resources.

More on our work on marine issues