Solent receives two new Marine Conservation Zones

© Polly Whyte

Our vibrant local waters have gained greater recognition and protection today, with the designation of two new Marine Conservation Zones off the Isle of Wight.

Today the government has announced the designation of 41 new Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) around the coasts of England and Northern Island, and we are very pleased to share that two of these are in our local waters.

Marine Conservation Zones are a kind of Marine Protected Area, which is an area managed in a particular way in order to safeguard its special wildlife and habitats. We have been involved in the process of designating Marine Conservation Zones since it began in 2009, as part of our drive for living seas.

The government has now designated 91 Marine Conservation Zones in total. Our new zones - Yarmouth to Cowes and Bembridge - join The Needles, which we were delighted to have designated in 2016.

Responding to today’s announcement, Debbie Tann, CEO of Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, said: “We are very pleased to see two local areas given this level of recognition. We have some incredible marine species and habitats here – from colour changing cuttlefish and magnificent seagrass meadows to seahorses and stalked jellyfish – and we know that, with such busy local waters, our wildlife can really struggle.

"Properly managed, these new underwater ‘nature reserves’ around the Island should provide much needed safe-havens and will form part of a wider Nature Recovery Network across English waters.

“Thank you to everyone who backed our campaign to secure these vital protections. Over the past decade or more we have gathered evidence and public support for these Marine Conservation Zones. With three local areas now designated, the task ahead is to ensure that the management and conservation measures live up to this promise and really play a part in restoring our marine life and livelihoods.

“We are, of course, disappointed that we don’t yet have a complete local network, as we are still missing protections for other important habitats and areas such as the seagrass meadows found between Norris and Ryde and the native oyster beds at Fareham Creek. However, today’s announcement does take us a significant step closer to creating a wilder future for our seas.”  

Cuttlefish © Paul Naylor

Cuttlefish © Paul Naylor

Bembridge Marine Conservation Zone

This MCZ has been described as the "jewel" in the network, as it has more species and habitats eligible for protection than any other. Its shallow waters host seagrass beds, which provide a habitat for species like cuttlefish, stalked jellyfish, and seahorses, as well as many commercially important species. At this depth you can also find rocky ledges, which make the ideal habitat for the nationally rare peacock's tail seaweed.

Further offshore there is deep water muddy sediment, where spoon worms dig burrows and use their long, tube-like mouthparts to feed from the surface. It is also the site of our region's only known maerl beds - this pink, stony algae forms incredibly diverse living reefs, offering habitat to many other species.

Yarmouth to Cowes Marine Conservation Zone

This MCZ harbours diverse, fascinating species and habitats. At Bouldnor you can find a nine-metre tall underwater peat cliff, which dates back 8,000 years and contains archaeology from the time before the Solent was flooded by rising sea levels. Newtown Harbour is one of only a few places in our region that has estuarine rocky habitat - a rare feature that provides a home to many important species.

Along the coast at Thorness, seaweed-covered limestone rocks support a secret underboulder community of sea squirts, sponges, and small crustaceans like porcelain crabs. Low tide at this site also reveals exposed ledges of soft clay riddled with the burrows of piddocks; molluscs that use the rough, serrated edges of their shells to dig the holes in which they spend their lives.

Want to know more?

We are so proud of our amazing local marine environment, and are always looking for ways to celebrate and protect it. If you'd like to join us, why not check out our exciting marine project Secrets of the Solent? Over four busy years, this project is showcasing our marine wildlife through art, seafood, citizen science, volunteering opportunities, and more.

Seahorse in seagrass

© Julie Hatcher