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The Marine Management Organisation has issued notice that it will prioritise six key inshore marine protected areas (MPAs)

The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) has announced the prioritisation of six ecologically significant inshore marine protected areas (MPAs) for focused assessment and management over the coming year.

These MPAs play a vital role in protecting and recovering rare, threatened, and important habitats and species from the impacts of human activities. In English waters, there are 178 MPAs, covering 51% of inshore and 37% of offshore areas.

The MMO, in collaboration with other governmental bodies, is responsible for managing marine non-licensable activities (mNLA) within England’s inshore MPAs, which span from 0 to 12 nautical miles. MNLA activities include recreational pursuits such as sailing, motorboating, diving, and snorkelling. However, fishing activities are managed by other agencies within these inshore MPAs.

In partnership with Natural England’s senior advisors and regional leads, the MMO has selected six priority MPAs for mNLA site assessment:

– Cromer Shoal Chalk Beds Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ): This area is vital for crab and lobster habitats, supporting small-scale local fisheries crucial to the region’s character and economy.

– Fal and Helford Special Area of Conservation (SAC): Known for maerl and seagrass habitats, it houses important species such as amphipods, polychaete worms, sea cucumbers, and bivalve molluscs.

– Isles of Scilly Complex SAC: Features the most extensive and best-developed seagrass beds in southern England.

– Plymouth Sound and Estuaries SAC: Rich marine ecosystems including seagrass, with abundant southern Mediterranean-Atlantic species rarely found in Britain, such as carpet coral.

– Solent Maritime SAC: Contains major estuary habitats, sandbanks, seagrass beds, and large Atlantic salt meadows.

– The Wash and North Norfolk Coast SAC: Important for its mudflats, reefs, shallow inlets, and bays, serving as a nursery ground for commercial fish species like plaice, cod, and sole.

Michelle Willis, Acting Chief Executive Officer at MMO, stated, “By identifying and prioritising these sites, we have taken the first steps towards protecting some of the most important marine ecosystems, habitats, and wildlife around our coast. Our next steps will include early engagement with coastal communities, taking a natural capital approach, followed by a rigorous assessment in collaboration with our partners to ascertain the impacts of mNLA within each MPA.”

She added, “Future management measures may range from voluntary measures to potential byelaws, developed in partnership with local stakeholders and residents. We aim to inspire a sense of ownership and encourage ongoing participation in the protection of these amazing marine ecosystems.”

The MMO also recognises the importance of local partnerships and community engagement in successful MPA management. This approach is exemplified by the management of mNLA in the Studland Bay MCZ, where a voluntary no-anchor zone (VNAZ) was established in 2021 with local community support to protect valuable seagrass habitats. Evidence from the MMO’s latest VNAZ review indicates a reduction in anchoring over the seagrass, supporting habitat recovery.

For more information on the MMO’s management of marine non-licensable activities, visit


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