Government says yes to Highly Protected Marine Areas

, 08 June 2021
Government says yes to Highly Protected Marine Areas
Cuckoo Wrasse © Rob Goldsmith

Last year, the Benyon review of Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) was published by Defra. The Wildlife Trusts backed its recommendations that HPMAs should be an essential part of the UK network for protection and recovery of the marine environment, and that the government should introduce HPMAs as soon as possible. 

Today, on World Oceans Day 2021, Defra has announced it will begin the process for designating HPMAs by the end of 2022, setting an ambitious commitment to protect our seas. The Wildlife Trusts believe there is an overwhelming case for the designation of HPMAs across our seas which would see a ban on all damaging activities, offering the strictest possible protections for the marine environment and giving nature the best chance of recovery.

The Wildlife Trusts have called for HPMAs for the last three years and launched a petition urging speedy implementation which was signed by over 10,000 people. Joan Edwards, director of policy and public affairs at The Wildlife Trusts was invited to be on the review panel.

Joan Edwards says:

“This new type of marine protection will be the gold standard for rewilding parts of the sea. It’s a fantastic step-forward, one which The Wildlife Trusts and over 10,000 of our supporters have been waiting for – we’re absolutely delighted! 

“The removal of all harmful activities – from fishing and trawling to construction – has never been attempted in UK waters before. This is an historic moment and we’re certain that HPMAs will help our seas become healthier and that degraded underwater habitats will be better able to recover.

“This special form of protection is vitally needed. Decades of overexploitation and pollution have left our precious seas damaged and the wealth of wildlife that once lived there is much diminished. It is hard for us to imagine the abundant scenes that historic records reveal, with dolphins, whales and seabirds as far as the eye can see and huge numbers of fish which were far bigger than you see today. 

“Existing Marine Protected Areas are limited in their ability to restore nature as they only go as far as conserving its current, sometimes damaged state. HPMAs will allow us to see what truly recovering seas look like. They will set a new bar against which other protected areas could be measured.”

Following today’s announcement, The Wildlife Trusts will be participating in the Government’s consultation process: we believe HPMAs should be designated in each regional sea, in inshore, nearshore and offshore English waters, encompassing a range of habitats so that experts can study how different ecosystems recover when pressures are reduced. 

In order for HPMAs to be effective, The Wildlife Trusts are calling for:

  • HPMAs to be a whole-site approach, protecting all the wildlife and habitats within their boundaries with effective management measures
  • HPMAs should be sufficient in size and number, and well monitored to understand what happens when damaging activities are removed and how our seas can recover
  • This will also help us determine appropriate management measures for the rest of the Marine Protected Area network
  • HPMAs must provide a higher level of protection than other types of protected area, allowing marine areas to return to as natural a state as possible, with more wildlife

The designation of HPMAs will act as a mechanism for recovery and should contribute significantly to the Government’s commitment to protecting 30% of our seas by 2030. HPMAs will also act as a natural solution to help store carbon and tackle climate change, as well as generating benefits through tourism, recreation and marine education.

Joan Edwards continues:

“HPMAs will allow wildlife and habitats to be conserved on a large scale. This will have multiple benefits such as increasing the number, diversity and size of fish, as well as enabling the ‘spill-over’ of species to other areas, helping to restock our depleted waters and benefit commercial fisheries. HPMAs will provide space for nature and wonderful places where people can experience rejuvenated marine life. 

“We know HPMAs will work. When bottom trawling was banned from Lyme Bay in 2008, we saw the astonishing recovery of beautiful sunset corals and pink sea fans within just a few years. When fishing was banned off Lundy, fisheries benefited from increased lobsters and tourism boomed following positive marine publicity.”

Leave a comment


  • Cherry Lavell:

    Not before time — this absolutely HAD to be done and it must now be done properly , no shirking, no half measures…I’m not too sure about people being able to explore the revivified spaces — keep them pristine surely?

    10 Jun 2021 12:25:00

  • Pat Wise:

    It is lovely to know that so many people are, at long last, wanting to save nature instead of destroy it. Nature is wonderful! Stop trying to ruin it. I do my best to help, but cannot do too much.

    10 Jun 2021 12:42:00

  • Phillip John Ellis:

    My concern along the Sussex coast is the return of huge amounts of rotting seaweed on the beach that stinks and a lot of fly’s. who will pay for it to be treated or cleared away? Since beam trawling started maybe 30 years ago we have been free of this problem. I am not anti but this issue that many have not experienced worries me.

    ANSWER: Sussex Wildlife Trust will be working with local councils and stakeholders to ensure it doesn’t become an issue. We are looking into active solutions so that seaweed washed up on the beach is both removed and then used for something like fertilizer.

    10 Jun 2021 15:15:00

  • Michael Goff:

    Mostly good news, I guess, but this is merely a promise to START the process of designation by the END of next year. Optimistically, it could therefore be 5 years before anything actually comes into effect. This does not seem “ambitious” given all of the information available from the MCZ work that’s accumulated over the past few years.

    11 Jun 2021 06:32:00

  • Patsy Sullivan:

    I am very pleased to hear about this and hope it can start as soon as possible.

    11 Jun 2021 21:51:00

  • Stewart Allum:

    All very well and we need to curb all forms of commercial fishing in these areas for many years in order to allow fish stocks to recover-but don’t penalise the catch & release recreational anglers who’ve been at the forefront of conservation efforts for decades, when no-one else gave these issues a thought, or even acknowleged there was a problem!

    16 Jun 2021 21:07:00

  • Janet Newnham:

    It would be wonderful to have our marine areas protected for the future generations and to help increase mammals and fish stock, plants and all creatures that live in the sea.

    20 Jun 2021 08:29:00

  • Chris Chedzoy:

    I used to go to fishing with a commercial fisherman in the 70s and am shocked to see how few fish, especially large specimens, there are now. With all the modern technology, nowhere is left untouched. As an example a few years ago the bass fishermen had a bonanza with a new midwater net. The local stock virtually disappeared and hasn’t recovered. Everyone will benefit if places are left alone.

    23 Jun 2021 10:34:00