By Sarah Ward
Living Seas Officer
Today marks a huge landmark in UK marine conservation. Today Defra have announced the designation of 39 new Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) in the waters around England – three of which are in our local Sussex Seas!
These newly designated sites bring the total number of MCZs around England up to 89 and will take us a big step forward in terms of creating an ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas, a ‘blue belt’ if you will, around the UK. This is a bit of a mouthful, but for the Zones to be effective they need to function together, not as individual sanctuaries. Animals need to be able to move between the Zones to breed, feed and grow. They also need to represent the different kinds of habitats we have in the UK and indeed, they need to be well managed to protect the features that make them special. Management will be the next step following designation, and Sussex Wildlife Trust will be actively engaging with the government bodies and other stakeholders involved throughout this process.
The three new MCZs, Selsey Bill & The Hounds, Beachy Head East and Inner Bank, cover a variety of habitats and species. Both Selsey Bill & The Hounds and Beachy Head East are home to short-snouted seahorses, which are afforded protection under the new designation; they also both protect exposures of peat and clay, which form an important habitat characterised by piddocks and other burrowing bivalves. Beachy Head East also affords protection to subtidal chalk, for which the Sussex seas are renowned.
Further offshore, Inner Bank will protect important undersea habitats, including subtidal sands, mixed sediments and course sediments. These habitats all give home to a variety of different creatures, including many burrowing animals and camouflaged flatfish like plaice and sole.
Today’s announcement is exciting as Wildlife Trusts around the country have been working towards completing the network since the Marine and Coastal Access Act came into force in 2009. This is a rewarding step towards reversing the damage and degradation our seas have faced and is a step towards establishing sustainable use of our seas.