Protecting our oceans – why Marine Conservation Zones matter to the Trust

The Government is currently consulting on proposals to designate a further 41 Marine Conservation Zones around the UK. Our Marine Project Manager, Sue Wells, tells us why supporting this proposed third tranche of MCZs is important to the National Trust.

Lots of people think that the National Trust saves old houses, organises Easter egg hunts, looks after great places for outdoor activities and runs some of the best cafes in the country. And that’s fine – we do do all that. But did you know that we also own over 780 miles of the UK’s coastline? Which is why we’re again supporting the effort to complete the protection of the seas around our coast through Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs).

What’s the Trust’s role in protecting our shores?

That 780 miles of cliff, sandy shore, salt marsh and intertidal mudflats includes 240 properties and makes us the UK’s largest landowner on the coast. Many National Trust properties, such as Scolt Head, Brancaster, Marloes, the Farnes and Cemlyn Bay are home to nationally and internationally important seabird and seal colonies that rely on adjacent waters as foraging areas for fish.

Grey seal at Blakeney Point, Norfolk ©National Trust Images/Ian Ward

The Trust owns or leases over 8000 hectares of seabed. Much of this is intertidal habitat, which the RSPB has estimated has declined by about 15 per cent since 1945. About half of the seabed in the Trust’s care is in Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland; whilst on the other side of the UK, on the North Norfolk coast, we look after over 1000 hectares of intertidal salt marsh and mud flat.

But where we’re not directly responsible for the seabed, we still need to play our part – supporting those who care for the sea adjacent to our properties so that our visitors can enjoy it; and ensuring that activities on our land do not damage marine wildlife and habitats.

We also play our part in ocean protection by using only sustainably caught seafood in our cafes and food outlets, and our rangers and volunteers undertake regular beach cleans. We’re helping to tackle pollution from nutrients and soil run-off by encouraging farmers to consider the impacts of agriculture on water along its path from source to sea, and this year have made major efforts to reduce our waste, particularly single use plastics.

So what do we think about the current consultation on Marine Conservation Zones?

Our interests in marine conservation are thus manifold. In total, almost 190 of our properties are next to or overlap with places designated as marine protected areas, and almost all the seabed that we own is within a protected area. The consultation on England’s final tranche of MCZs ends on 20th July.  Designation of the proposed 41 new sites, and the addition of some species and habitats to existing MCZs, will greatly improve the coverage of the UK’s proposed ecological network of marine protected areas. Thirteen of the proposed new MCZs lie adjacent to or very close to Trust land, including the examples below.

The proposed Purbeck Coast MCZ would stretch along the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, from Ringstead to Swanage, adjacent to three Trust properties.  It would protect a range of species and habitats, including nesting sites for Black Bream, a popular fish with anglers. The proposed Studland MCZ would lie next to this, and protect seagrass beds and seahorses; the Trust has helped to identify future management approaches for this site through a workshop on environmentally friendly moorings that we organised last year.

Aerial view of Old Harry Rocks, Studland Bay Isle, of Purbeck, Dorset. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

The proposed Beachy Head East MCZ covers the waters to the west of Eastbourne and will complement the existing Beachy Head West MCZ, the management of which is actively supported by the Trust’s Birling Gap property.  The new MCZ was planned in collaboration with fishermen who use the area; it contains not only rich underwater reef like communities, but also important nursery areas for plaice, herring and Dover sole.  Newtown Harbour on the Isle of Wight, already protected as a National Nature Reserve for its bird populations, would be included in the proposed Yarmouth to Cowes MCZ, which will ensure protection of intertidal and subtidal communities.

In the north, the proposal for the Berwick to St Mary’s MCZ, which would cover 634 sq km, is designed for protection of the eider duck.  This would bring together existing marine protected areas along the Northumberland coast and around the Farne Islands, sites with which the Trust is already actively engaged in management, through the work of its rangers and volunteers.

Puffin with a fresh catch on the Farne Islands, Northumberland. ©National Trust Images/Ian Ward

So, what’s next?

The Trust will be submitting a response to Defra in support of designating all 41 sites, and the addition of the proposed species and habitats to existing MCZs. We’ll share our consultation response with you on this blog.

In addition, we support the Wildlife Trusts’ current campaign to give people the chance to have their say and support these new MCZ’s. You can join a giant Wave of Support for Marine Conservation Zones by signing Wildlife Trusts’ petition here: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/news/new-campaign-protect-wildlife-sea

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