Marine Conservation Zones

Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) are a type of Marine Protected Area in England. They protect areas that are important to conserving the diversity of nationally rare or threatened habitats and/or species and those places containing habitats and/or species that are representative of the biodiversity in our seas.

Defra designated 27 new Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) in English inshore and offshore waters on 21 November 2013 with another 23 sites in the second phase being announced on 17 January 2016. 41 sites and 12 additional features were designated on 31 May 2019. This is a significant step towards creating a network of marine protected areas and an achievement for the conservation of important marine species and habitats.

For more information:-


UK Government

Natural England

Cumbria Coast Marine Conservation Zone

Cumbria Coast MCZ is an inshore site that stretches for approximately 27 km along the coast of Cumbria. It extends from south of Whitehaven, around the cliffs at St Bees Head, to the mouth of the Ravenglass Estuary. The total area of the site is approximately 22 km2. The surrounding area is particularly important for seabirds with an estimated 10,000 breeding seabirds thought to be present. The MCZ partially overlaps with a Site of Special Scientific Interest which protects seabird nesting areas.

St Bees Head supports the best, most extensive and important examples of intertidal rocky shore habitats and communities on the predominantly sedimentary coast of north-west England. The extensive intertidal boulder and cobble reefs, or ‘scars’, within the site support good examples of nationally important honeycomb worm reefs. Where these scars extend to and below the low water mark, particularly at Barn Scar and Kokoarrah Rocks, they support rich marine wildlife including some of the best examples of under-boulder communities on the coast of north-west England. The originally designated site was 18km2, however was extended in 2019 to include a wider area for the newly added feature of Razorbill (Alca Torda). For all other features the original boundaries from 2013 continue to apply.

Fleswick Bay by Andrew Bowden https:///photos/bods/albums/72157624620983470

Allonby Bay Marine Conservation Zone

Allonby Bay MCZ is an inshore site on the English side of the Solway Firth. It stretches around 9 km from Dubmill Point in the north to just north of Maryport in the south. The site covers about 40km2.

This stretch of coast protects a diverse range of marine habitats and the species they support. In particular, there are large areas of important living reefs, formed by the honeycomb worm and blue mussel beds. The honeycomb worm reefs here are extensive. These reefs are formed from the closely-packed sand tubes constructed by honeycomb worms. The reef structures look like honeycomb and can be tens of metres wide and up to a metre tall. The local conditions of this site make it an ideal place for these worms, which need rock to build on as well as sand to construct the tubes that form the reef. The reefs, in turn, provide a habitat for a wide range of shore-dwelling species including anemones, snails, crabs and seaweeds.

Honeycomb Worm

The sandy beaches (intertidal sand and muddy sand) host a range of species, such as shrimp-like sandhoppers, cockles, sea snails and worms buried beneath the surface. The peat exposures which are also a feature of this site provide a habitat which piddocks, a type of burrowing clam, and other species can tunnel into.

Solway Firth Marine Conservation Zone

A new MCZ within the Solway Firth was designated in May 2019. This zone covers the inner English side of the Solway and has an area of 45km². It has been designated specifically for the protection of European smelt (Osmerus eperlanus).

Known as ‘sparling’ on the Scottish side of the Solway, smelt are an important species of fish which were once in abundance around the UK and within this area of the Solway. Declines have been seen in smelt, however, leading to protection efforts to try and help the recovery of these stocks.
Distinctive for its smell of cucumber smelt are historically and culturally significant, with fishermen in this area of the Solway remembering the smell of catching them in years gone by or locals remembering eating them as a tasty treat.

A document, written by the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, outlines the reasons why this area has been designated as a MCZ. This document is available here.

For more information:-

Marine Management Organisation (For Licensing Activities)

North West Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (Fisheries)