On 27 January 2015, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (“DEFRA”) opened its public consultation entitled ‘Consultation on Sites Proposed for Designation in the Second Tranche of Marine Conservation Zones’[1]. The consultation will run until 24 April 2015 with the outcome expected to be published in January 2016. 

This consultation principally concerns the second of three tranches of Marine Conservation Zones (“MCZs”) which DEFRA intends to designate. This follows the designation of a first tranche of 27 MCZs in November 2013. In the second tranche DEFRA proposes to designate 23 MCZs covering an area of just over 10,800km2. The consultation also concerns new features for conservation in ten of the first tranche MCZs. 

Aiming to plug ecological gaps, this second tranche will build on the existing network of Marine Protected Areas (“MPAs”) in the North East Atlantic. This is in line with the Government’s obligations under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 as well as commitments given under numerous international agreements. MPAs include both MCZs and other types of marine designation such as European sites. These proposed designations will build on the existing network of MPAs covering 16% of UK waters. 

Some of the key points to note from the ongoing consultation include:

  • Opportunity to submit evidence – stakeholders who wish to respond to the consultation are invited to submit evidence, including environmental and socio-economic data. The legislation under which MCZs are designated permits account to be taken of economic and social implications when deciding where to designate MCZs.
  • More than one type of designation – some sites may be protected as an MCZ as well as under other types of designation (it is Government’s stated intention, however, that such designations would complement each other as opposed to duplicate any measures).
  • Site management measures – once designated, regulators will consider any management measures which need to be put in place to achieve the objectives of the designation. Just because an MCZ is designated does not automatically mean that economic and recreational activities in that site will be restricted.
  • Consenting risk – a process for assessing impacts on MCZs forms part of the marine licensing process. This process requires developers to demonstrate that there is no significant risk of their proposals hindering the achievement of the conservation objectives stated for the MCZ or else meet certain tests. These tests include considering alternatives, demonstrating public benefit and providing compensatory measures.
  • Sites not considered – 14 candidate sites were not considered for designation at this time including sites in offshore waters adjacent to Wales. In relation to Welsh sites, this is due to the recommendations of the Silk Commission, which the UK has not yet responded to, which suggest that offshore waters adjacent to Wales should be the responsibility of the Welsh government. Some of these 14 sites will be reconsidered for the third tranche.