Marine protected areas
Marine protected areas

The following Environment practice note provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Marine protected areas
  • MPAs
  • SACs
  • SPAs
  • MCZs
  • SSSIs
  • Ramsar

The marine protected areas network in England and Wales provides designated protection for the marine environment and stems from various legislative sources. They include:

  1. Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)—as designated under the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR Convention)

  2. Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) with marine components—as designated by the legislation implementing the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC (Habitats Directive)

  3. Special Protection Areas (SPAs) with marine components—as designated by the legislation implementing the Birds Directive 2009/147/EC (Birds Directive)

  4. Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs)—as designated under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 (MCAA 2009)

  5. Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) with marine components—as designated under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (WCA 1981)

  6. Ramsar sites—as designated under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar Convention)

The Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), a statutory adviser to the UK government and devolved administrations, provides an interactive map, which shows all the marine protected areas in UK waters, where users can use a filter function to search by protected features.

Many key sites will benefit from designations under more than one of the legislative frameworks outlined.


Within the OSPAR Convention, MPAs are areas for which protective, conservation, restorative or precautionary measures exist for the purpose of protecting and conserving species, habitats, ecosystems or ecological processes of the marine environment.

For more on the OSPAR Convention generally, see Practice

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