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Farlington Marshes
Farlington Marshes © Environment Agency

Marine Protected Areas (MPA)

The UK Government aims to develop an ecologically coherent and well-managed network of Marine Protected Areas. This network is made up of European Marine Sites, SSSIs, Ramsar sites and Marine Conservation Zones (MCZ).  

The location of designated sites can be found on the MAGIC map application; view our map of designated sites in the Solent. Greater site detail including site condition can be found on Natural England's Designated Sites System.

Watch a JNCC video that explores the Marine Protected Area cycle from concept to protection.

SACs and SPAs

European marine sites (EMSs) are those designated either as special areas of conservation (SACs) under the Habitats Directive or special protection areas (SPAs) under the Wild Birds Directive. In the UK, the term EMS includes:

Following the UK’s exit from the EU, the legislation transposing the EU Habitats Directive and the Wild Birds Directive was changed by the Conservation of Habitats and Species (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.

Highly Protected Marine Areas

Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) are areas of the sea (including the shoreline) that allow the protection and full recovery of marine ecosystems. They will protect all species and habitats and associated ecosystem processes within the site boundary, including the seabed and water column. The first three Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) designations in English waters came into force on 5 July 2023.

Marine Conservation Zones

The Marine and Coastal Access Act (MCAA) 2009 allows for the creation of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs). MCZs protect a range of nationally important marine wildlife, habitats, geology and geomorphology, and can be designated anywhere in English and Welsh territorial and UK offshore waters. The MPA Interactive Mapper shows the location of all MCZs.

Each MCZ is established by a legal order made by Defra under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 (MCAA). Each order designates an area as an MCZ and defines that area, lists the features being protected within that area and specifies the conservation objective or objectives of the MCZ. Generally, each MCZ has one conservation objective. The objective applies to all of the features being protected and is that each of the features being protected be in favourable condition. To achieve this objective, the general management approach required for a feature in an MCZ will either be for it to be maintained in favourable condition (if it is currently in this state), or for it to be recovered to favourable condition (if it is currently in a damaged state) and then to be maintained in favourable condition. Site-specific conservation advice is published by Natural England after designation.

In 2020, the SEMS Management Scheme started to include MCZs in the Solent in its Annual Survey. We ask if there is any ongoing monitoring within the MCZ and whether non-licensable activities are though to be having a detrimental impact.

Management measures required within Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) are decided on a site-by-site basis, and will depend on what the site has been designated for. Public authorities have responsibility for identifying and enforcing the most effective form of management of the MCZ in relation to the activities they are responsible for, drawing on the advice and guidance provided by Natural England. See: Duties of Public Authorities in relation to MPAs.

MCZs in the Solent designated in the Solent are:

International MPAs

Ramsar sites are wetlands of international importance designated under the 1979 Ramsar Convention.


Sites of Special Scientific Intrerest (SSSIs) are wildlife and geological sites legally protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981; Natural England are the relevant authority for protection and enforcement of these sites.