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Legislation and Duties in MPAs

Competent and Relevant Authorities

Regulation 9 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (‘the Habitats Regulations’) sets out duties for relevant public authorities to exercise their nature conservation functions in compliance with, or with regard to, the requirements of the Habitats Directive and the Wild Birds Directives. It provides a broad summary of the key obligations under the European Union (EU) Nature Directives: EU Wild Birds Directive 2009/147/EC and the EU Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC. Under the Environment Act, 2021 public authorities in England have a duty to have regard to conserving biodiversity as part of policy or decision making. 

The Habitats Regulations refer to two different types of statutory organisations who have certain responsibilities within Marine Protected Areas. They are known as competent and relevant authorities. The term competent authorities includes any statutory body or public office exercising legislative powers, whether on land or sea. Relevant authorities are those competent authorities which have powers or functions which have, or could have, an impact on the marine area within or adjacent to a European marine site. 

Defra have produced guidance for competent authorities on their duty to protect, conserve and restore European sites. They have a duty when they:

They have a duty to consider how they can help to:

Natural England have produced a marine recreation toolkit that summaries the roles and responsibilities of authorities with regard to managing recreational activities.

Natural England Summary table of roles and responsibilities of key authorities in relation to MPA management


Roles and responsibilities regarding MPA management


  • Provide overall MPA management policy framework

Natural England

  • Statutory conservation advisor to Government for inshore areas (0-12nm)

  • Development of advice on conservation objectives and operations/activities (EMS and MCZs)

  • Public access (coastal paths)

  • Management of SSSIs


  • Statutory conservation advisor to Government and Devolved Administrations for offshore areas (12-200nm)

  • Development of advice on conservation objectives and operations/activities (offshore EMS and MCZs)


  • The MMO can make byelaws to further the conservation objectives of any EMS in English waters within 12 nautical miles (nm) of the coast. MMO byelaws will normally be used to manage fisheries in EMSs from 6 to 12nm and other non-marine licensable activities from 0 to 12nm.

  • The MMO must ensure that the requirements of the Habitats Regulations are met by marine licences and harbour orders. To meet the requirements it may need to perform a Habitats Regulations assessment (HRA) to assess the effects plans or projects requiring a marine licence or harbour order will have on certain protected sites. The plan or project can only be given permission if an adverse effect on those species and habitats can be ruled out.
  • The MMO is responsible for enforcing a range of measures relevant to EMSs, including MMO byelaws, fishing licence conditions, and Common Fisheries Policy regulations. Enforcement of MCZs is coordinated through MMO's risk-based enforcement model.

Local Authorities

  • Management of (non-permissible) development (down to Low Water Mark)

  • Management of recreational activities (within area of jurisdiction)

  • Planning authority (interface between marine and terrestrial)

  • Beach management and maintenance

Harbour Authorities

  • Can manage access restrictions, speeds and general activities within the Harbour Authorities area of jurisdiction


  • Powers to make byelaws to control fishing activities to protect MPAs, including recreational fishing activities such as sea angling and bait digging.

National Parks

  • Promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of National Parks.


Source: Natural England Managing Marine Recreational Activities toolkit