MCZ’s Quick Guide

Note: see also the MCZ’s Current Status page which gives the current position.

A Skippers guide to MCZs:

What is an MCZ?

A Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) is one of a chain of areas designed to provide a ‘safe zone’ for marine wildlife. MCZ’s are established under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, and key points are

A Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) may be designated (in England, by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and by the equivalent Minister in other UK countries) for the purpose of conserving—

(a) marine flora or fauna;

(b) marine habitats or types of marine habitat;

(c) features of geological or geomorphological interest

– and the designation order must state the protected feature or features and the conservation objectives for the MCZ.

To date, the conservation objectives have been that the site remains in, or is brought to, “Favourable Condition”. A definition of Favourable Condition is given in the Appendix at the foot of this page.

The text mentions conserving species that are rare or threatened, and also conserving the diversity of such flora, fauna or habitats, whether or not any or all of them are rare or threatened.

The Act also speaks of the creation of network of conservation sites which together represent the range of features present in the UK marine area. The network can include MCZ’s and other Marine Protected Areas (SAC’s, SPA’s, SSSI’s and Ramsar sites).

The Act contains the significant provision that that “In considering whether it is desirable to designate an area as an MCZ, the appropriate authority may have regard to any economic or social consequences of doing so”. The text of the relevant section of the Act may be found here.

At the moment there are 99 Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) with marine components (83 inshore, 16 >12 miles offshore), 102 Special Protection Areas (SPAs, these protect birds) with marine components,50 Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs), 30 Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas (NCMPAs) and one Marine Nature Reserve. Together these protect 16% of our waters. Many of these areas are offshore, so do not affect leisure boating, but those proposed inshore may profoundly affect some of our favourite anchorages. The South Coast however already has a very high density of MPA’s: 87% of the Dorset coastline, and 65% of the coastline between Chichester Harbour and Lands End are Marine Protected Areas: see the interactive maps at http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-5201 .

How do they affect navigation and anchoring?

Unlike some of our European Neighbours, UK has a constitutional right of free navigation in coastal waters for UK vessels, except on grounds of Safety or National Security. An example is the mobile exclusion zone ahead of ships transiting the Solent to and from Southampton. At present exclusion zones can only be authorised by a Harbour or Lighthouse Authority in the area for which it is responsible, or in open water by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), the government body responsible for our coastal waters. There are no plans for navigational exclusion zones under current UK MPA plans. The situation varies in other European waters according to local laws.

Anchoring in UK is generally regarded as a part of this right of free navigation, and at present this the view taken by the MMO. However the legislation (which goes back centuries) does not give a specific right to anchor, so this is in some places being challenged. The MMO’s Head of Enforcement clarified earlier this year “anchoring is a normal and legal practice”. Some conservationists are arguing that it is illegal to anchor in a seahorse habitat. It would have to be proved under Sched 4 of the Wildlife Act that the anchor was dropped with the specific intent of harming or destroying protected wildlife or its habitat. Crazy? But this is precisely what the Seahorse Trust are trying to do in Studland.

Basically, MCZs call for the removal as far as possible of the effects of human activity from the designated zone. This generally includes any activity which involves irreversible disturbance or damage of the seabed, which could include trawling, dredging, anchoring and moorings, and movement of vehicles and trailers or boats across the foreshore below the HW mark. It remains to be proved that anchoring does in fact cause irreversible disturbance or damage, and BORG has a growing body of evidence that it does not.

Are more MCZs likely?

Yes. Defra, who are responsible for implementing the MCZ programme originally considering a total of 127 possible sites. They are working in stages, or ‘Tranches’. In Tranche 1, 31 sites went forward to public consultation, and 27 were designated and are now in place as MCZ’s. Two Tranche 1 sites were dropped from the process, and two held back for further consideration.Tranche 2 identified 23 further sites which have gone out to consultation, and decisions on designation are expected in early 2016, and we await to hear which Tranche 3 sites are to go to consultation in 2016. It is not known yet which or how many of the remaining proposed MCZ sites will be included in T3, or what will happen about controversial sites like Studland if they are dropped from T3 .

For updates, go to our MCZ’s Current Status page, link above and here.

What happens once an MCZ has been designated?

When Defra asked Natural England for suitable areas for MCZ status, they did not ask how the conservation objectives might be achieved in any specific area. This has caused a lot of problems, as we are being asked to agree to areas without any idea of what controls might be put in place. Many of us ( not just BORG ) objected strongly particularly where there was likelihood that controls would affect our activities. Even now, Defra to not preclude the possibility of restricting or even banning anchoring in sensitive locations like Studland. As a result areas which have been designated in the first and second round still have no clear Management Protocols in place as Defra, Natural England, the Wildlife Trusts, MMO, and local interests try to thrash out a workable protocol. With the announcement this autumn of further heavy funding cuts for Defra, MMO and NE, there has been a noticeable shift towards basing the whole thing on voluntary agreements with the various local stakeholders. Each area has to be considered on its own merits. The level of controversy that has raged over Studland makes it very unlikely that any such agreement could be reached! BORG assisted by RYA and supported by the Wildlife Trusts has already agreed a set of anchoring protocols for boaters in Studland. We hope this will form the basis of any future proposals while avoiding restrictive legislation.

I have a mooring in an MCZ area, will I still be able to use it?

If your mooring is under the control of a Harbour or Local Authority, then they will notify you of any changes. Private moorings in uncontrolled waters will eventually have to be registered with MMO, but they say they have ‘more important things to do’ at present! See ‘Private Moorings’ on the BORG website.

What are EFM’s?

EFMs are Eco-Friendly mooring systems that have been developed in Australia and America designed to minimise damage and disturbance of the seabed. Conventional chain and sinker moorings can sweep quite a large arc of a seabed clear of any marine growth, disrupting both vegetation and habitats. EFM’s are particularly useful where fragile marine growths such as seagrass beds provide important support and habitats for marine life. (The main UK species of seagrass, Zostera marina or eelgrass, has been shown to be a tough and durable growth, which recovers rapidly from damage. See the sidebar menu for links to our papers on this subject.)

An EFM is basically is a mooring system which is designed to keep the riser chains or ropes clear of the seabed and seagrass at all times, and to keep them suspended in the water column. They may be secured to conventional mooring clumps, but more usually they are attached to a helical screw device which screws down into the seabed. Most designs depend on some sort of elastic or spring rode to compensate for tidal rise, and to provide the shock load absorption.

So what’s the problem with EFM’s?

1. Tidal range and flow. Tests in UK have shown them to struggle with our big tidal ranges and currents.

2. EFMs need to be matched to the size of boat using them. A conventional chain and sinker can accommodate any size of boat up to its safe working load. An EFM only works safely within a fairly narrow band of boat size and weight. A small boat on a big EFM will not load the spring or elastic correctly, and vice versa.

3.UK Marine Insurers are at present largely unwilling to accept the risk. Using an EFM may invalidate your insurance. Once they have been tested and proved for use in UK waters, this situation may change but at present they are generally not regarded as an acceptable risk for Uk waters.

4 There is a strong call by conservationists to use them in Studland as a ‘solution’ (to a problem that does not exist!) . Our research shows that generally the Bay is too shallow. They need a minimum depth of water to work. Close inshore, which is where people want to be for shelter and safety, it is too shallow for any existing design to work.

5 They have to be matched to the environment they are used in. In one case it was found that the wrong type of EFM had actually caused MORE damage than the conventional sinker and chain moorings they replaced!

6. They can be costly to buy, install and maintain. Some types. are more expensive than others, but where a helical screw fixing is used, this usually requires the use of a barge equipped with a hydraulic rig costing between £8 and £10k. They require frequent inspection and maintenance particularly of the moving parts that can rapidly become clogged with marine growth and crustacea causing wear and malfunctions. There are questions over reliability, and BORG has unconfirmed reports of up to 70% failure rate in some types on America’s West Coast

What about the RYA?

The RYA has been deeply involved in the whole MCZ process right from the drafting stage of the legislation, and has a key influence on shaping of the legislation before it ever came on to the statute book. Throughout the process they have continued to take a key role as the project developed in ensuring that the interests of the leisure boating community have been protected. The RYA has a wide range of interests and responsibilities right across the boating spectrum, so that finding reports on the MCZ process can be quite difficult amongst all their other topics. However their website does carry a great deal of information: the Royal Yachting Association link, here and on the sidebar, will take you to their MCZ page. The RYA magazine also carries regular updates. We have found in BORG when nothing is happening while we wait for Defra’s decisions, and while protracted discussion and negotiations are taking place, there is often not a lot that can be reported interim. We have found the RYA rather reluctant to wave their own flag, even when they have won significant victories – and have told them so!

The RYA has been fully supportive of the BORG campaign right from day one, and have worked closely with us on a wide range of issues. We have been allowed direct access to key members of RYA, who have welcomed our input and views as much as we have valued theirs. One of BORGs more significant results was the production of the Studland Anchoring leaflet in collaboration with MMO, which would have been impossible without RYA’s support.

What can I do?

Make sure your sailing Club is aware of proposals in your area. Find out where your local MP stands on these issues, and involve him/her.

Watch for Defra calling for a ‘Public Consultation’, take part, using the BORG website resources to inform yourself.
Revised to Nov 2015. JR

Appendix: Definition of “Favourable Condition”:

From Poole Rocks designation order 2013

Conservation objective

5.—(1) The conservation objective of the Zone is that its protected features—

(a) so far as already in favourable condition, remain in such condition; and

(b) so far as not already in favourable condition, be brought into such condition, and remain in such condition.

(2) In paragraph (1), ―favourable condition‖—

(a) with respect to a broadscale marine habitat within the Zone, means that—

(i) its extent is stable or increasing; and

(ii) its structures and functions, its quality, and the composition of its characteristic biological communities are such as to ensure that it remains in a condition which is healthy and not deteriorating;

(b) with respect to a species of marine fauna within the Zone, means that the quality and quantity of its habitat and the composition of its population in terms of number, age and sex ratio are such as to ensure that the population is maintained in numbers which enable it to thrive.

(3) In paragraph (2)(a)(ii), the reference to the composition of the characteristic biological communities of a habitat includes a reference to the diversity and abundance of species forming part of or inhabiting that habitat.

(4) For the purposes of paragraph (2)(a)(ii), any temporary deterioration in condition is to be disregarded if the habitat is sufficiently healthy and resilient to enable its recovery.

(5) For the purposes of paragraph (2)(b), any temporary reduction of numbers is to be disregarded if the population is sufficiently thriving and resilient to enable its recovery.

(6) For the purpose of determining whether a protected feature is in favourable condition within the meaning of paragraph (2), any alteration to that feature brought about entirely by natural processes is to be disregarded