Marine Conservation Zones: supporting the fight to protect our seas

Marine ecologist, presenter and patron of Sea-Changers and Marine Life, Maya Plass, tells us why we should fight to protect our seas and support Marine Conservation Zones.

When I think about our seas I have a tidal wave of lovely memories that wash over me. I have spent so many happy days on the coast. Like so many of us the early memories started when I dipped my toes in the rockpools of the Kentish coast with my family. This then progressed to a full-time life on the north-west coast where I regularly explored the shorelines of Hilbre Island and stood in awe of the seals who would pop their heads up to seemingly investigate me.

I went on to study marine biology where I learned so many incredible stories of unbelievable life cycles and adaptations of creatures which are so often over looked, like the limpet. These incredible creatures are stuck on the rocks and may, to the unknowing eye, seem a little boring. They do get bored into by Dog Whelks but they are far from boring themselves.


UK seas are diverse and beautiful. Credit Maya Plass.

UK seas are diverse and beautiful.

They were in the news recently for having the strongest biological material ever tested. Their “teeth” on their “tongue” are stronger than spider webs! Limpets are the Geoff Capes (showing my age) of the seashore! They heroically fight starfish using the edge of their shell to defend themselves. They are able to graze their local rocky patch to feed on algae and always return to the very same spot on a rock. On this spot, they leave a scar where over tides and time they have worn a groove which they snugly sit in on the low tides. Here they patiently wait for the tide to return in their own small pool of cool water in their shell, clinging on so tightly that even the most ferocious of waves are unable to knock them from their place.

Continue reading

Protecting the seas around our coastline

There is a Government consultation currently running (until the 24 April) about the next round of Marine Conservation Zones in England.  National Trust Area Ranger at Formby and marine biologist, Kate Martin, talks about why we need to protect the seas around our coastline.

The sea has always held a deep fascination for me, it is a seemingly mystical place that feels like a faraway world but it is just at your fingertips, or more usually the end of your toes.

As someone who works in coastal conservation and who studied as a Marine Biologist the marine environment plays a significant role in my day to day life.

This fascination has grown through my life as I have come to see the wonderful world that lives under the waves, a world of strange creatures, beautiful colours and fragile habitats. However, it continues to amaze me how the future of the seas around our shores barely register on most people’s radar at a time when they face such huge pressures.

People in the UK worry about the plight of the Amazonian rainforest or the melting of the polar ice caps, all very worrying things I agree, but they seem to be unaware that there are important and fragile habitats being destroyed right on their very doorstep.
So why isn’t everyone up in arms? Well it’s mostly because these things are hidden from our view, below the waves, out of sight and out of mind.

That is why Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) are so very important not only to protect these delicate habitats and the life that inhabits them but also to bring these things to the public’s attention.

Most of us land dwellers may feel out of touch with the marine environment and feel that it does not have a direct impact on our lives but this just is not true.

For anyone that eats fish some of these MCZs contain habitats such as rocky reefs and eel grass beds that are nursery areas for some of the fish that we love to eat. If we lose these habitats these nurseries will be lost and ultimately there will be no wild fish big enough for us to eat from around our shores. And if we have to import fish from far afield this will increase carbon emissions and have a major impact on a suffering UK fishing industry.

Millions of us love going to the coast every year whether it’s the stunning Blakeney Point in Norfolk, the magical Farne Islands or Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel. These places are home to a wondeful diversity of seals and seabirds, which rich sealife that surround these stunning islands to feed themselves and their young. If these areas aren’t protected from destructive fishing practices and other commercial activities, then the seabirds and seals will either have to go elsewhere to breed or more worryingly, and unfortunately more likely, they will simply start to die out.

In recent times the importance of linked habitats and wildlife communities has really become apparent in the world of land based conservation and land management and this is no different in the marine world.

There is a special connection between where the sea meets the land. Think of rock pools and the sea creatures that call these watery places home. Any loss of wildlife in the seas around our shoreline will have a massive impact on the richness and beauty of our coastline.

Initially 127 MCZs were proposed in 2011 and these would have created not only a set of separate individual protected areas of national importance for marine wildlife, habitats, geology and geomorphology but would also help to protect areas that would link these habitats.

However only 27 MCZs were designated in the first phase in 2013 and only a further 23 are being considered in the 2015 phase, this is less than half the number initially proposed and it is nowhere near enough to protect some of our most fragile habitats and wildlife and also to create these essential habitat links.

Indeed one of the MCZs that has been missed off both the 2013 and 2015 phase is the Sefton Coast MCZ which would have been right on the doorstep of National Trust Formby where I work.

This is an area of rare exposed peat and clay beds that are home to burrowing clams, mussel beds and other important seabed dwelling animals, it is also an area that is in very near vicinity of the country’s largest western sea port which is due to grow even bigger in the next few years resulting in an increased amount and size of sea traffic.

However it has been deemed that there isn’t enough evidence at the moment to support this area’s designation as an MCZ, strange as I see evidence of why it should be protected sailing past every day.

The Government must do more to protect our fragile seas and we the people must demand that they do so.

Marine outlook: misty start, brighter later…

Richard Harrington from the Marine Conservation Society looks at the future for the 23 sites featuring in the public consultation to become Marine Conservation Zones:

The good old British weather keeps seesawing between fog and gloom, and cheery bright sun right now. The future for underwater sites in English seas hangs on the views of the public at this point in time, and it really is a choice between the gloom of no protection, or treading an altogether brighter, optimistic path.

A consultation on 23 sites up for protection in English seas as Marine Conservation Zones (or MCZs) started a fortnight ago. Our thoughts at the start were of disappointment. We weren’t happy, and still aren’t, that fourteen of the thirty seven sites being looked at this year for protection were put on a high shelf by Government without being consulted on.

It’s time to look past that now, though, and make sure that the sites still in the reckoning get the attention and care they deserve. And there really are a lot of good things to save.

Bib Shoal

Caves and arches at Cromer Shoals. Credit Rob Spray.


One of the very best sites, and surely a straightforward shoe-in to the protected list, should be the Cromer Shoals reef. Not far off Norfolk’s shore, it’s a bed of soft chalk in waters shallow enough for sunlight to get through. Seaweeds grow amongst a turf of animal life on its surfaces, and sheltered crevices fill up with edible crabs, lobsters and prawns. If you’re into marine life study or appreciate colour and form underwater, you’d love to see this place – and Seasearch diver Rob Spray has documented much of this in the photography used in this post.

Bib Shoal

Edible crab, Cancer pagurus, at Cromer Shoals. Credit Rob Spray

The site is used by people, and has been for many years. It is fished with pots set for catching “Cromer” crab and lobster. Defra foresee that this low impact fishing will continue unaffected by a new MCZ status for the area – and here’s the nub of it: for the vast majority of sites, whether here at Cromer, North to the Farnes, or South and West to The Needles and Land’s End, these places will not be “no take zones”, excluding people left, right and centre. Instead, they’ll be carefully considered multi-use sites, where only the most damaging activities that seriously affect the seabed will be restricted.

But they will be useful. Where damage wreaked by boats towing heavy trawling gear is a problem, MCZ status should halt this type of activity and help ensure those sites will recover. Where species and habitats of importance are being harmed, these problems can be addressed specifically by new management within the MCZs.

A lot of support for MCZs came through the Channel 4 / Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall Fish Fight series a year or two back. But, going forward, it isn’t a fight, and shouldn’t be turned into one. There’ll be no battle lines drawn, or fences put up. Measures that are taken will only work with cooperation of those who use the sea, and who should be seen as part of the solution in looking after them. Everyone should get behind the proposals, and the time really is now to make your voice heard in their support.

You can have your say on specific sites at the very detailed Defra consultation page – or, like most people, if you just want to make it clear that you support designation for all the sites, click and send via

Thank you.

New wave of proposed Marine Conservation Zones don’t go far enough

The Government has launched a three month consultation on the next tranche of Marine Conservation Zones around the coast of England. Below is a joint response to the announcement from the National Trust and the Marine Conservation Society.

  • Second round of Marine Conservation Zone designation will leave English waters woefully under protected
  • Conservation charities say promised network of protection is not even close as vital sites don’t even get to public consultation
View south towards the Landing Bay in early morning light on Lundy Island, in the Bristol Channel, Devon

The waters around Lundy Island became England’s first marine conservation zone in 2010. Image credit National Trust/Joe Cornish.


The UK’s leading marine charity says it is hugely disappointed that, in the same week the Government has been warned how England’s declining natural environment is harming the economy, it has failed to deliver on promises to better protect English seas.

37 sites had been proposed to go forward to a second public consultation on Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs), all identified by Government’s scientific advisers as vital to plugging “major gaps” that currently exist in the development of a UK network.

However, only 23 sites have made the final list when the consultation for potential new MCZs was launched on Friday 30th January. While MCS is keen that members of the public air their views to ensure that these sites become a reality, the charity has real concerns that English seas will not contribute a network of sites that we can be proud of in future.

Continue reading

What the coast means to me

From the age of 6 I spent every holiday possible down on the South Coast of Devon. These trips were such a regular occurrence that Devon now feels like home! The coast was an important part of my childhood. Going to the beach was always at the top of our long list of ideas of things to do while we were away.

A morning ritual before a seaside trip was selecting a beach towel from my grandparents’ airing cupboard, the most crucial item, along with a swimming costume, which we all put on under our clothes in preparation for the day’s watery adventures. The car was full to burst with picnic blankets, a selection of sandwiches and all the cousins. We were ready for the road by mid-morning, however not always as early as my Grandad would have liked!

Blackpool sands

The sea was our playground. The waves rolling in and foaming on the sand seemed to be the most thrilling element. We ran away from the waves, shrieking at the top of our lungs. We fell in a heap on the sand in our hurry to be the furthest away from the fast approaching water.

In an attempt to take a dip, I would edge myself into the water, with the sand between my toes. The ice cold water lapped at my ankles. My brother and cousin whizzed past me, flailing their legs and arms, splashing tiny beads of water, making me catch my breath.

Once in the water I looked down at the dark shadows, holding my feet high for fear of sharks (or so we told ourselves!) taking a nibble on my toes. We called to the shore to our grandparents to take a dip with us. You’re never too old to be a dare-devil!

As we got older the challenges became greater. We rushed into the sea, racing each other to fully submerge our bodies. This swift assault made the cold water seem more bearable.

My uncle, brother and I set the challenge of swimming out to the platform. Our strong hard strokes did not seem to make our goal any closer. We pulled ourselves on to the platform to catch our breath and take in the view of the shore. The rest of the family looked like tiny dots in the distance. All the hard work was rewarded on the beach with a hot chocolate while wrapped in a big beach towel.

The sand found its way into every nook and cranny, wrapped in the towels and between our toes. On our return home the sand was trailed up the stairs and into the bathroom where the last few remaining grains which had survived the journey were hosed off in the shower.

After a long but enjoyable day at the beach, resting my tired eyes, I could feel the stray pieces of sand in my duvet and could smell the sea salt on my skin. I got some rest, before the calls of the seagulls would wake me up bright and early ready to start again.

Wandering the White Cliffs of Dover

Richard Taylor Jones, a wildlife cameraman, who filmed a wild winter walk for Winterwatch, reflects on one of his favourite places from the White Cliffs of Dover to Pegwell Bay.

It’s very easy to want to simply stay indoors during the winter months, to keep the cold as far as away as possible. But if you do, I think you’re missing out. When it comes to the wild there is plenty to enjoy even in the depths of winter. The stretch of coast running from the White Cliffs of Dover to Pegwell Bay is certainly one of my favourite places to spend some time.

A walk starting above the White Cliffs National Trust visitor centre will see some very friendly characters greeting you, Exmoor Ponies, the resident on-site conservation workers. This semi-wild herd does the important job of grazing the chalk grassland and keeping it in good nick for the flowering plants that burst out in spring and summer.

They’re not scared to come and give you a good sniff, in the hope of a treat or two. They’ll be close enough to snap some pictures with your mobile phone, but you’re best off not feeding them and letting them get on the with the job of chewing the grass. A hungry pony who thinks you have food may just decide to chew you, in a friendly manner of course, but you won’t appreciate it.


Further along the cliffs in Fan Bay, dark green bushes with bright lemon yellow clumps can be seen spread across the landscape. This is gorse. Its dazzling flower makes even the greyest of days seem bright. It’s one of those rare plants that flowers in every month of the year, hoping for a rare warm winter day when an insect might emerge to pollinate it. It’s a risky strategy to put energy into flowering in the winter, but one that must pay off for this showy plant, one of nature’s chancers.

There will be many crows and jackdaws soaring along cliffs as you might expect, but as you’re walking along towards South Foreland keep your eyes and ears out for a much bigger black bird, the Raven. They start their mating display as early as December and you can see them barrel rolling in spectacular style along the cliff edges, their “cronking” call echoing as they go.

It’s a simple equation, the longer you walk, the more you will see. And if you make it all the way to Pegwell Bay you’ll have a list as long as your arm, as well as sore feet! But even if all you get is a short stroll out in the cold, I’ll bet the wild windswept coastline will have invigorated you, made you feel that little bit vulnerable and in doing so re-connected you with nature. So don’t stay in, get out!

Happy Birthday Project Wild Thing!

It’s a year since Project Wild Thing premiered in cinemas nationwide.

Since then the film has screened in 120 cinemas in the UK, at more than 600 schools, community spaces, National Trust places, on a ship and even from the top of mountains!

Audiences in the UK, Australia, Europe, Japan, the US and Canada have been treated to this heart-warming, though provoking film which follows film-maker David Bond in his efforts to encourage his children to spend more time outdoors in nature.

The film has been picking up plaudits around the globe and just this week Project Wild Thing won one of the most prestigious awards in educational film-making; the Grand Prix Japan Prize.

Lorraine O'Donovan of Green Lions collects the Japan Prize. (c) Green Lions

Lorraine O’Donovan of Green Lions collects the Japan Prize. (c) Green Lions

The prize is awarded for the most outstanding piece of media work that excels in its ability to educate, in its relevance to the times and its contribution to educational media.

We’re a proud supporter of Project Wild Thing and the Wild Network, the movement of thousands that has grown up around the film. Project Wild Thing has been shown at dozens of National Trust places – including the summit of Scafell Pike, the highest point in England.

A group of intrepid explorers battle the elements to climb to the peak of Scafell Pike to enjoy Project Wild Thing.  (c) Stewart Smith

A group of intrepid explorers battle the elements to climb to the peak of Scafell Pike to enjoy Project Wild Thing. (c) Stewart Smith

Joanne Rawson, Volunteering and Community Involvement Manager at Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, has organised screenings of Project Wild Thing for families of the Hardwick Wildlife Watch group, to staff and volunteers and partner organisations.

“What I love about Project Wild Thing is that it’s brought people together and been a catalyst for change”, Joanne says. “It doesn’t matter who you work for, where you live, or how much you earn; ultimately, we’re working towards the same goal: to connect kids with nature.

“On watching the film, the young members of our Wildlife Watch group were shocked that some children don’t have the same opportunities to connect with the outdoors as they do. It helped them see how having those outdoors experiences had benefited them in their lives.

“Staff here have said watching Project Wild Thing made them think about what they do with their own kids and grandchildren, which in itself is a great result.”

To get involved visit Tweet your birthday wishes to @wearewildthing or tag them #wildtime.