It has been announced that 41 new Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) around the coasts of England and Northern Ireland have been designated, including 9 here in the South of England. These areas have been recognised for their special habitats and wildlife and include local sites ‘Bembridge’ and ‘Yarmouth to Cowes’.
Since 2013, a total of 91 areas have been awarded Marine Conservation Zone status, including another local site, ‘The Needles’, which was designated in 2016.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove has said:
“The south’s waters contain riches to rival the tropics – with the seas home to a vast array of animal and plant species. That’s why in this Year of Green Action we are increasing protection for these habitats, helping ensure they are safeguarded for generations to come.”
Responding to today’s announcement, Debbie Tann, CEO of Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, said:
“We are very pleased to see two local areas given this level of recognition. We have some incredible marine species and habitats here – from colour changing cuttlefish and magnificent seagrass meadows to seahorses and stalked jellyfish – and we know that, with such busy local waters, our wildlife can really struggle.
“Properly managed, these new underwater ‘nature reserves’ around the Island should provide much needed safe-havens and will form part of a wider Nature Recovery Network across English waters”.
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Isle of Wight MP Bob Seely has welcomed today’s announcement:
“I welcome Marine Conservation Zones – they are proof of our intention to protect the environment.
“However, especially in the case of Yarmouth, I have worked closely with DEFRA to make sure that Government understands the importance of sailing and the jobs and enjoyment it brings to Yarmouth and the Island.
“The Marine Conservation Zone currently begins at Yarmouth Pier. I am meeting with environment officials to make sure that there is minimal impact on moorings and sailing to the east of the Pier.
“I spoke with the Secretary of State Michael Gove about this on Thursday evening. We have agreed, if there is potential harm to the town’s livelihood, the zone’s boundaries will be adjusted at the Yarmouth Pier end to make sure that sailing and the jobs and enjoyment that it brings will not be affected.”
Bembridge hosts more species and habitats eligible for protection than any other MCZ, has been described as the “jewel” in the MCZ network, supporting a dazzling range of important species and habitats within its 75 km² area, which can now be protected and restored from past damage.
Offshore, there are deep water muddy sediments supporting the extraordinary spoonworm, a bright green, wormlike animal living deep in a burrow but feeding on the surface with its long spoon-like proboscis (a bit like a tongue). The site also supports the only known maerl beds in the region. Maerl is a very slow growing pink, calcareous (stony) alga, which grows in irregular twig-like shapes and builds incredibly diverse living reefs.
Inshore, there are rocky ledges creating complex habitats for many species including the nationally rare peacock’s tail alga, a warm water seaweed species and potential climate change indicator, at the limit of its range on the Isle of Wight.
In these shallow waters, there are also seagrass beds, providing breeding and nursery grounds for cuttlefish and other commercially important species and also providing habitat for rare and protected seahorses and their relatives, the pipefish. The site will also protect two species of stalked jellyfish, small and delicate relatives of other jellyfish, but which spend their entire lives attached to seaweeds, seagrass and other surfaces.
Yarmouth to Cowes MCZ
This MCZ area harbours vibrant marine wildlife and habitats as well as ancient underwater cliffs of archaeological as well and ecological importance.
At Bouldnor, an 8000-year-old peat cliff rises nine meters from the sea floor and contains archaeology dating from the time before the Solent was flooded by rising sea levels. And at Thorness, the low tide reveals exposed ledges of soft clay which is burrowed in to by piddocks, extraordinary bivalve molluscs which used the rough, serrated surfaces of their shells to excavate the holes in which they spend their lives.
The shore at Thorness also features limestone rocks which support a fascinating “underboulder community” of sea squirts, sponges and small crustaceans like porcelain crabs hidden away beneath their seaweed-covered upper surfaces. Newtown Harbour, which lies inside the MCZ, is also important for the presence of estuarine rocky habitat, one of the very few places it can be found in our region.