The waters around Lundy Island became England’s first marine conservation zone today as the government project to create a network of protected areas in the seas began.
The creation of the marine conservation zone (MCZ) around the island under the Marine Act is effectively just a name change for the site, which has been a marine nature reserve for more than 20 years.
But over the next two years, plans for a network of protected zones will be drawn up around English, Welsh and Northern Irish waters under the Marine and Coastal Access Act, which was passed last year.
The seas around Lundy, a three mile-long island off the Devon coast, are home to wildlife ranging from grey seals and lobsters to pink sea fan corals and habitats including reefs, sea caves and sand banks.
Part of the area, which was England’s only marine nature reserve, has been a “no-take zone” – which meant it was protected from all kinds of fishing – since 2003.
Lobsters are among the wildlife shown to have benefited from the protection the restrictions provided.
While some of the new marine conservation zones could be no-take zones to protect wildlife, officials say that is unlikely to be the case in the majority of areas, with ranging levels of protection at different sites.
Under the Marine Act, it will be an offence to break the rules established in the zones, which could include seasonal or permanent bans on certain types of fishing, recreational activities or practices such as dropping anchor.
There will be four regional programmes to develop the MCZ network, with the project teams made up of representatives of interested parties ranging from fishing groups to conservation charities.The existing protection around Lundy will remain unchanged, but the area will be considered as part of the wider programme to draw up marine conservation zones in the South West.
Dr Helen Phillips, the chief executive of the government’s conservation agency, Natural England, said: “Lundy is a showcase of what a well-protected marine environment can become.”
“Today’s designation ushers in a new era of marine protection and it is important that the momentum to develop more marine conservation zones is now sustained.”