23 of the 37 proposed Marine Conservations Zones (MCZs), part of the second tranche of marine protection in the UK, have been designated. They join 27 MCZs designated from the first tranche. As of this designation, none of the 50 MCZs have yet to be fully implemented with regulations and a management plan.
In Utopia, rocky reef and boulder outcrops create a habitat for sponges and corals that would otherwise not exist here. Over 15 species of sponge have been recorded with many more yet to be identified. Soft corals, such as dead man’s fingers, and white striped anemones are also common within this area. Utopia has been recommended as an MCZ on the grounds that it hosts one of only two regional examples of these fragile sponge, coral and anemone communities. This area was actually named after the tope shark as it partly makes up an important pupping ground for this UK species. The surrounding seabed is largely covered in deep deposits of sand and gravel. Utopia is close to an aggregate extraction area, where the sand and gravel is dredged for use in the construction industry.
Marine Conservation Zones protect areas that are important to conserve the diversity of nationally rare, threatened and representative habitats and species. Designation of these zones takes social and economic factors into account, alongside the best available scientific evidence.
This area was designated as part of the second tranche of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) in the UK designed to address ‘big gaps’ within the network and which are likely to have sufficient supporting evidence. In February 2014 the minister announced the selection of 37 areas for consideration as MCZs in English inshore and English and Welsh offshore waters. Next, work will be done to verify and update the evidence base before considering each candidate site further. Statutory Nature Conservation Bodies (SNCBs) will provide updated advice to Defra on each of the candidate sites which will include an assessment of any newly available ecological evidence. We will additionally be working to verify and wherever possible update the social and economic costs associated with each candidate site.
Ministers will then make final decisions on which sites to propose for designation, taking account of the advice provided by Natural England and JNCC and updated information about the costs and benefits associated with designation. Selection of sites will be consistent with principles used to select the first tranche, i.e. only those sites that achieve an appropriate balance between the likely social and economic costs and conservation benefits, and have an adequate evidence base proposed for designation. No decisions on which sites to include within the second tranche have yet been taken. The remaining Regional MCZ Project recommendations will be considered for inclusion within the third tranche of MCZs.
During the pre-consultation period, Defra and network bodies will look to engage with stakeholders on a local and national level to refine site specific information. The public consultation held in early 2015 will provide an opportunity for all stakeholders to comment on the proposals and provide additional evidence for consideration.