Allonby Bay and West of Walney are added to the existing Marine Conservation Zones off the Fylde and Cumbria Coasts.
The two new Marine Conservation Zones off Cumbria are part of 23 new areas to be designated nationally. They are all special places that aim to protect an astonishingly varied range of underwater landscapes include cold water coral reefs, forests of sea fans, canyons and sandbanks, and deep muddy plains, all of which support the stunning diversity of marine life found in the UK.
Allonby Bay is an important area for marine life. The diverse rocky and sandy habitats in this tide-swept bay support sponges, soft corals, seaweeds, sea squirts, anemones, crabs, fish and the reef-building honeycomb worm.
Honeycomb worm reefs are a key feature of northwest England’s coastline and Allonby Bay contains some of the best examples in the UK. They play a vital role as a home to other species, allowing their settlement and safety in otherwise shifting sediments.
West of Walney covers two different seabed habitats: mud to the north and sand to the south, both are brilliant habitats for marine wildlife. High densities of burrowing brittlestars colonise the surface of the sandy areas, whilst sea urchins, strange spoon worms and molluscs enjoy the mud alongside the commercially important Dublin Bay prawn. Delicate sea pens also live on the West of Walney mud. Sea pen numbers are in decline in this area, so protection should help them to thrive once more.
Part of West of Walney is co-located with the offshore wind farms in the area. It is thought that the structures could help marine life thrive by providing a physical barrier to further developments and fishing. Elsewhere, seals have even been shown to use offshore wind farms to forage by targeting fish which aggregate around the structures. Recently two seal pups were born on Walney Island for the first time since records began proving the importance of this area of the Irish Sea to wildlife.
Nationally the new Marine Conservation Zones include Land’s End, one of the South-West’s most recognised areas and renowned for its rugged coastline, and the Cromer Shoal Chalk Beds in the North Sea, thought to be Europe’s largest chalk reef. All of these will contribute towards a network of areas which is urgently needed to ensure a healthy future for our seas.
Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s Marine Conservation Officer Dr Emily Baxter said: “We must build on this good news and spread the word that Marine Conservation Zones are vital to help wildlife recover around our coasts. The will benefit everyone, including fishermen, if there are areas where populations of marine life are allowed to thrive.
“We welcome today’s designation of 23 Marine Conservation Zones. Our seas have the potential to be full of incredible life and colour but continued destruction has reduced them to a shadow of their former selves. Without these astonishing submerged landscapes there simply wouldn’t be any fish, let alone fantastic jewel anemones, seahorses, dolphins, brittlestars amongst all the other wild and extraordinary creatures which are part of a healthy marine ecosystem.”
Marine Conservation Zones are a type of protected area at sea designated for habitats and species of national importance, including fragile seahorses, rare native oysters and even cold water coral reefs. Such protected areas are a tried and tested means of giving vulnerable species the time and space to recover.
Emily adds: “We are pleased by this Government’s commitment to addressing the decimation of our seabed over the past century, and to delivering an ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas. This second step towards the completion of a ‘blue belt’ in UK seas is crucial in turning the tide on the state of our seas but there’s still work to be done.
“Designation is just the first step. All Marine Conservation Zones need to go through a process to develop site-specific management measures. We will be working with government agencies locally to ensure that these special places receive the protection they deserve urgently, especially highly damaged areas like West of Walney.”