Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola, and dunlin Calidris alpina, wader roost at Copperas Bay, Stour Estuary RSPB reserve

Marine Protected Areas for Seabirds

Our 2008 report highlighted the need for the increased protection of the UK's marine environment, and laid down a challenge to the UK Government and the Devolved Administrations to address this issue.

The need for new marine legislation

One of the headline demands of our campaign for new marine legislation was the UK and Scottish Marine Acts must allow for the designation of a network of well-protected, nationally important marine protected areas for the UK.

In achieving this, our campaign was successful - the UK Marine & Coastal Access Act 2009 introduced the legal tools to designate nationally important Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs), and the Marine (Scotland) Act contains a corresponding mechanism by which nationally important features can be designated as Marine Protected Areas in Scottish inshore waters.

However, concerns have since been raised about the approach being taken to designating these sites and in particular whether the needs of seabirds will be included in considerations of site placement and network design. We will continue to work to convince the UK Government and Devolved Administrations that seabirds are an integral part of our marine environment and as such should be protected through the designation of these new sites.

Our report, Safeguarding our seabirds: Marine Protected Areas for the UK's seabirds, is based on work we undertook to identify nearshore sites of national, rather than international, importance for breeding seabirds. These sites illustrate the additional benefit that the new Marine Conservation Zone designation introduced by the 2009 Marine Act (and the MPA designation under the Marine (Scotland) Act) would give the UK's seabirds.

Sunset behind marram grass on beach, Titchwell Marsh


Estimating spending by visitors to RSPB coastal reserves and associated local economic impact attributable to seabirds. PDF, 510Kb.

The Local Value of Seabirds

First steps

This work represents a first step on the way to identifying a network of sites to protect seabirds throughout UK waters.

Beyond the sites identified as important in this report, it will also be necessary to identify areas further offshore that seabirds might use for feeding purposes, as well as inshore areas important to non-breeding seabirds such as concentrations of wintering seaduck. 

One of the main barriers to marine site identification so far, for seabirds and for other wildlife, has been the lack of readily available, up to date and comprehensive data; and the difficulties and expense of obtaining such data. 

With thoughts now turning to the implementation of the Acts, we feel that this is a timely reminder of the challenges that lie ahead, and the need for a significant commitment to resourcing the survey for, and identification of, a coherent network of nationally important marine sites, including those for seabirds.