Highly Protected Marine Areas

Marine Protected Areas

Highly Protected Marine Areas

Urchins and brittlestars ©Paul Naylor

Help make Highly Protected Marine Areas a reality!

Our seas are under pressure like never before; decades of over exploitation, pollution and unchecked development have resulted in continued biodiversity loss and a degradation of the marine habitats. But there is a way to help bring our seas back to life!

The Wildlife Trusts have called for HPMAs for the last three years and launched a petition urging speedy implementation which was signed by over 10,000 people. 

On World Oceans Day 2021, Defra has announced it will begin the process for designating HPMAs by the end of 2022, setting an ambitious commitment to protect our seas. The Wildlife Trusts believe there is an overwhelming case for the designation of HPMAs across our seas which would see a ban on all damaging activities, offering the strictest possible protections for the marine environment and giving nature the best chance of recovery. 

Basking shark feeding on planton ©Alexander Mustard/2020VISION

Basking shark ©Alexander Mustard/2020VISION

What are Highly Protected Marine Areas?

Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) are a type of Marine Protected Area (MPA) which offer the strictest possible environmental protections.

That means that only non-damaging activities, such as swimming, kayaking and scuba diving, will be allowed. There can be no fishing, construction, digging, or similar. That means that these areas give nature the best chance of recovery. Our shallow seas, diverse seabeds and deep underwater canyons can be healthy, productive and full of life once more.

Why are Highly Protected Marine Areas important?

We need to protect our seas. Overfishing, climate change, pollution and development have given us unhealthy seas.

But HPMAs could help to turn this around. They can help us tackle climate change by protecting and recovering habitats important in natural carbon cycles. Seagrass meadows can capture carbon from the atmosphere up to 35 times faster than tropical rainforests.

The Government also has an aim of achieving a well-managed and ecologically coherent network of MPAs. Designating Highly Protected Marine Areas would significantly help to achieve that aim. Not only that, monitoring the recovery of those areas can then help us to determine how to appropriately manage the network of Marine Protected Areas in the future.

The Benyon Review

The Highly Protected Marine Area review was launched by the then Secretary of State Michael Gove on World Oceans Day 2019. The review’s advisory panel, including Joan Edwards, Director of Marine Conservation at The Wildlife Trusts and led by former MP Richard Benyon, were tasked ‘To recommend whether and how HPMAs could be introduced in areas of sea within the UK Government’s competence’. To gather evidence, information and views on HPMAs, the review has conducted a public consultation and engaged with a wide range of stakeholders through roundtables, meetings and site visits.

Last year, the Benyon review of Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) was published by Defra. The Wildlife Trusts backed its recommendations that HPMAs should be an essential part of the UK network for protection and recovery of the marine environment, and that the government should introduce HPMAs as soon as possible.  

Read the Benyon Review

In order for HPMAs to be effective, The Wildlife Trusts are calling for:

  • HPMAs to be a whole-site approach, protecting all the wildlife and habitats within their boundaries with effective management measures 

  • HPMAs should be sufficient in size and number, and well monitored to understand what happens when damaging activities are removed and how our seas can recover 

  • This will also help us determine appropriate management measures for the rest of the Marine Protected Area network 

  • HPMAs must provide a higher level of protection than other types of protected area, allowing marine areas to return to as natural a state as possible, with more wildlife 

Pilot Highly Protected Marine Areas

The UK government has committed to identify and designate pilot Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) in English waters by the end of 2022. Defra, JNCC, Natural England, Cefas, the Marine Management Organisation, the Association of Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities, and the Environment Agency will work together, with stakeholders, to identify potential pilot sites.

Government will identify pilot HPMAs based on ecological, social and economic criteria, to select sites that provide the maximum biodiversity benefits while seeking to also maximise associated benefits and minimise impacts to sea users. The Wildlife Trusts submitted third party proposals for sites based on the criteria:

1. Ecological importance
2. Naturalness, sensitivity and potential to recover
3. Ecosystem services

After considering third-party proposals, alongside areas they identify, Natural England and JNCC developed an initial list of potential sites which was submitted to Defra for further social and economic consideration. Defra and the MMO will then apply social and economic criteria to help narrow down the list. This will include, but is not limited to, understanding what economic activity occurs in potential sites and the scale and importance of that activity and site to local communities.

Consultation on proposed HPMAs will open in 2022.  To find out more about the process visit the JNCC webpage here.