Last edited 03 May 2021

Blue belt

Marine Conservation Zones (MCZ) are areas that protect a range of nationally-important marine wildlife, habitats, geology and geomorphology. They were introduced to prevent the continued deterioration of the UK’s marine biodiversity and provide legal means to deliver the UK’s international marine conservation commitments.

The Conservative manifesto for the 2015 general election included a commitment to create a ‘Blue Belt’ of Marine Conservation Zones around the UK and 14 UK Overseas Territories. The manifesto stated:

‘Earlier this year we announced the creation of a new Marine Protected Area around the Pitcairn Islands – the largest protected area of sea in the world. We will now go even further, creating a Blue Belt around the UK’s 14 Overseas Territories, subject to local support and environmental need. We will designate a further protected area at Ascension Island, subject to the views of the local community. And, off our own coasts, we will complete the network of Marine Conservation Zones that we have already started, to create a UK Blue Belt of protected sites.

According to the Wildlife Trusts, a Blue Belt could improve the overall health of the marine environment and help it recover from past impacts and sustain current pressures, suggesting that protected areas ‘…are not effective in isolation and can only work if they are: big enough, close enough, representative, numerous enough and actively protected.’

On 17 January 2016, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Natural England, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and Marine Environment Minister George Eustice MP announced the creation of 23 new Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs), bringing the total up to 50, covering more than a fifth of English waters, that 7,886 square miles - an area roughly equivalent to the whole of Wales. Ref

This was the second of three planned phases of MCZs; the first phase covered 3,731 square miles of water over 27 sites, and a third phase will be put out to consultation in 2017, and designated in 2018.

George Eustice MP said: “As an island nation, the UK is surrounded by some of the richest and most diverse sea life in the world - from the bright pink sea-fan coral colonies off the south-west coast, to the great chalk reef stretches in the east. It’s vital that we protect our marine environment to ensure our seas remain healthy, our fishing industry remains prosperous and future generations can enjoy our beautiful beaches, coastline and waters. By designating these new Marine Conservation Zones and creating a Blue Belt of protected areas around the country, we can better protect our environment through careful marine management in years to come.”

Joan Edwards, The Wildlife Trustshead of Living Seas, said: “Our seas provide the oxygen for every second breath we take, the fish on our plates and so much more. The designation of 50 Marine Conservation Zones to date is a strong step forward but there is much still to do.”

NB, The 'blue belt' concept is similar in name, but a little different in purpose to the 'green belt' on land, which establishes a buffer zone between urban and rural areas, separating town and country and preserving land for forestry, agriculture and wildlife.

In June 2018, the government opened a consultation on the creation of 41 new MCZ's. Ref

NB In In Scotland, MCZs are referred to as Nature Conservation MPAs (Marine Protected Areas).

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