Protected Areas

The IFCA plays an important role in the protection of the marine life (both species and habitats) around the Isles of Scilly. Within our district the IFCA has a responsibility to manage sustainable fisheries, which are one part of ensuring that the wider environment remains healthy and able to support its own requirements and human needs.

The Isles of Scilly has three different kinds of Marine Protected Area (MPA) which are used to protect different species and habitats around the island. Natural England provide us with advice on how we manage our protected areas, and we work with many different users around the islands to make sure that key conservation features and the sites as a whole are thriving. Our specific role is to ensure that the features within the site are in good condition and are not impacted by fishing activities.

There are several different types of MPA within the Isles of Scilly, but they all share the same characteristics and aims. Some protect seabirds, others are to protect species and habitats found underwater. Below is a short introduction to each MPA or 'designation'.

Special Protection Area (SPA)

This is a European designation under the Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds to protect rare and vulnerable birds. In the UK, each SPA is selected according to criteria that have been developed by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC). For the Isles of Scilly, the populations of storm petrel (Hydrobates pelagicus) and lesser black-backed gull (Larus fuscus) qualify for protection. Since the islands also support more than 20,000 breeding seabirds they also qualify as an 'assemblage of breeding seabirds', one of only seven sites in England that meet this criteria. The boundary encompasses islands and islets that are used for nesting such as Gugh, Eastern Isles, Annet, Chapel Down on St. Martins, Shipman Head on Bryher and Castle Down on Tresco.

Although not strictly 'marine' protected areas, it is worth noting that 26 'Sites of Special Scientific Interest' (SSSI) were set up around the islands and islets in the 1980s and it is these that provide the 'legal underpinning' for the SPA.

An extension is being proposed by Natural England that would widen the boundary to provide additional protection for sea areas where some of the seabirds feed. More detail can be seen here .


Photo by Joe Pender

Special Area of Conservation (SAC)

A second European designation, the Special Area of Conservation is primarily designed to protect the coastal and intertidal marine habitats around the islands. This is a protected area designation under the Habitats Directive, together with the Birds Directive's SPAs the combined network of protected areas is kown as the 'Natura 2000 network'. The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations (2017) are the national law that requires government departments and public bodies to 'have regard' for European Directives in the exercise of their duties. The IFCA is required to ensure that fisheries do not damage, disturb or have an adverse effect on the wildlife or habitats for which the site is legally protected. More details on how we review and assess the impacts of fishing are shown in this section on the 'revised approach'.

This site was designated in 2005 for three 'Annex 1' habitats: 'sandbanks which are slightly covered by sea water all the time', 'mudflats and sandflats not covered by seawater at low tide' and 'reefs'. These descriptions may sound oddly cumbersome, but they serve as generic descriptions that can encompass a wide range of shallow coastal and intertidal habitats. The designation also includes a coastal plant called shore dock and grey seals.

The shallow sandy habitats which are found between the islands include the most extensive and best-developed seagrass beds, a species known as eelgrass or Zostera marina. Many marine species use this habitat for all or part of their life history, including molluscs, sea anemones and fish. In the channels between the islands there are rich communities of worms and crustaceans and echinoderms (such as starfish and sea urchins).

The intertidal areas are exceptional around the Isles of Scilly because they contain very little sediment (mud). There is a diverse range of species, many of which are rarely found elsewhere.

The rocky reefs around the islands provide spectacular diving with walls and gullies that provide incredible habitats and hiding places for many different species. These may change in different parts of the islands depending on how deep and how exposed they are.

seal in shallow water typical shallow water habitat typical exposed reef

Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ)

Marine Conservation Zones are the most recent designation that were put in place in 2013 to protect additional marine habitats and species. The process to plan Marine Conservation Zones was led by Maritime Officer Steve Watt and IFCA Vice-Chairman and local diver Tim Allsop under a regional project called Finding Sanctuary. Through many workshops and discussions with water users including fishermen, divers, boatmen, local conservation experts and recreational users, the group developed a network of eleven sub sites that make up the overall Isles of Scilly MCZ. Tim Allsop gathered a great deal of information and photographs about the species in each of the sites to ensure that the evidence was of the highest possible quality.

The 11 sites are Bishop to Crim; Bristows to the Stones; Gilstone to Gorregan; Hanjague to Deep Ledge; Higher Town; Lower Ridge to Innisvouls; Men a Vaur to White Island; Peninnis to Dry Ledge; Plympton to Spanish Ledge; Smith Sound Tide Swept Channel and Tean. They include intertidal habitats that support burrowing marine worms and shrimp-like sand hoppers and reefs with encrusting barnacles, sea squirts, crawfish and anemones. The MCZs also include a range of rare and fragile animals including two species of stalked jellyfish.

An integral part of these sites are the voluntary measures which have been agreed within the MCZ boundaries. These include: no diving for shellfish or other marine species, anchoring restrictions for vessels over 10m, a three month commercial fishing hiatus and voluntary v-notching of lobsters. Since all but one of the MCZs are within the six nautical mile fishing district the restrictions and requirements of the fishing gear permit byelaw also apply.

More details about the Isles of Scilly MCZ can be found in this factsheet .

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