ABP Marine Environmental Research (ABPmer) has been awarded a major contract to develop digital mapping/spatial information layers that will help identify Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) in UK waters. The draft UK Marine Bill and equivalent provisions in Scotland provide for the identification, designation and management of a network of MCZs (and equivalent Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Scottish territorial waters) to protect nationally rare/threatened and representative habitats and species and features of geological and geomorphological importance.
The two year project, funded by DEFRA (Department of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs), Scottish Government, Department of Environment (Northern Ireland), Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), Natural England (NE) and Countryside Council for Wales will ensure that the decision making process uses the best scientific data available.
The project will develop a number of digital information layers for UK waters providing up-to-date information on the distribution of important biological, geological and geomorphological conservation features.
Outputs from the project will be used by the stakeholder-led Regional MPA projects that are being set-up to take forward MPA planning. The data layers, once developed, will also inform wider approaches to the management of UK seas through marine planning. Stephen Hull, Project Director, ABPmer said: “ABPmer is delighted to be leading such an exciting project. Many of the data layers developed will represent initial attempts at producing UK-wide nationally consistent data layers.”
“The project will also review approaches to assessing sensitivity of habitats and species (to human activities) and sea bed (benthic) productivity. Depending on the identification of an appropriate methodology, the project may also create a digital map of benthic productivity. It is intended that once an agreed methodology for determining sensitivity has been developed it will be applied to develop sensitivity information for UK waters. This information will be useful in identifying the potential management measures that might be necessary to support achievement of conservation objectives at specific locations.”
“We have been actively involved in marine spatial planning research and development for Defra in support of the Marine Bill, and with the Crown Estate in relation to offshore wind development for a few years now,” Mr Hull explained. “We understand both the value of strategic planning in the marine environment and the information needed to make sustainable decisions. The creation of such GIS layers on a national scale will also provide an agreed and nationally consistent approach to data management and data access for MCZ/MPA information.”