Dozens of new protected areas have been designated in the seas around England to benefit the wildlife living there, the government has announced.
The 41 new marine conservation zones range from the coast of Northumberland in the North East (designated to protect eider ducks), to the seas south of the Isles of Scilly off the South West which support seabirds, fish and basking sharks.
Other species that could benefit include the rare stalked jellyfish, short-snouted seahorses and blue mussel beds.
The newly designated areas cover 4,600 square miles (12,000sq/km) of England’s seas, an area almost eight times the size of London, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said.
The UK’s “blue belt” of protected sites spans 85,000 square miles (220,000sq/km) around the seas of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Conservationists described the introduction of the 41 areas as “fantastic” and said good management was now needed to stop damaging activities in the sites in order to protect wildlife.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove said: “The UK is already leading the rest of the world by protecting over 30% of our ocean – but we know there is more to do.
“Establishing this latest round of marine conservation zones in this ‘year of green action’ is another big step in the right direction, extending our blue belt to safeguard precious and diverse sea life for future generations to come.”
The designation of the new sites follows a consultation, including with local fishermen, marine conservation experts and 48,000 responses from the public.
There are now 91 marine conservation zones in the UK – 89 in English waters and two in Northern Ireland offshore waters.
There are also five in Northern Irish inshore waters, one in Welsh waters, and 31 nature conservation marine protected areas in Scottish waters.
Joan Edwards, director of living seas at The Wildlife Trusts, said: “It’s fantastic news that now we have 91 marine conservation zones – they will form a vital series of underwater habitats which can be nursed back to health.
“Now we need to see good management of these special places to stop damaging activities such as beam-trawling or dredging for scallops and langoustines which harm fragile marine wildlife.”
Examples of the new protected sites include:
:: Orford inshore site off the Suffolk coast which is an important nursery and spawning ground for fish. It also hosts wildlife including burrowing anemones, shark and rays and harbour porpoises.
:: Camel Estuary, north Cornwall, which is the largest and most sheltered marine inlet on the north Cornish coast. It protects a range of habitats including mud and coastal saltmarsh which are important for wading birds.
:: Holderness offshore site which covers 454 square miles (1,176sq/km) off the Holderness coast in the East Riding of Yorkshire. It has a mosaic of habitats and is important for crabs, lobsters and ocean quahogs – a species of clam which can live for more than 500 years.