Marine Conservation

also known as: Sea life.

Information about the Berwickshire & North Northumberland European Marine Site

Northumberland has a stunning coastline with sandy beaches, rock headlands, tidal flats, rugged islands and an underwater rocky reef.

This diverse landscape both above and below the waves provides a multitude of habitats for a large variety of marine life.

Marine conservation

Find out how we protect and conserve the marine environment and its ecosystems.

Marine conservation is the protection and preservation of natural marine resources within our oceans and seas.

It mainly focusses on the management of human activities to ensure that marine plants, animals and the places they live are not damaged.

There are many tools available to help us deliver marine conservation, ranging from international and national laws, local byelaws and voluntary codes and agreements.

Our rich marine environment provides us with valuable resources, and the coast provides us with exciting and beautiful areas to live, work and visit. It is essential that we conserve this environment for future generations, and that our activities occur in harmony with natural processes.

The council is one of many authorities and organisations that play a role in protecting and conserving our remarkable marine environment.

We are responsible for managing certain activities that occur on coastal land, which could damage or disturb the marine environment.

Under various international, European and national laws, the council must have regard to Northumberland’s various marine protected areas when carrying out its functions and regulatory duties.

The council’s functions that contribute towards marine conservation include:

  • strategic planning and policy development
  • coastal development management
  • coastal defence and shoreline management
  • oil and pollution contingency planning and response
  • litter and waste management
  • beach management

The marine environment

Northumberland proudly hosts some of the most stunning marine environments in the world, which are recognised through multiple nature conservation designations.

The marine environment can be described as any area of sea or ocean, including the sea bed and its sub-soil, the water column and surface and the air space above.

It includes intertidal areas at the coast, where land is covered by sea water continuously, or at certain times.

The plants and animals that are supported by these areas are also part of the marine environment, and complex interactions occur between the different habitats and species.

The marine environment provides us with important resources, such as food, energy, minerals and pharmaceuticals.

A marine ecosystem

A ‘marine ecosystem’ is the complex interactions between marine plants, animals and the environment that they live in.

For example, the food chain of a seal that eats a fish, and the fish scavenges on a small crab, which in turn feeds on a small sea snail, and the snail feeds on algae.

Another example would be the unique collection of plants and animals that are found on an intertidal rocky shore, which are specially adapted to surviving long periods out of water while the tide is out.

Marine protected areas in Northumberland

We have a spectacularly rich marine environment with some of the most important habitats and species in the world located on our shores and in our shallow sea.

A marine protected area (MPA) is an area of sea or ocean that is protected by law or agreements to conserve marine plants, animals or geological features.

It can include the seabed, subsoil, water column and sea surface, plus anything living in or supported by these areas.

The entire coastline of Northumberland is protected in some way due to its contribution to nationally and internationally important marine ecosystems.

Most of the sites mentioned below are protected as national Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) due to their contribution towards our nationally significant natural marine assets.

The most important SSSIs are also designated as National Nature Reserves, which encourage learning and access to Northumberland’s beautiful natural heritage and include the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve and the Farne Islands National Nature Reserve.

Berwickshire and North Northumberland Coast European Marine Site.

The coastline from Alnmouth up to Fast Castle Head in Berwickshire is designated as a Special Area of Conservation, which extends 4 nautical miles offshore to encompass 645 square kilometres of coast and sea.

It protects some of the most outstanding marine habitats and species in Europe, including intertidal and subtidal rocky reefs, sea caves, intertidal sand and mud flats, large inlets and bays, and the charismatic grey seal.

This site is managed through a Management Plan which also incorporates the intertidal areas of the Lindisfarne Special Protection Area (a European designation for the protection of birds and their supporting habitats).

These two sites are known and managed collectively as the Berwickshire and North Northumberland Coast European Marine Site.

Find out more about the Berwickshire and North Northumberland Coast European Marine Site here.

The Tweed Estuary

The Tweed Estuary is also a designated European Special Area of Conservation because of its beautiful estuarine habitats, including intertidal sand and mud and saltmarsh. The estuary is also protected as a national Site of Special Scientific Interest.

The Aln Estuary

The Aln Estuary is one of only two estuaries within the North Sea to have been recommended as a future Marine Conservation Zone. These sites are a UK level designation designed to protect and conserve marine plants, species and habitats that are typical of UK waters. The intertidal rocky shore and shallow waters between Coquet Island and St Mary’s Island in Tyneside, including the islands themselves, have also been recommended as a future Marine Conservation Zone.

Coquet Island, the Farne Islands and Holy Island

Coquet Island, the Farne Islands and Holy Island also support internationally rare birds, along with important populations of migratory species and large numbers of waterfowl. They are all protected under European Special Protection Areas and national Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Birds flock to these islands due their relatively undisturbed nature and the plentiful food sources provided by our inshore waters. The Farne Islands are also one of the most important breeding areas for Grey seal in the whole of Europe!

The coastline

The entire Northumberland coastline, except from a small section around Lynemouth, is protected under international, European or national laws for supporting breeding and wading coastal birds.

The intertidal shore and shallow seas are designated as a Ramsar Site for wetlands of international importance, and as a European Special Protection Area and national Site of Special Scientific Interest due to the many birds that use these areas.

Stranded animals

It is not uncommon to find stranded animals on our beaches. Please follow the guidance below on what you should do if you find one.

It is not uncommon to find a seal on one of our beaches - Northumberland supports one of the most important breeding colonies in Europe.

Adults breed on the Farne Islands, but they haul out and rest, along with their pups, at various locations along the coast. Pups are often left to relax on the beach while its parents go hunting for food.

What to do if you find a dead seal:

  1. Notify the Natural History Museum on 0207 4496672 or the National Strandings Hotline on 0800 6520333 who may wish to collect the animal for autopsy.
  2. If the museum does not wish to collect the animal, you should contact the council on 0845 600 6400

What to do if you find a live seal:

If you see a seal pup on the beach, it’s probably just waiting patiently for its parents to return and you should not try to approach it or move it!

This can cause serious disturbance to the animal. They are wild animals so they can be unpredictable when threatened and afraid, and they can bite.

Follow the guidance below

  1. Watch it from a distance and do not approach the animal. A healthy looking seal should be left alone - keep people and dogs away from the animal. Pups with a white, long-haired coat in the autumn/winter, or a small seal (less than 3 feet in length) alone between June and August, is probably still suckling from its mother. Check the seal regularly for any sign of an adult seal. If the pup is still there after 24 hours, it may have been abandoned. If you think this is the case, go to step 4 below.
  2. Does the seal look sick or injured? Signs could include coughing, sneezing, noisy rapid breathing, thick mucus coming from the nose, wounds or swellings particularly on the flippers, cloudy eyes or thick mucus around them, or possibly one eye kept closed most of the time, a seal showing little response to any disturbance going on around it (although remember they could be soundly asleep). If you think the seal could be sick or injured go to step 4 below.
  3. Does the seal look malnourished? Signs could include visible ribs, hips and neck and perhaps a rather baggy, wrinkled skin. If you think the seal is malnourished go to step 4 below.
  4. Do not try to move or treat the seal yourself. Keep people and their dogs at least 25 meters away from the animal, and if possible out of the animal’s line of site, to help keep stress on the animal to a minimum. Most marine mammals carry parasites and disease that can affect dogs and even humans. Call either the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) or the RSPCA who will offer advice and assistance, and who are specially trained to deal with the animal. These organisations will not respond to reports of seals that are simply hauled out at the coast as this is part of the animal’s normal behaviour. Seals are a European Protected Species and should not be disturbed unnecessarily.
    BDMLR hotline: 01825 765546
    RSPCA hotline: 0300 1234 999

What to do if you find a dead dolphin or porpoise:

  1. Dead carcases should be reported to the Cetacean Stranding Investigation Program (CSIP) at the Natural History Museum on 0207 4496672 or the National Strandings Hotline on 0800 6520333. They may wish to collect the animal for autopsy.
  2. If the museum does not wish to collect the animal for research, contact the council on 0845 600 6400.

What to do if you find a live dolphin or porpoise:

All live stranding’s should be reported to the British Divers Marine Life Rescue on 01825 765546, who will arrange for local medics and vets to attend and deal with the animal.

You should also report the stranding to the Cetacean Stranding Investigation Program (CSIP) at the Natural History Museum on 0207 4496672 or the National Strandings Hotline on 0800 6520333.

Whales belong to the Crown. If a whale washes up, whether it is alive or dead, it must be reported to the Receiver of Wreck on 02380 329 474 in the first instance.

What to do if you find a dead whale:

  1. Dead carcases should be reported to the Cetacean Stranding Investigation Program (CSIP) at the Natural History Museum on 0207 4496672 or the National Strandings Hotline on 0800 6520333. These organisations may wish to collect the animal for autopsy.
  2. If the organisations above do not wish to collect the animal for research, contact the council on 0845 600 6400

What to do if you find a live whale:

  1. All live stranding’s should be reported to the British Divers Marine Life Rescue on 01825 765546, who will arrange for local medics and vets to attend and deal with the animal.
  2. You should also report the stranding to the Cetacean Stranding Investigation Program (CSIP) at the Natural History Museum on 0207 4496672 or the National Strandings Hotline on 0800 6520333.