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

We are very fortunate in Northumberland to share our waters with an astounding variety of marine life, including marine mammals such as seals, whales, dolphins and porpoises. Unfortunately, dead and live animals sometimes wash onto our shores.

Click here for instructions of how to report a stranded marine mammal