Marine conservation

Find out how we conserve the marine life of Northumberland's coastline and what to do if you find a stranded animal on one of our beaches.

Northumberland has a stunning coastline with sandy beaches, rocky 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.

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 focuses on the management of human activities to ensure 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 in which to live, work and visit. It is essential we conserve this environment for future generations, and our activities occur in harmony with nature.
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, 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 they live in.

Food chains are a good example. A seal might eat a fish, which has fed 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 found on an intertidal rocky shore, which are specially adapted to surviving long periods out of water while the tide is out.
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 protected by law or agreements to conserve marine habitats and species.

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 towards nationally and internationally important coastal and marine ecosystems. We celebrate this spectacular environment through the following designations:

Ramsar sites
Ramsar sites are wetlands of international significance designated under the 1971 Ramsar Convention. The intertidal areas surrounding Holy Island and the adjacent mainland are designated as the Lindisfarne Ramsar site, while the majority of the shore between the Tweed Estuary and the Tees Estuary forms the Northumbria Coast Ramsar site.

Special protection areas
Special protection areas (SPAs) are designated under the 2009 EC Birds Directive and aim to protect internationally significant populations of wild birds and their supporting habitats. These important sites can be found inland, at the coast and out to sea. The Lindisfarne and Northumbria Coast Ramsar sites both support important groups of sea birds and waterfowl, and are therefore also designated as SPAs. Further offshore, the Farne Islands and Coquet Island are also designated SPAs due to the breeding seabird colonies they support.

Special areas of conservation
Special areas of conservation (SACs) are designated under the 1992 EC Habitats Directive to protect habitats and species of European significance. Like SPAs, they are found on land and out to sea.

The Tweed Estuary is SAC due to the estuarine habitat and the species it supports. The Berwickshire and North Northumberland Coast SAC stretches from Alnmouth in the south, up to Fast Castle Head (Scotland) in the north.

It encompasses the intertidal areas of shore and extends seaward to about four nautical miles at the widest point. The site covers about 645 km2, including the Farne Islands and Holy Island.

A coordinated management partnership, made up from key statutory regulators, implements a strategic management plan for this SAC, together with the Lindisfarne SPA.

Together, these two sites are known and managed as the Berwickshire and North Northumberland Coast European Marine Site. More information can be found at the dedicated website,

Marine conservation zones
Marine conservation zones (MCZs) are designated under the UK Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. Unlike the designations above, which are designed to protect rare, threatened or vulnerable habitats and species, MCZs are designed to protect marine habitats and species typical of UK marine features.

The full suite of MCZs, together with the other types of marine protected area discussed above, aim to create an ecologically coherent network of protected sites.

The first MCZs were designated in 2013, and the Aln Estuary was among them. In 2015, a stretch of intertidal and offshore rocky reef between Coquet Island and St Mary’s in North Tyneside is likely to be designated, along with additional sites offshore from the Northumberland coast.

Sites of special scientific interest
Sites of special scientific interest (SSSI) are designated under the UK Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to protect the best examples of UK wildlife and habitats. They are found on land down to the mean low water mark, and include many intertidal areas.

The entire coastline of Northumberland, with the exception of a small area around Lynemouth, is protected through a patchwork of multiple SSSI designations. The Ramsar sites, SPAs and SACs listed above are all overlain by SSSI designations, with the exception of the Berwickshire and North Northumberland Coast SAC, which extends below mean low water where SSSIs do not apply.

To view an interactive map of all the SSSIs on the Northumberland coast, as well as the other types of marine protected area, visit Magic Maps -
Guidance on what to do if you come across one of Northumberland’s marine animals.

Northumberland is home to an internationally important breeding colony of grey seals. Between September and November each year, more than 4,000 congregate on the Farne Islands to pup, with more than 1,000 born each year.

Although the Farne Islands are their main hub, it is not uncommon to find seals resting along the Northumberland coast at any time of the year.

Mothers regularly leave their pups alone on the shore while they rest, play and forage for food nearby. Lone pups are a common sight and are quite safe. If you find a live seal on the shore, it is more than likely just resting. Observe from a distance, particularly if it is a young pup. Scaring it may cause it to move, making it difficult for its mother to find again.

Please keep dogs away. Seals can carry diseases and they will bite if they feel threatened.

If the animal looks sick (coughing, sneezing, short of breath) or injured, report it to the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) who are trained marine mammal medics. For your own safety, and the safety of the animal, do not attempt to attend to the animal yourself unless you are a trained and qualified BDMLR medic.

If you want to help, arrange a safe cordon around the animal and keep people and dogs away until the medics arrive.

Phone the coastal warden for advice on 07932 440838 or the British Divers Marine Life Rescue:  
  • office hours:01825 765546
  • out of hours: 07787 433412 
Because dolphins and whales are ‘fishes royal', they must be reported to the receiver of wreck, which is done through the coastguard.
  • Coastguard: 01262 672317
If you want to help, arrange a safe cordon around the animal and keep people and dogs away until the medics arrive.

Alternatively, contact the coastal warden for advice on 07932 440838.

British Divers Marine Life Rescue:     
  • office hours: 01825 765546
  • out of hours: 07787 433412 
Report it to us on 0345 600 6400.

Information we will ask for:
  • name of beach or shore
  • location on the shore
  • any signs of injury or cause of death
  • state of decomposition
  • photographs if you have them
The council will report the incident to the relevant bodies and will liaise with them to agree the removal of the carcass wherever practicable.

The remoteness of some of our beaches means that access can sometime be very challenging, especially with large and heavy animals. It may not always be possible to remove the animal straight away.

The public should be advised that some of our coastline is on private land. In certain circumstances, the council may remove the animal but this may not be possible due to certain legalities, land ownership and access.

Dead seals must be reported to the council, regardless of where they are found. The council will then contact the landowner to remove it, or make efforts to remove it themselves (for costs).