Skomer (Sue Burton)

Marine conservation in Pembrokeshire

Marine conservation is especially important in Pembrokeshire because the marine and coastal environment underpin the local economy. Pembrokeshire’s economy is heavily reliant upon tourism and recreation, as well as the commercial activities within the Milford Haven Waterway. These interests, and the duty to look after the marine wildlife of the site, need to be looked at together; they cannot be considered in isolation. Looking after Pembrokeshire’s marine environment is a joint responsibility.

Whilst the Pembrokeshire Marine SAC is the most all-encompassing marine conservation designation in Pembrokeshire, there are others. These further enhance the importance of marine conservation in Pembrokeshire. There are many types of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), to use an umbrella term, but all are created to support the long-term health and productivity of our marine and coastal environment.

In addition to the Pembrokeshire Marine SAC, the seas off Pembrokeshire are also host to some other Special Areas of Conservation (SACs):

  • The West Wales Marine SAC. Situated off the coast of Wales from the Llŷn peninsula in the north, to Pembrokeshire in the south-west, this site has been designated as an area of importance for Harbour Porpoise. The West Wales Marine SAC overlaps the Pembrokeshire Marine SAC to the Castlemartin coast, including the entrance of the Milford Haven Waterway.
  • The Bristol Channel Approaches SAC. Also designated for Harbour Porpoise, the site extends across the western approaches to the Bristol Channel, from Carmarthen Bay in South Wales to the north coast of Devon and Cornwall. The Bristol Channel Approaches SAC just overlaps slightly with the eastern edge of the Pembrokeshire Marine SAC from Freshwater East to Manorbier.
  • Cardigan Bay SAC. Famed for its Botttlenose Dolphin population and designated for four species and three habitats, this site’s southern boundary edges into Pembrokeshire to Ceibwr Bay. It does not overlap with the Pembrokeshire Marine SAC.
  • Carmarthen Bay and Estuaries SAC. Designated for six habitats and five species, this site’s western boundary is at Tenby and it intersects Caldey Island. It does not overlap with the Pembrokeshire Marine SAC.

Special Protection Areas (SPAs), set up under The Birds Directive (Directive 79/409/EEC amended in 2009 to become Directive 2009/147/EC) aim to conserve birds and several are designated in Pembrokeshire which encompass marine areas:

  • Skomer, Skokholm and the Seas off Pembrokeshire SPA. Designated to protect the huge population of Manx Shearwater that breeds here, together with large numbers of other bird species including the Puffin.
  • Grassholm SPA. Designated for the Gannet that breeds here in large numbers – the third biggest colony in the UK.
  • Carmarthen Bay SPA. The first fully marine SPA in the UK was designated for the Common Scoter sea duck. This site overlaps substantially with the Carmarthen Bay and Estuaries SAC but not the Pembrokeshire Marine SAC.

Collectively SACs and SPAs form a network of sites called Natura 2000 that span the European Union. Since leaving the European Union in 2020, the UK does not form part of the Natura 2000 network, but these sites can still be called European Sites or if they are marine sites, then European Marine Sites (EMSs). They are now referred to as the national site network. UK SACs are still considered part of the Emerald Network under the Bern Convention.

The oldest and best studied MPA in Pembrokeshire is:

  • Skomer Marine Conservation Zone. The waters around Skomer Island and the Marloes Peninsula were designated as the first MCZ in Wales in 2014. Before 2014 the area had been Wales’ only Marine Nature Reserve for 24 years. NRW staff monitor and help to manage the site. Information about the site can be found at the interpretation centre at Martin’s Haven and Natural Resources Wales / Skomer Marine Conservation Zone.

Along the shoreline, intertidal parts of the Pembrokeshire Marine SAC also overlap with multiple Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Designated under the provisions of The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). Section 28 of the Act sets out a range of duties and powers to ensure the protection and management of SSSIs. Improved provisions for the protection and management of SSSIs were introduced by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.

Further information on MPAs in Wales can be found at Natural Resources Wales / Marine protected areas.

Designations English Base map

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Aerial view looking down Milford Haven waterway (Port of Milford Haven)