Sussex Wildlife Trust launches Sussex by the Sea conservation project

The Sussex Wildlife Trust reports, September 2019 Newsletter: This summer I went paddle-boarding off the coast of our nature reserve at Seaford Head. On the cliffs above me I could hear the calls of gulls and kittiwakes. The sea was flat and clear, and I could see crabs vying for territory, anemones swaying with the current, and goby fish swimming along channels in the chalk reef — and I knew that somewhere nearby, hidden amongst the kelp, there were tiny seahorses, performing morning courtship dances to each other

Now it’s time for us to take positive action to help our seas, and the wealth of beautiful wildlife hidden beneath the waves.

Together with our partners we’re planning a major marine conservation project called Sussex by the Sea, after the song that’s an anthem for the pride we feel for our county. 

Our plans for Sussex by the Sea will include conducting marine wildlife surveys; giving children a day out on the beach exploring the shoreline for mermaid’s purses, crabs and shells; and working alongside local fishermen to retrieve old fishing gear from the sea that could trap and kill wildlife.

Sussex by the Sea is based on a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund, but we need to raise £20k of match-funding to make this important project happen*.

Your support could help initiate a real sea-change resulting in the gift of clean, healthy seas, rich in wildlife for everyone to enjoy, including our beautiful seahorses.

*If the bid is not successful, your donation will be used by Sussex Wildlife Trust to fund its marine conservation work.

Beachy Head West MCZMCZ Marine Conservation Zone

Beachy Head West Marine Conservation Zone stretches along the coastline from Brighton Marina to Beachy Head, with a gap at Newhaven. It extends half a nautical mile seaward from the mean high water line, covering approximately 24km2. This area includes the Heritage Coast within the South Downs National Park, the eastern half of the Brighton and Lewes Downs Biosphere (the Living Coast) and part of the Seven Sisters Voluntary Marine Conservation Area.

One of the main reasons for site designation was the extensive intertidal wave cut chalk platforms and subtidal chalk ridges, which are among the best examples of marine chalk habitat in the south-east. Chalk reef is a fragile and unusual marine habitat which supports abundant wildlife, including threatened species such as blue mussel beds and native oysters. The site also contains rare short-snouted seahorses and is known to be a key nursery and spawning ground for several fish species.

The site forms part of the ‘blue belt’ around the English coast, designated as an ecologically coherent, well-managed, network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

Beachy Head West was designated within the first tranche of MCZ sites in November 2013. The MCZ consists of two spatially separate sites; Brighton Marina to Newhaven and Newhaven to Beachy Head with a gap at Newhaven port. The MCZ borders the South Downs National Park and covers part of the Seven Sisters Voluntary Marine Conservation Area and certain Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) from Seaford to Beachy Head and Brighton to Newhaven Cliffs.

DEFRA information, including MCZ factsheet and designation order with site boundary coordinates

Beachy Head West Byelaw

Sussex IFCA’s role with regard to Beachy Head West MCZ is to introduce appropriate management of the fisheries activities that have a negative impact on the features of conservation importance; chalk habitat, blue mussels, native oysters and short-snouted seahorses. An MPA Byelaw with an associated Beachy Head West MCZ Schedule is now in force.

The MPA byelaw can be found here. This is the over-arching MPA byelaw with Schedule one for Kingmere MCZ and Schedule two for Beachy Head West MCZ.

Additional guidance on the byelaw specific to Beachy Head West can be found here.

Additional navigational guidance for fishers can be found here.

A leaflet summarising the management of Beachy Head West MCZ  can be found here

The associated Beachy Head West Schedule Impact Assessment can be found here.

Sussex IFCA has introduced a combination of both voluntary measures and regulation of commercial and recreational fishing that promotes compliance and support from the community, whilst meeting the conservation requirements of Beachy Head West MCZ. The supporting voluntary code of conduct promotes good practice and aims to enhance the conservation outcomes for the site. Voluntary code of conduct proposals for commercial and recreational fishers can be found here.

These management measures are specific to Beachy Head West MCZ. Other management measures may apply, check here.


Beachy Head West is a diverse mix of bedrock, boulders and cobbles supporting seaweed communities with areas of sand and mud. To see more information on the habitats and video clips of seabed surveys click here for our interactive map.

The chalk supports a great diversity of animals, including rock-boring worms, barnacles, anemones, crustaceans (e.g. velvet swimming crabs, lobsters, prawns) and molluscs (e.g. rock-boring piddocks, top shell snails, periwinkles, limpets). Protected animals include short-snouted seahorses, blue mussel beds and native oysters.

The site has 14 designated features, including:
Sediments: Intertidal coarse sediment, Infralittoral sandy mud, Infralittoral muddy sand, Subtidal mixed sediment, Subtidal sand and Subtidal mud.
Rock: Low energy infralittoral rock and thin sandy sediment, Littoral chalk communities, Subtidal chalk, Moderate energy circalittoral rock and High energy circalittoral rock
Species: Short-snouted seahorse (Hippocampus hippocampus), Native oyster (Ostrea edulis) and Blue mussel beds (Mytilus edulis).

There is more information about these habitat classifications on the EUNIS website.

Blue mussel beds at Newhaven.
© Sussex Seaseach, image taken by Gerald Legg.

Short-snouted seahorses can be found within the shallow waters of this MCZ during the summer months. Beachy Head West MCZ acts as an important nursery and spawning ground for this species. Their excellent eyesight allows them to hunt for small crustaceans which they suck up through their snouts. Only two seahorse species are found in UK waters, the short-snouted seahorse and the long-snouted seahorse (Hippocampus guttulatus).

Blue mussel beds are found at Seaford Head and Beachy Head from the high water line, right out to sea, often densely packed on the chalk ridges. The rough chalk at Beachy Head West MCZ provides a great habitat to allow blue mussel larvae to settle. Broken shells, alongside sand and mud present as a thin layer on hard rocks can also provide a suitable habitat for blue mussels.

Education Conservation Areas (ECAs)

The Education Conservation Areas (ECAs) are intertidal no-take zones. These are zones where no extractive activity can occur. Research within these areas will improve understanding of the populations that exist when there is no intertidal gathering. These areas will provide an excellent education resource. The ECAs tie in with the marine sections of the South Downs National Park and Living Coast Biosphere Reserve.

Fishing Activity

Fishing activity is well documented within the site, with over 15 years of vessel sightings data collected by Sussex IFCA. A report on the fishing effort for the whole District is available here.

The main commercial fishery is potting and netting. Towed gear fishing i.e. trawling and dredging, is not permitted within the site. 

© Geoffrey Lee

Trawling is now prohibited within the MCZ. Prior to the implementation of the Byelaw in 2016, trawling occurred at low intensity, with only 1-2 fishing vessels known to occasionally operate within the site boundary. In areas around the site, outside of the MCZ boundary, the activity occurs at a higher level of intensity.

Parlour and inkwell pots are used seasonally at high intensity within the site to target lobsters, with a typical bycatchBycatch The part of a fishery catch that is not a legal target of the fishery. Bycatch may be retained and landed but is usually discarded (released or returned to the sea, dead or alive). Examples: sea turtles caught in a longline fishery, sharks caught while fishing for swordfish, small or undersize red snapper caught when fishing for larger red snapper, and target species caught after a quota or limit has been reached. of brown crab and whelk. Areas between Beachy Head lighthouse to Seaford Head and Newhaven West Breakwater to Portobello outfall are notably popular for lobster potting.

Netting within the MCZ is highly seasonal, depending on the target species.

Angling predominantly occurs through small vessels and shore angling within the MCZ. Angling occurs at low intensity, with medium seasonal intensity occurring around the edge of the site.

The highest intensity of angling has been reported towards the extreme eastern area around Beachy Head.


Various research has been conducted within the MCZ. More information is in our Research Plan and Annual Research Report. Sussex IFCA collaborates with partner organisations to monitor the features of Beachy Head West MCZ.

Fishing Effort

Since 2001, when Sussex IFCA officers are conducting a sea patrol and they see a fishing vessel, they record its position and the fishing gear it is using.

Fishing activity in and around Beachy Head West MCZ was analysed to understand the fishing pressure on the features.

A report on the fishing effort for the whole district is available here.

Other Activities

Sussex IFCA only has jurisdiction over fishing activities within MCZsMCZ Marine Conservation Zone. We are working with partner organisations to support a whole ecosystem approachecosystem approach An ecosystem-based approach to management represents a new and more strategic way of thinking. It puts the emphasis on a management regime that maintains the health of ecosystems alongside appropriate human use of the marine environment, for the benefit of current and future generations. This requires setting clear environmental objectives both at the general and specific level, basing management of the marine environment on the principles of sustainable development, conservation of biodiversity, robust science, the precautionary principle and stakeholder involvement. Ref, DEFRA, Safeguarding Our Seas, section 1.17 (2002) for the multi-sectoral use of the site.

There is a licence issued by the Marine Management Organisation for dredged material disposal within the MCZ. You can find out more on the MMO’s website by searching their database with the case number MLA/2014/00511/2.

Source: Sussex Wildlife Trust Newsletter, September 2019.


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