The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions
(DETR) (now Defra), established a working group to undertake a
Review of Marine Nature Conservation (RMNC) in the UK. One of the
key recommendations in the interim report of the RMNC Working
Group, submitted to Ministers in March 2001, was the promotion of a
pilot scheme, at the regional sea scale, to demonstrate the
application of the regional seas concept.
The Irish Sea Pilot scheme was established in 2002, with the
aim of trialling a 'framework for marine conservation' (Laffoley
et al., 2000), addressing the ecological requirements of
marine wildlife at an appropriate range of spatial scales. In doing
so, the Irish Sea Pilot has examined the degree to which this
framework can contribute to wider sustainable development for the
whole of the marine environment. In particular, the trial
investigated the manner in which nature conservation objectives
could be integrated into the objectives of other marine interest
sectors (fisheries, oil and gas, shipping etc.) in practice. The
'framework for marine conservation' proposed the use of marine
landscapes as part of an ecosystem-based approach to marine
The concept of marine landscapes was developed for Canadian
waters by Roff and Taylor (2000), and is further discussed in a UK
context by Laffoley et al., (2000). The concept is a
broad-scale classification of the marine environment based on
geophysical features, recognising that these are important in
determining the nature of biological communities. This approach is
potentially well suited for areas away from the coastline where
biological information is likely to be lacking, and/or where the
regulation of human activity needs to be addressed at the
relatively large scale.
Roff and Taylor (2000) considered that the concept could be
applied to the water column (using factors such as water
temperature, depth/light, and stratification/mixing regime), and
also to the seabed (using factors such as water temperature,
depth/light, substratum type, exposure and slope). Using these
parameters, they developed a classification, the resultant
components of which were termed 'seascapes'.
However, as the term 'seascapes' has already been used in
other contexts in the UK and its use could lead to confusion, the
RMNC Working Group has adopted the term 'marine landscapes' for
The 'framework for marine nature conservation' envisages
conservation action at a range of scales, from measures taken at
the scale of the UK continental shelf and adjacent waters, down to
measures taken to conserve individual marine protected areas and
individual species (Laffoley et al., 2000). In summary,
these scales can be summarised as follows:
The wider sea: This includes all territorial waters, the
continental shelf under UK jurisdiction and adjacent waters. At
this scale, conservation action will address wider issues such as
pollution, water quality and the protection of wide ranging marine
species, as well as reporting on environmental change.
Regional Seas: This level is based on ecologically meaningful
sub-divisions of the wider sea (Turnbull, 2004). This approach will
provide a framework within which to map and describe marine
biodiversity, identify conservation priorities, assess the marine
resource and engage with industry (Laffoley et al.,
Marine Landscapes: This level represents an intermediate scale
between regional seas and habitats, which have consistent physical
and ecological character and provide a sensible scale to relate to
the management of certain human activities such as fishing.
Conservation action will be aimed at regulating such human
activities in a way which is tailored to the relative sensitivity
to damage of the seabed substratum, and also to the relative
sensitivity to alteration or disturbance of particular water column
characteristics (such as frontal systems).
Habitats/Species: Here, conservation action will be aimed at
ensuring that areas which are of high value for biodiversity are
maintained in this condition for the future, and to regulate human
activity which could harm important species, including mobile
species, whose needs are not met by action taken under the other
scales. At this level, conservation action will include the
establishment of marine protected areas, i.e. areas protected
within a tightly defined legal framework; for example as provided
for under the Habitats Directive (EC, 1992).
The classification of marine landscapes has been based on
readily available broad-scale geophysical and hydrographical data
to define and map a series of marine landscape types for the seabed
and water column. For each of these, it was expected that it would
be possible to ascertain (or predict) the biological communities
characteristic of the particular type and thus use them for
conservation and management purposes, particularly in the absence
of ground-truthed biological data. These marine landscape features
are defined at a scale which is both ecologically relevant and
applicable to the management of human activities.
The work that was undertaken on marine landscapes under the
Pilot can be summarised as follows:
The collation and analysis of essential geophysical
information to identify and map the main types of marine landscape
occurring in the Irish Sea.
The characterisation of the marine landscapes identified, to
summarise their characteristic biological communities, insofar as
this can be ascertained from available data.
An evaluation of the marine landscapes in relation to their
susceptibility to harm as a result of human activities.
The setting of conservation objectives appropriate to the
various marine landscapes and the identification of management
measures necessary to protect, recover and maintain their
contribution to marine ecosystem structure and function, and our
sustainable use of them.
This paper reports on the work undertaken to collate and
analyse geophysical information and identify marine landscapes for
the Irish Sea, and also identify their characteristic biological
communities. Work to evaluate the susceptibility of marine
landscapes to human activities (Tyler-Walters et al.,
2003), and to 'score' each coastal (physiographic) and seabed
marine landscape using a simple measure of relative biological
diversity, is also reported in this paper. Work on the setting of
conservation objectives for marine landscapes is reported in Lumb
et al. (2004).