Beachy Head West MCZ

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 which include chalk, blue mussels, native oysters and short-snouted seahorses. 


The MPA byelaw can be found here. This is the over-arching MPA byelaw with Schedule 1 for Kingmere MCZ, Schedule 2 for Beachy Head West MCZ, Schedule 3 for Pagham Harbour MCZ and Scedule 4 for Utopia 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. This is designed to be an single sheet of A4 folded in half.

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. The voluntary code of conduct for commercial and recreational fishers can be found here.

Within the MCZ, it is prohibited for a person to:

  • Harm, destroy or remove from the shore any blue mussels, seahorses, piddocks or native oysters by any method.
  • Within the Education Conservation Areas, remove or harm any marine organism by intertidal gathering.
  • Outside the Education Conservation Areas, remove from the shore any more than 2 European lobsters, 5 edible crabs, 20 crabs of other species, 1kg of mollusc shellfish, 1kg of shrimps/ prawns, 1kg of marine worms, or 2kg of seaweed, per person, per day. None of these species may be removed for commercial purposes.
  • Fish with a net from the shore.
  • Anchor a line from the shore. (Rod and line angling is permitted.)
  • Use towed gear (eg: a trawl) from a vessel. Towed gear operators inside the buffer zone (0.5 nautical miles outside the MCZ boundary) must use an active vessel monitoring system.

These management measures are specific to Beachy Head West MCZ. Other management measures may apply, check our byelaws page 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 nearly 20 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 bycatch 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.


Sussex IFCA collaborates with partner organisations to monitor the features of Beachy Head West MCZ.

Sussex Wildlife Trust: Shoresearch
The Sussex Shoresearch team organises a programme of survey events throughout the year where species and habitats are recorded at specific sites along the Sussex shoreline.
The aim of the project is to build a baseline of data on intertidal wildlife around Sussex to help promote its conservation.

If you are interested in volunteering or finding out more, click here.

Sussex Coastal Habitats Inshore Pilot (SCHIP)
The Channel Coastal Observatory (CCO) were commissioned to interpret bathymetry, backscatter and groundtruthing data, with funding from the Environment Agency and the South Downs National Park Authority , for the seabed mapping part of the Sussex Coastal Habitats Inshore Pilot (SCHIP1) project. A series of detailed maps were produced, including surficial substrate, marine habitats and anthropogenic features, to inform conservation, planning policy and management objectives.
Click here for the report on the habitat mapping in the 1km inshore strip along the Sussex coast.

All swath bathymetry data collected through the Southeast Regional Coastal Monitoring Programme are freely available, under Open Government Licence from either as text, ascii or SD (Fledermaus) files.
The EUNIS Level 3 marine habitat map and substrate type map are also available for viewing and download as shapefiles.

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 MCZs. We are working with partner organisations to support a whole ecosystem approach 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.

Management Development                                              

Balanced Seas: site selection
After over two years of discussion, stakeholders passed 127 final site recommendations to Government advisory bodies in September 2011. Social and economic factors alongside the best available scientific evidence were taken into account during this decision making process. Public consultation for all potential MCZ sites took place between December 2012 and March 2013. This enabled further input from the community for determining the sites to be designated.

More information on the Balanced Seas project can be found here

Sussex IFCA: Community Voice Method
Sussex IFCA conducted extensive informal consultation to develop and generate support for potential management measures at Beachy Head West. Prior to the designation of 1st tranche MCZ sites at the end of 2013, Sussex IFCA had already begun its first stage of consulting with the community on management. Leading the process, Sussex IFCA worked with the Marine Conservation Society and independent consultants on an innovative project which utilised a film-based technique called Community Voice Method (CVM) to gather people’s views on Sussex MCZ management.


Forty-one filmed stakeholder interviews were conducted between November 2013 and April 2014, with people selected based on their expert knowledge or involvement in relevant industries or sea user groups. The aim was to ensure as full a range of views and values as possible from across the area was captured. The 30 minute film produced was screened at 6 wider community MCZ management workshops conducted in October and November 2014. At the workshops, potential management options for different fishing activities within Beachy Head West MCZ were discussed. You can watch the film here.

These management options were developed by Sussex IFCA in consultation with Natural England in response to the conservation advice for the site, with key site users and the Authority’s committee .

Adaptive Management
Current management measures used the best available evidence at the time of management development. Agreed ongoing monitoring and research will be developed with Natural England to assess if the conservation objectives are being met.

This means that there will be a review period of 4 years. The first review will be in 2021. If there is evidence that there is a significant impact on the MCZ features, then the byelaw will be amended to address this.

Links to further information

Natural England’s site information and conservation advice with site boundary coordinates

Natural England’s advice to DEFRA on proposed Marine Conservation Zones for designation in 2013

DEFRA’s Beachy Head West MCZ factsheet and designation order

Sussex Wildlife Trust Beachy Head West page

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