Pagham Harbour MCZ and SPA

Pagham Harbour Marine Conservation Zone is one of the seven MCZs designated within Sussex coastal waters. Also designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA), Ramsar, and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), this naturally occurring tidal inlet is fronted by two dynamic shingle spits and is renowned for its rich wildlife.

Pagham Harbour was designated within the first tranche of MCZ sites in November 2013. The small coastal site is located between Bognor Regis and Selsey in West Sussex, measuring approximately 3km2.

As an MCZ, the site provides specific protection for seagrass beds, Defolin’s lagoon snail (Caecum armoricum) and lagoon sand shrimp (Gammarus insensibilis). As an SPA, the site protects the habitats of internationally important populations of Annex I and migratory bird species to support their survival and reproduction. Species listed on Annex I are in danger of extinction, rare or vulnerable.

         © RSPB                                                                                                                                                                                                 © RSPB


Management for both the MCZ and SPA protected features have been developed by Sussex IFCA in close liaison with partner organisations and through public consultation. The management is defined in Schedule 3 of the MPA Byelaw. Formal consultation took place in April 2017 and the byelaw was signed off by the Secretary of State in July 2018.

A pro-active approach to fisheries management within Pagham Harbour is important to maintain sustainable fisheries and a healthy marine environment. As potentially the only near-pristine site within Sussex’s coastal waters, a one-off fishing activity occurrence could have a significant effect on protected features.


The MPA Byelaw can be found here. This is the over-arching MPA byelaw with Shedule one for Kingmere MCZ, Schedule two for Beachy Head West MCZ, Schedule three for Pagham Harbour MCZ and Schedule four for Utopia MCZ

The associated Pagham Schedule Impact Assessment can be found here.

A leaflet summarising the managment of Pagham can be found here.

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

  • Use towed gear (a trawl or a dredge).
  • Fish with a net, pot or long lining gear.
  • Intentionally remove or damage seagrass.
  • Remove from the shore in a single day more than 5 edible crabs, 20 crabs of other species, 1kg of mollusc shellfish, 1kg of shrimps/ prawns, 1kg of marine worms or 2kg of seaweed. 
  • Deposit any item on the seabed for the purposes of gathering marine resources.

Within the MCZ, in the Bird Conservation Area from 1st April to 31st August, it is prohibited to:

  • Undertake intertidal gathering.
  • Conduct rod and line angling.

These management measures are specific to Pagham Harbour. Other management measures may apply, check here.



Pagham Harbour is mainly comprised of saltmarsh and intertidal mudflats, with lagoons, shingle banks and areas of open water.
The Marine Conservation Zone has three designated features: seagrass beds, Defolin’s lagoon snail (Caecum armoricum) and lagoon sand shrimp (Gammarus insensibilis).

Seagrass is a Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) species and has been placed on the international OSPAR list of threatened and/or declining species and habitats. Both Defolin’s lagoon snail and the lagoon sand shrimp are Schedule 5 species (Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981). The general management approach is maintain in favourable condition for all features.

Seagrass protection within the site fulfils both MCZ and SPA requirements. Seagrass is an MCZ protected feature and a SPA sub-feature - providing key feeding habitat for the protected Brent geese. Seagrass, made up of grass-like flowering plants, typically grows in sheltered waters such as inlets and lagoons. These provide an important food source for overwintering wildfowl and contain nutrients which support a range of animal communities. They also act as a nursery ground for juvenile fish and provide shelter for a wider range of species.

                                  © Paul Kay                                                                                                                                                                                  © Alison Atterbury

The Defolin’s lagoon snail (Caecum armoricum) is only 2mm long, with an unusual, tubular shell structure. Within the UK live colonies have only ever been located in 3 sites; in Pagham Harbour, in Dorset and in Kent. It inhabits the interstitial spaces between loose shingle where seawater percolates through the pebbles. Colonies have been found to have up to 100,000 individuals per square meter. They can migrate between the layers of shingle to reach better conditions, but cannot move over longer distances. This makes them vulnerable to habitat loss and any change to isolated coastal lagoons may result in the loss of existing colonies.

The lagoon sand shrimp (Gammarus insensibilis) grows up to just 2cm long and inhabits shallow brackish lagoons with fine sediments. Unusually for a crustacean, this shrimp hatches as a miniature adult with no larval stage. This life-cycle, and the enclosed nature of lagoons, means that there is little opportunity for the species to spread beyond their home lagoon. Significant alteration to the lagoon habitat may result in the local extinction of this endangered species. Populations of the shrimp are often found associated with the ‘spaghetti algae’ (Chaetomorpha linum), a filamentous seaweed which can form large mats, and is a predominant food source for the shrimp. This relationship is significant enough to include the algae as supporting habitat and should be considered in relation to the conservation objectives of the site.

Pagham Harbour SPA was designated to protect bird species; internationally important populations of regularly occurring Annex 1 species (little tern, common tern and wintering ruff) and internationally important populations of regularly occurring migratory species (dark-bellied brent geese), as well as generic sub-features: shallow coastal waters, estuarine fish community, intertidal mudflats and sandflats, intertidal mixed sediments, saltmarsh community, estuarine birds, surface feeding birds and seagrass. The Conservation Objective is, subject to natural change, maintain in favourable condition the habitats for the internationally important populations of the twelve regularly occurring Annex 1 bird species and regularly occurring migratory species, under the Birds Directive.

     © RSPB                                                                                                                                       © RSPB                                                                                                                                      © RSPB 

Fishing activity in Pagham Harbour

There is a good understanding of fishing activity level and location within the site as fishing activity sightings data has been collected by Sussex IFCA for over 15 years. There is just a single observation of fishing activity within the Harbour, a vessel engaged in angling. There is no known towed gear activity or any existing commercial potting or netting. Intertidal resource gathering (such as bait digging) is not widespread within the Harbour.

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


Pagham Harbour Pilot Small Fish Survey 2015
A survey of small and juvenile fish was conducted in Pagham Harbour by Sussex IFCA and partners 
in 2015. The aim of the survey was to provide information on the local fish population. 
These sheltered coastal areas are important as nursery grounds for many fish species, in particular those which are of commercial importance. Fish are also an important part of marine food webs and as indicators of ecosystem health.

The Pagham Harbour Pilot Small Fish Survey Report 2015 is available here.


Seagrass Survey
The Environment Agency conducts annual surveys of seagrass in Pagham Harbour and other
specified areas in the UK. To find out more about seagrass, click here


Other activites

Sussex IFCA only has jurisdiction over fishing activities between the mean high water mark and out to 6 nautical miles. We are working with partner organisations to support a whole ecosystem approach to multi-sectoral use of the site.

Management development

Balanced Seas: site selection
After over two years of discussion, taking into account social and economic factors alongside the best available scientific evidence, stakeholders passed 127 final site recommendations to Government advisory bodies in September 2011. All the MCZ sites went out for public consultation between December 2012 and March 2013, enabling further input from the community into the sites to be designated.

More information on the Balanced Seas project can be found here.

DEFRA: proposed MCZs consultation
The summary of responses from Defra’s consultation on proposed MCZ sites between December 2012 and March 2013, indicated general support for the site from recreational, fishing, conservation and archaeological sectors. There are existing conservation designations including Ramsar, SSSI and a Local Nature Reserve. Therefore, MCZ features were chosen to ensure minimum overlap.

Sussex IFCA: Informal consultation
An informal consultation drop in took place in September 2016 at the Pagham Harbour RSPB centre. Attendees were offered information on the proposed management measures and invited to comment.

Comments about angling activity were taken into account when drawing the boundary of the Bird Conservation Area. Comments about the limits on the collection of intertidal species was considered. However, these limits are consistent with Beachy Head West MCZ management measures and are based on a quantity which respects the needs of recreational gatherers collecting for non-commercial, personal consumption needs.

Adaptive management

The management measures used best available evidence at the time of management formulation. Where adaptive management measures are proposed, 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 four years after the management has been signed off by the Secretary of State, i.e. in 2022. If there is evidence that there is a significant impact on the MCZ features, then the byelaw will be amended to address this. Any changes to the byelaw will be in full consultation with stakeholders.

Links to further information

RSPB Pagham Harbour Local Nature Reserve page

DEFRA’s Pagham Harbour MCZ factsheet and designation order

The Wildlife Trust's Pagham Harbour MCZ page 

The Wildlife Trust's Seagrass page 

Natural England's Conservation Advice for Pagham Harbour Marine Conservation Zone

Natural England's Conservation Advice for Pagham Harbour Special Protection Area

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