This is a static version of the conservation advice for this site, generated on 20/09/2019.
Please check the latest advice for this site at https://designatedsites.naturalengland.org.uk/
Natural England Conservation Advice for Marine Protected Areas
Beachy Head West MCZ

Natural England guidance

This site collection contains Natural England’s conservation advice for this site. It fulfils Natural England’s responsibility under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, to give advice on how to further the conservation objectives for the site, identify the activities that are capable of affecting the designated features and the processes which they are dependent upon.

Natural England's conservation advice for this site is made up of a number of components. You will need to consider: Additional information for consideration:

Site information

Site name: Beachy Head West MCZ
Designation type: MCZ
Site identification: UKMCZ0002
Latest designation date: 29 January 2016
Designated features
(click to see site specific description):

Blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) beds

Blue mussel beds are known to be present at Seaford Head and Beachy Head which are within the Seven Sisters Voluntary Marine Conservation Area in both the subtidal and intertidal zones (Natural England (NE), 2014), (Balanced Seas, 2011). The rough, discontinuous chalk present in the Beachy Head West MCZ provides a suitable substrate for the settlement of the larval stages (Maas Geesteranus, 1942). Within the sites, settlement also occurs on broken shell or where sand and mud sediments are present as a thin veneer on a hard substrate.


High energy circalittoral rock

In January 2016, this feature was designated within the Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ). Natural England is in the process of developing Conservation Advice for this feature, which will be added here in due course. In the absence of the site specific description, please refer to the ‘general information on the site features’ below.


Infralittoral muddy sand

Infralittoral muddy sand is a more detailed description of subtidal sand. It has been incorporated from the Regional Environmental Characterisation (REC) study from the Marine Aggregate Levy Sustainability Fund (MALSF) (Balanced Seas, 2011). The infralittoral zone within the boundaries of the Beachy Head West MCZ extends from the low water mark down to 10 m depth (Balanced Seas, 2011). Infralittoral muddy sand is present in the seaward half of the western quarter of the sites. The sand is non cohesive and contains up to 20% mud. Lower tidal flow of 0.5 to 1 knot in this area allows some settlement of finer sediments (James et al., 2010). This provides a habitat for different biotopes and species than that of subtidal, fine sand sediments. Although infralittoral muddy sand is common around the English coastline, Beachy Head West represents the majority of the JNCC ‘core’ records in the South East region (Connor et al., 2004).

The habitat is sparsely inhabited but supports a wide diversity of animal communities. Species present include amphipods; polychaete worms (the sand mason Lanice conchilega; Magelona mirabilis; the bristleworms Spiophanes bombyx and Chaetozone setosa), echinoderms - heart urchins (Spatangus purpureus) and sea potatoes (Echinocardium cordatum), and venerid bivalves such as Venus clams (Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA), 2014), (Connor et al., 2004). These and other invertebrates are prey for plaice (Pleuronectes platessa), and Dover sole (Solea solea) with both species using this habitat as a nursery area (Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA), 2014).


Infralittoral rock and thin sandy sediment

Low energy infralittoral rock and thin sandy sediment is a more detailed description of subtidal sand. It has been incorporated from the Regional Environmental Characterisation (REC) study from the Marine Aggregate Levy Sustainability Fund (MALSF) (Balanced Seas, 2011). Low energy infralittoral rock and thin sandy sediment is predominantly found in the eastern zone, extending subtidally from Seaford to Cuckmere. Likewise this habitat is found in the western zone, to the west of Newhaven. In these areas, sandy sediment is mostly present as a thin veneer over the rocks (James et al., 2010). This provides a habitat for different biotopes and species than that of subtidal, fine sand sediments. Research is characterising the biotopes and species present.


Infralittoral sandy mud

Infralittoral sandy mud is a more detailed description of subtidal mud. It has been incorporated from the Regional Environmental Characterisation (REC) study from the Marine Aggregate Levy Sustainability Fund (MALSF) (Balanced Seas, 2011). Infralittoral sandy mud covers the seaward half of the site from Telscombe Cliffs to Newhaven Cliffs (Balanced Seas, 2011). Greater tidal influence prevents the settlement of finer sediments, enabling a greater fraction of coarse material to be present. The infralittoral zone within the boundaries of the Beachy Head West MCZ extends from the low water mark down to 10m depth (Balanced Seas, 2011). This provides a habitat for different biotopes and species than that of subtidal, fine mud sediments.


Intertidal coarse sediment

This habitat runs east from the mouth of the River Ouse and forms a small patch at the mouth of the Cuckmere River. Intertidal coarse sediment is an uncommon habitat and is found only in a few sites in the British Isles and Northern Europe (Natural England (NE), 2014).

Tide and wave action at this site prevents finer sediments from settling in the intertidal zone. Due to the unstable nature of the sediment very few, if any, sessile species grow here (Chapman, 1976); although some seaweeds and barnacles may grow on the larger rocks during the summer and other periods of calm seas (Natural England (NE), 2014). When submerged the intertidal coarse sediment also attracts scavenging fish (Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and Natural England (NE), 2012).


Littoral chalk communities

Within the Beachy Head West MCZ, littoral chalk spans almost the entire site, bar a small gap between Newhaven and Seaford. It is considered the best example of littoral chalk in the South East region (East Sussex County Council, 2010), (Brodie et al., 2007).

Many biotopes typical of littoral chalk communities are present continuously along the MCZs. The littoral chalk supports an excellent representation of the main intertidal habitats characteristic of chalk shores in south east England (Tittley et al., 2010).

Rich, distinct algal zones occur with green macro-algal species such as gut-weed Ulva (Enteromorpha) spp and sea lettuce Ulva lactuca ; brown macro-algal species including Fucus spp and Laminaria spp; and numerous red macro-algal species such as Pophyra purpurea, Gelidium pusillum, Rhodothamniella floridula and Ceramium spp commonly occur (Tittley et al., 2010). At Birling Gap, observations of channel wrack Pelvetia canaliculata and knotted wrack Ascophyllum nodosum are notable considering the typical absence of these species from soft rock substrates (Brodie et al., 2007), (Tittley et al., 2010). The littoral chalk supports a great diversity of fauna, including the rock-boring worm Polydora; barnacles; multiple anemone species; crustaceans; and molluscs including rock-boring piddocks, Gibbula spp, Littorina spp, and Patella vulgate (Tittley et al., 2010).


Moderate energy circalittoral rock

In January 2016, this feature was designated within the Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ). Natural England is in the process of developing Conservation Advice for this feature, which will be added here in due course. In the absence of the site specific description, please refer to the ‘general information on the site features’ below.


Native oyster (Ostrea edulis)

Native oysters are present throughout the Beachy Head West MCZ but most notably at Peacehaven and Seaford bay where the hard chalk and rock substrates present are particularly suitable for settlement (Marine Conservation Society (MCS), 2011). They can however be found on a variety of seabed types, from bedrock to mud. At present all records have been of individual oysters and no beds or communities have been found (Balanced Seas, 2011).


Short snouted seahorse (Hippocampus hippocampus)

During the summer short snouted seahorses are found in shallow waters and have been recorded in the western zone of the Beachy Head West MCZ. During the winter months it is believed that they migrate out of the site and into deeper and calmer waters in the English Channel (Garrick-Maidment and Jones, 2004).


Subtidal chalk

Subtidal chalk is present throughout the MCZ but is covered by sediment in the western zone. It is most exposed in the eastern zone and this area is part of the Seven Sisters Voluntary Marine Conservation Area. Here the chalk forms gullies running perpendicularly to the shore from the low water mark. Blue mussel beds are locally abundant on the upper parts of the chalk ridges. With its unique structures it is the best example of subtidal chalk platforms and gullies in the south east region (East Sussex County Council, 2010), (Brodie et al., 2007).

Bored by bivalve molluscs (piddocks), the chalk is particularly species rich and is used by a range of invertebrates, shellfish and worm species (Fletcher et al., 2012). Brown sea cucumbers Aslia lefevrei occupy vertical piddock holes. Soft coral Alcyonium digitatum is common in the area, as are daisy anemones Cereus pedunculatus and white striped anemone Actinothoe sphyrodeta (Wood, 1992).

In four to five meters depth the gullies are irregular and kelp Laminaria digitata and Saccharina latissima forests dominate the tops of ridges (Wood, 1984). At the southern boundary of the zone in six to eight meters depth the gullies become regular, typically one to two meters high and two to three meters wide. The kelp dominance is broken and while smaller patches still remain, foliaceous algae begin to take over (Wood, 1984).


Subtidal mixed sediments

Subtidal mixed sediment is present throughout the two zones of the Beachy Head West MCZ. The habitat is a true mixed sediment with heterogeneous mixing, not a mosaic of substrates. It comprises variable amounts of sand, gravel and cobble mixed with dead shell and shell fragments. Slipper limpet (Crepidula fornicata) is abundant and its shells make up a large part of the shell debris. Snakelocks anemone (Anemonia viridis), dahlia anemone, Urticina felina and burrowing anemone Cerianthus lloydii are typical of this habitat (Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA), 2014). Bryozoans Flustra foliacea and Alcyonidium diaphanum and hydroids such as Hydralmania falcata create a short animal turf (James et al., 2010). This section of Beachy Head West is used by Dover sole (Solea solea) as a nursery area and the young prey on polychaetes, molluscs and crustaceans (Miller and Loates, 1997). Lemon sole Microstomus kitt spawn on the mixed sediment (James et al., 2010).


Subtidal mud

Subtidal mud covers the seaward half of the sites from Telscombe Cliffs to Newhaven Cliffs (Balanced Seas, 2011). The weaker tidal stream on this part of the coast allows finer sediment to settle. Subtidal mud is a common habitat around the UK coastline, but found mainly in sheltered areas with weak tidal currents (James et al., 2010).

The non-native ascidian Styela clava and slipper limpets Crepidula fornicata are abundant in this habitat and provide attachment for other organisms such as hydroids Kirchenpaueria pinnata, Hydrallmania falcata, sponges Halichondria and Suberites spp and blue mussels Mytilus edulis (Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA), 2014). Polychaete worms, bivalve molluscs such as cockles Cerastoderma edule and brittlestars are also present in this part of the site (Connor et al., 2004).

Amphipods are a common feature of the benthos, particularly tube building Aoridae and Ampelisca spp. Sand mason worms Lanice conchilega are present in areas where coarser sediments are present within the mud (Covey, 1998).


Subtidal sand

Subtidal sand is found throughout the Beachy Head West MCZ. It is predominant throughout the site, either as subtidal sand; muddy sand or a thin sandy sediment veneer. It is found in a thin strip running parallel to the coastline halfway between the shore and the southern boundary of the site. Seaward of this it is mixed with finer sediment forming sandy mud and muddy sand. To the east of Newhaven, subtidal sand is present in patches covering the breadth of the site (Balanced Seas, 2011). The sand is sparsely inhabited and species include amphipods Corophium crassicorne , polychaete worms Lanice conchilega, heart urchins and venerid bivalves (Venus clams) (Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA), 2014). The presence of these and other invertebrates makes this habitat an important nursery ground for plaice Pleuronectes platessa, and Dover sole Solea solea (Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA), 2014).


General information on the site features:
The general information on the designated features from the MCZ features catalogue is useful for understanding the designated features, and should be used in conjunction with the site specific information.
Designated area (ha): 2435.6
Moderation/boundary changes: The site was designated on 12 December 2013. High energy circalittoral rock and Moderate energy circalittoral rock were added as a protected feature on 29 January 2016.
Component Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI):
Overlapping Protected Areas:

Last updated: 13th September 2019

Background information and geography

The Beachy Head West MCZ runs parallel to the East Sussex coastline, extending from Brighton to the Beachy Head cliffs near Eastbourne.

The Beachy Head West MCZ protects a multitude of habitat types and their associated species. The extensive intertidal wave cut chalk platforms and subtidal chalk ridges present are considered to be among the best examples of chalk habitat in the south east region.

The chalk reefs and gullies support specialised communities of animals and seaweeds. The rare and cryptic short-snouted seahorse is known to be present along this area of coastline. The habitats present support large areas of sea squirt beds and areas of Ross coral are thought to be present. Black legged kittiwakes, common and sandwich terns regularly feed within the site. Given the considerable habitat variation and complexity within the eastern English Channel marine environment, some habitats require a more specific description than those broadly defined for the original MCZ feature list. At this MCZ, this relates to the infralittoral rock and thin sandy sediment broadscale habitat; and the refined subtidal sand and mud.

Site maps

Use the MAGIC website to see site maps, including habitats, species and other marine designations.

These maps are based on best available evidence, there are some caveats associated with the maps on MAGIC.

Conservation objectives

The site’s conservation objectives apply to the Marine Conservation Zone and the individual species and/or habitat for which the site has been designated (the “Designated features” listed below). The conservation objective of each of the zones is that the protected habitats:

  1. Are maintained in favourable condition if they are already in favourable condition
  2. Be brought into favourable condition if they are not already in favourable condition

For each protected feature, favourable condition means that, within a zone:

  1. Its extent is stable or increasing
  2. Its structure and functions, its quality, and the composition of its characteristic biological communities (including diversity and abundance of species forming part or inhabiting the habitat) are sufficient to ensure that its condition remains healthy and does not deteriorate.

Any temporary deterioration in condition is to be disregarded if the habitat is sufficiently healthy and resilient to enable its recovery.

For each species of marine fauna, favourable condition means that the population within a zone is supported in numbers which enable it to thrive, by maintaining:

  1. The quality and quantity of its habitat
  2. The number, age and sex ratio of its population
Any temporary reduction of numbers of a species is to be disregarded if the population is sufficiently thriving and resilient to enable its recovery.

Any alteration to a feature brought about entirely by natural processes is to be disregarded when determining whether a protected feature is in favourable condition. This should be read in conjunction with the accompanying supplementary advice section, which provides more detailed information to help achieve the objectives set out above, including which attributes should be maintained and which recovered. Designated features:

  • Blue mussel, Mytilus edulis beds
  • High energy circalittoral rock
  • Infralittoral muddy sand
  • Infralittoral sandy mud
  • Intertidal coarse sediment
  • Littoral chalk communities
  • Low energy infralittoral rock and thin sandy sediment
  • Moderate energy circalittoral rock
  • Native oyster, Ostrea edulis
  • Short-snouted seahorse, Hippocampus hippocampus
  • Subtidal chalk
  • Subtidal mixed sediments
  • Subtidal mud
  • Subtidal sand



Supplementary Advice on Conservation Objectives

See supplementary advice on conservation objectives for this site, which aim to describe the range of ecological attributes that are most likely to contribute to a site’s overall integrity.

Last updated: 16th May 2016


Advice on Operations

See the advice on operations for this site to view information on the sensitivity of features in this site to the pressures exerted by different activities.

Last updated: 13th September 2019


Feature Condition

In 2016, Natural England trialled and rolled out a new Marine Protected Area (MPA) condition assessment methodology that provides robust results and information on the condition of marine features designated within MPAs in England. With guidance from National teams and using all available evidence and condition monitoring data, Area Teams conduct these assessments following a standardised approach that assesses if the feature and sub feature conservation targets set for each MPA have been met.

To date, condition assessments have been completed for a number of features in a range of marine Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) by the National and Area Teams. Further marine habitat features in SACs and other MPAs will continue to be assessed in the future. The new method can now also be applied to complete habitat and species condition assessments for other MPAs in England, whilst still meeting the different processes in place to report on the results of condition of features in Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs). Different processes are currently in place to decide and report on the condition of non-marine habitat and species features of SACs.

The main part of the assessment process is directly undertaken and stored here on Natural England’s Designated Sites View. The details for the most recent assessments of this site can be found here.

Management measures

If you are carrying out an environmental assessment, planning an operation or assessing an operation or proposal, it is important to consult with the following organisations where applicable. To find out if any management measures, byelaws or other restrictions apply to your activity see the management measure page or you can use the following links for more information.

The Marine Management Organisation license, regulate and plan marine activities in the seas around England and Wales so that they’re carried out in a sustainable way.
Environment Agency are responsible for regulating major industry and waste, water quality and resources, fisheries, inland river, estuary and harbour navigations, conservation and ecology.
Offshore Petroleum Regulator for the Environment and Decommissioning (OPRED) regulates oil and gas, CCS and gas storage activities in the marine environment.

Further information

For further information relating to this designated site you can refer to the following resources:
Site specific information: Other information:
For further information about this site contact: Natural England enquiries Telephone: 0300 060 3900. Email: enquiries@naturalengland.org.uk




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