Living Seas North West

We believe that our seas should be Living Seas.


In Cheshire we have two of the richest marine environments in the region: the Dee and Mersey estuaries. We are working to secure the future for these internationally important habitats and those of the Irish Sea. The Irish Sea covers 45,000km and is 300m deep at its deepest point. If you'd like to find out more about our Living Seas work in the North West, visit the Trust's Irish Sea website.

At least thirty species of shark pass through the Irish Sea, including the enormous basking shark, the world's second largest fish. Others species include thresher, blue, mako and porbeagle sharks.

Beneath the surface of the Irish Sea are many diverse habitats including seagrass beds, rocky reefs, mud flats that are home to sea urchins, Dublin Bay prawns and brittlestars, and honeycomb reefs made up of living worms.

About a dozen species of whale, dolphin and porpoise have been recorded in the Irish Sea. The most commonly seen are the harbour porpoise, the bottlenose dolphin and the minke whale. Leatherback turtles visit the Irish Sea each summer as they pursue swarms of jellyfish, the turtle's staple diet.

Protecting our precious mud

The Irish Sea’s muddy miracles are a vital link in the chain for a network of protected wildlife habitats around the UK according to a new report "The Case for More Marine Conservation Zones"

The Wildlife Trust’s report “The case for more Marine Conservation Zones” identifies 48 areas to become part of the network including seven in the Irish Sea.

If all 48 areas are designated as Marine Conservation Zones it will complete a network of special places where habitats and wildlife can flourish to safeguard healthy and productive seas for the future.

One of the remaining major gaps in the network is in the Irish Sea and the North West Wildlife Trusts want the public to support their campaign by becoming Friends of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs).

Dr Emily Baxter, Senior Marine Conservation Officer for the North West Wildlife Trusts says:

“Mud habitats in the Irish Sea are home to diverse communities of marine life. You may think deep muddy plains would look like deserts but they have the potential to be as diverse as rainforests on land".

These undersea landscapes have already been damaged, fish stocks have declined and species are at risk.

“Three deep water mud sites were put forward to Government in 2012, as recommended Marine Conservation Zones, but have not yet been designated. These sites are needed to complete the network of protected areas in the Irish Sea.”

Each spring-summer the ‘Irish Sea Gyre’ is established in this area. This current system is caused by summer-warmed waters rotating around a dome of cold water sitting deep in the Irish Sea basin. Nutrients are retained causing plankton blooms, which then provide food for herring, sprat and sandeels. Manx shearwaters, guillemots, puffins, razorbills, and gannets are attracted by the fish; some traveling long distances every summer to forage in the same area. Basking sharks, whales and dolphins also travel to this hotspot to feed. The deep muddy habitats are vital in helping to drive this system.

Last year a humpback whale was sighted in the Irish Sea, along with pods of over 100 bottlenose dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, basking sharks and leatherback turtles.

And around the Irish Sea our estuaries and beaches are also brimming with life – fish, internationally important numbers of birds and the creatures in the mud that they feed on.

The list of sites also includes several estuarine sites that would afford protection to important spawning and nursery grounds of a species of small fish called smelt, as well as the protection of ancient peat and clay exposures that are home to the prehistoric footprints in North Merseyside.

The report is published in advance of the Government’s plans to announce a third and final phase of Marine Conservation Zones – the Government plans to consult the public in 2017 and designate the chosen zones in 2018.

The North West Wildlife Trusts say this is an unprecedented opportunity for the Government to create an effective network of protected areas at sea – it would put us at the forefront of worldwide marine conservation. Designating the additional 48 wild havens as Marine Conservation Zones would go some way to guaranteeing a future for the extraordinarily diverse natural landscapes that exist beneath the waves off our coast.

Emily continues: “The Government designated 50 zones in the first two phases – only four of these were in the Irish Sea. Unfortunately, this does not yet provide us with the comprehensive network needed to enable marine wildlife to thrive once more. We need to have numerous zones, in the right locations, representing a range of our special species and habitats, and they have to be close enough together. We hope that the Government will aim high and hit the 48 mark for this last phase.”

The 48 areas proposed by The Wildlife Trusts nationally will be the final gap-fillers in the ‘blue belt’ of marine protection and vary from seagrass beds in the south, to deep sea mud in the Irish Sea that is brimming with burrowing animals including sea pens and the incredibly long-lived ocean quahog – a clam species which can live up to 500 years.

Emily concludes: “We will be working hard to ensure the third and final phase of sites is ambitious enough to give our seas the protection they deserve. But we need the help of the public. We know that they support a strong network of protected areas at sea and we want the Government to acknowledge this too, in order to restore decades of decline in the health of our seas and enable recovery in future.”

You can show your support for Marine Conservation Zones in the Irish Sea by becoming a Friend of Marine Conservation Zones at: www.irishsea.org/muddyMCZfriends.