© Evan Jones
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About Beachy Head East

The coastal waters between Beachy Head and Hastings on the Sussex coast hide a local treasure: beneath the waves is a wealth of wildlife of immense ecological and cultural value.

This area is vitally important to the local community, with local fishermen, anglers, divers, marine archaeologists, beach users, swimmers, sports enthusiasts and walkers all using and enjoying the space, and experiencing a deep connection to the ocean. The relationship between people and the sea here stretches back for generations.

Many members of the local community, including organisations and businesses, supported efforts to make Beachy Head East a Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) to protect and maintain this beautiful area now and for future generations. Beachy Head East MCZ was designated in 2019.

One of the things that makes this area particularly special is the diverse mosaic of habitats that provide homes, feeding and breeding areas for masses of marine life. Within the approximately 195km2 of the site, you can find:

  • Fragile chalk reefs
  • Sandstone reef systems.
  • Vulnerable blue mussel beds.
  • Two marine Sites of Nature Conservation Importance: The Royal Sovereign Shoals and the Horse of Willingdon Reef.
  • Threatened and declining species such as the tube-building ross worm, native oyster and short-snouted seahorse.
  • Important feeding grounds for cuckoo wrasse, plaice, Dover sole and small spotted catshark and possible spawning beds for herring.
  • Historic shipwrecks
  • Cretaceous fossils

Underwater chalk reefs like those found at Beachy Head East are rare in Europe but are particularly important for local marine life.


Our Views and Values

Since 2013, the Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) and the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) have worked together on several projects to better understand local uses and community views and values associated with the local sea. This research has revealed a rich story of connection that will resonate with people who live and work along this coast. The Marine Conservation Society's Agent of Change project aims to improve understanding of community values and aspirations for local society and sea, and support engagement. Our views and values are grounded in community engagement and community voices. 

This initiative aims to understand and share the importance of the sea for those that live beside it, and those who work with it. Supporting coastal communities in taking action for people and sea benefits everyone, including the sea itself. Gathering community views and values is based on an open listening approach, developed through the experience of the Community Voice Method. Having a strong base on local values encourages conversation and opens discussion about the connections between people and the ocean. Uncovering community views and values, as well as the value of Beachy Head East MCZ, means asking 'What can our sea do for us' and 'What can we do for our sea'?

Having active and positive engagement with communities also means ensuring that different groups are involved to foster open conversation and discussion. Some of the groups identified include marine related businesses, other businesses, existing site users, neighbours to BHE MCZ, public agencies, government, civil society organisations, and catchment groups. 

The Sussex IFCA Informal Consultations with local groups in key Sussex IFCA locations in February 2023 asked people ‘Imagine you went away for 20 years and then you came back, everything looks exactly as you had hoped it would. What does that look like? Draw that.’ 

Take a couple of minutes to visualise this for yourself; what do you see? 

Sussex IFCA on Beachy Head East

Sussex IFCA (Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority) has a remit and statutory duties, under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 (MaCAA), which detail their responsibility for the conservation and sustainable management of inshore habitats and fisheries resources, to ensure balanced social, environmental, and economic benefits of these resources for all. MaCAA committed the government to designating a well-managed, ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas (MPAs), and specifies that each IFCA must propose a Schedule of management to protect the designated habitats and species within MPAs in their districts, in order to further the Conservation Objectives of the site. The Sussex IFCA district extends from Chichester Harbour in the West to Rye Harbour in the East and out to 6 nautical miles from the shore. This includes Marine Conservation Zones (MCZ) and European Marine Sites (EMS). Sussex IFCA use Conservation Advice packages, produced by Natural England, to hel...

© Evan Jones

Blue Health and Wellbeing

The ocean is essential to our health and wellbeing - it's important that we recognise its value and acknowledge this in our connection with it, including decisions that will impact our future. A deeper connection with the ocean affects our mental and physical health. There are multiple benefits to spending time on the coast and by the sea, including for our wellbeing. Beachy Head East MCZ can do a lot for its community, from wellbeing benefits of enjoying the ocean, to environmental benefits with higher quality marine environment. There are other human benefits too, such as jobs, community stewardship of the local sea, improved mental health and wellbeing, oxygen from the ocean, storm defence and resilience, and more. In return, people ca...

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Ocean Literacy

Ocean literacy leads to the understanding of the ocean's value and its impact on people's lives and wellbeing. It teaches how to talk about the ocean meaningfully, so people are better able to make informed decisions about its future, and our futures too.

According to the Ocean Conservation Trust, these are the seven Essential Principles of ocean literacy: 

  1. Earth has one Ocean with many features.
  2. The Ocean and life in the Ocean shape the features of earth.
  3. The Ocean is a major influence on weather and climate.
  4. The Ocean makes earth habitable.
  5. The Ocean supports a great diversity of life and ecosystems.
  6. The Ocean and humans are inextricably linked.
  7. The Ocean is largely unexplored.

The scope of ocean literacy has developed a lot over the years, being integrated in communication, education, policy, community engagement, and more.

Ocean literacy is essential towards enhancing ocean knowledge and communicating about the ocean effectively. Creating a deeper understanding and connection between people and the ocean is therefore a key aspect of ocean literacy, one that has a wide and long-lasting impact. 

© Evan Jones


Please find below our glossary of terms:


AIS stands for Automatic Identification System and is not specific to fishing vessels, it was developed as a safety feature at sea (Sussex IFCA).

Blue mussel beds

There are intertidal sediment blue mussel beds (Mytilus edulis) and subtidal rock blue mussel beds. They are usually found on a variety of sediments, and are important to a healthy marine ecosystem, which they do by stabilising underlying sediment, enhancing biodiversity and more. For a more detailed definition, please see Marine Scotland Information.

Cuckoo wrasse

A colourful fish from UK seas, up to 35cm in length. There are four types of wrasses common in UK seas (Wildlife Trust)


A highly evolved mollusc, with a flattened oval body, and lateral fins over its entire length. They have large eyes, eight arms, two retractable tentacles and tough jaws (Sussex IFCA).

Dover sole

A large flatfish with a rounded snout, curved mouth and eyes on the right side of the body. Although its colour can vary, it is generally greyish brown with darker blotches on the upper side and white on the underside. It is mainly fished on a commercial level with fixed nets and trawls. It may be caught recreationally in smaller quantities, using fixed gear or rod and line (Sussex IFCA). 


They are dark blue on the upper side, and silver on the underside, with a rounded belly. Around Sussex, fishing for herring occurs on a commercial level between October and December (Sussex IFCA).

Marine Conservation Zone

Marine Conservation Zones are areas that protect a range of nationally important, rare or threatened habitats and species. There are 91 MCZs in waters around England (GOV UK).

Marine Protected Area

MPAs are areas of the ocean established to protect habitats, species and processes essential for healthy, functioning marine ecosystems. The purpose of an MPA is to protect and recover rare, threatened and important habitats and species from damage caused by human activities. In England, MPAs are designated to protect specific habitats or species (also known as ‘features’) and have conservation objectives which state what conservation outcomes the MPA is designed to achieve (GOV UK). 


Marine Management Organisation, created in 2009 by the Marine and Coastal Access Act (GOV UK).


Plaice is a flatfish with a pointed snout and eyes on the right side of the body. Its upper side is dark brown with orange blotches, and the underside is white. Plaice can adapt their colour to match their substrate to some extent, which allows some camouflage. Fishing for this species usually happens at a commercial level most commonly with fixed gear and trawling, although rod and line can be used to catch it in smaller quantities (Sussex IFCA). 

Ross worms

A worm that builds tubes from shell fragments or shells, found subtidally in exposed areas. For a more detailed definition, please see the Marine Life Information Network

Short snouted seahorse

Found in shallow waters, they use their tail to cling onto seaweed or seagrass. They are usually brownish in colour. They are distributed along the south coast of England. The female seahorse transfers the eggs to the male seahorse who fertilises them, keeping them in a brood pouch before giving birth (Wildlife Trust).

Small spotted catshark

A small shark of about 100cm in length, named as such due to dark spots and blotches on its skin. They feed on molluscs, crabs and small fish. They are common in the UK and live in shallow waters, close to the seabed (Wildlife Trust).


Vessel Monitoring System - this is specific to fishing vessels and at the moment, it is a requirement for all fishing vessels 12m or over in length. VMS was used in the MCZ assessment process to understand fishing activity in the site (Sussex IFCA).

© Evan Jones


Marine Conservation Society

+44 01989566017


Our Partners

Facilitated by the Agents of Change, a project led by the Marine Conservation Society with Fauna and Flora International and the New Economics Foundation and funded by the European Union and Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. This campaign is partnered with Clean Seas Please and Angling Trust and is funded by the Marine Protected Area Fighting Fund.

Co-funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or CINEA. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.