The consultation, covering 41 proposed MCZs, opened on 8 June and will last for six weeks.

While the MCS believes that the proposed new sites have potential to protect a wide range of marine wildlife and habitats, it says that designation is only the first step in creating a network of sites.

It also stresses the importance of a “whole-site approach” – as opposed to protecting only the most vulnerable sections within a site, and says that adequate funding must be found to ensure that the final sites are not protected in name alone.

“It is fantastic to have this last set of sites proposed after much painstaking work since 2009, when the process to select special places deserving protection began,” said MCS Chief Executive Officer Sandy Luk.

“With every one of them designated, we will have enough of the sea in protected areas to provide a fantastic foundation for ensuring marine life can recover and thrive.

"DEFRA’s ambition in its 25-Year Environment Plan is to protect entire sites, and this consultation looks at providing areas with a high level of protection. It has never been more important that we deliver both of these ambitions!”

MCS has pushed for the whole-site approach to management of MCZs since the first sites were designated in 2012.

“At last we are seeing the opportunity to provide more comprehensive protection across a variety of habitats that can protect fish as well as worms, prawns, reefs, lobsters, coral and sponges,” said Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, MCS Principal Specialist on Marine Protected Areas.

“So far, management of England’s MCZs hasn’t resulted in any meaningful recovery. Perhaps this new approach will finally meet our goals for these important areas.”

The MCS said that it was important that sound scientific advice was not ignored as had happened in the past, when plans to protect many important sites, with plentiful evidence, were shelved.

Meanwhile Joan Edwards, Director of Living Seas at The Wildlife Trusts, said: “We’ve been calling for the Government to give real protection to a connected network of diverse seabed habitats since 2009. Only 50 have been designated so far and this new consultation on 41 special places is really good news.

“We need to restore the seabed that has been ravaged over the past century and allow fragile marine life to recover – and this can only be done with good management. Without these astonishing submerged landscapes there simply wouldn't be any fish, let alone fantastic jewel anemones, seahorses, and all the other wild and extraordinary creatures which are part of a healthy marine eco-system.”

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