Identifying potential impacts of plastic on MPAs

Filling the evidence gap around the impacts of plastic on marine protected species and habitats


The widespread presence of plastic litter in the marine environment is well known, but there is an evidence gap regarding its impact on marine protected species and habitats in England and Wales, as identified by Natural England, The Joint Nature Conservation Committee and Natural Resources Wales.

A better understanding of the impacts of marine plastic will support prioritisation of the most at-risk habitats, features and sub-features for mitigation measures.


Defra’s Marine Biodiversity Impact Evidence Group commissioned ABPmer to report on available information to better understand plastic pollution impacts on English and Welsh inshore and offshore protected species and habitats.

ABPmer helped fill the evidence gap by:

  • Conducting a thorough literature review of publicly available data on selected key features and sub-features within the England and Wales Marine Protected Area (MPA) network
  • Assessing the potential for impact from marine plastics on protected habitat features, habitat subfeatures, species features and bird features, and assigning a confidence to the impact assessment
  • Undertaking a prioritisation exercise to identify habitat and species features most at risk from marine plastic pollution

The final report highlighted:

  • Controlling factors influencing potential impact
  • Categorised potential impact by impact pathway (e.g. ingestion, toxicity or entanglement)
  • Evidence gaps requiring further study


ABPmer’s report was used to support a prioritisation exercise to highlight habitats, features and sub-features most at risk from marine litter in English and Welsh waters, to ultimately inform actions that will be taken to help mitigate these risks.

Download the full report at the Defra website.

Header photo courtesy Andrew Pearson

ABPmer routinely advises marine sectors on regulatory and policy matters, and has a long history supporting government and its agencies in developing the evidence base against which policy decisions are made.

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