The flat oyster Ostrea edulis has declined significantly in European waters since the 1850s as a result of anthropogenic activity. Ostrea edulis was designated a UK Biodiversity Action Plan Species and Habitat in 1995, and as a Feature of Conservation Importance (FOCI) within the UK Marine & Coastal Access Act 2009. To promote the recovery of oyster beds, a greater understanding of its abundance and distribution is required. Distribution of O. edulis across the proposed Blackwater, Crouch, Roach and Colne MCZ in Essex was determined between 2008 and 2012. Ostrea edulis were present in four estuary zones; with highest sample abundance in the Blackwater and Ray Sand zones. Size structure of populations varied, with the Ray Sand and Colne zones showing a significant lack of individuals with shell height <39 mm. Ostrea edulis occurred in highest number on shell substratum, followed by silty sediments. There were no significant associations between O. edulis abundance or size structure with water column Chl a, suspended solids, oxygen, nitrate or ammonium concentrations, temperature or pH. Highest abundance and most equitable population shell-size distribution for O. edulis were located within, or adjacent to, actively managed aquaculture zones. This suggests that traditional seabed management contributed to the maintenance or recovery of the species of conservation concern. Demonstration that the Essex estuaries were a stronghold for Ostrea edulis in the southern North sea area led to the designation of the Blackwater, Crouch, Roach and Colne estuaries Marine Conservation Zone in 2013.