Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) data from 2005 to 2008 in ICES Divisions VIIe-h were used to assess the distribution and intensity of fishing activity in and around the western English Channel, one of the most intensively used marine areas on the planet. The distribution of the UK fleet of large (>15 m length) fishing vessels was analysed and clear gear-specific temporal and spatial differences in activity were found. Mobile demersal gears had the highest intensity and widest distribution of activity in the study area, and so might be expected to have the most widespread ecosystem-level impacts. The potential effects of two proposed fisheries closures; a planned wave energy testing facility (Wave Hub) and a candidate offshore Marine Protected Area (Haig Fras) are described. Maps indicate that mobile demersal gear fleets would be little affected if they were excluded from these proposed closures, but if the static gear fleets were excluded this would likely result in displacement of certain vessels, increasing fishing pressure on other rocky grounds and other fishers. Predictions concerning the effects of fisheries displacement can be improved through the use of high-resolution gear-specific activity data. This study shows that VMS can provide an invaluable source of such data, provided that gear information is made available to fisheries managers and scientists.