Government cuts back on ambitions for marine protection

Posted on 30th January 2015

Public consultation opens to bitter disappointment at exclusion of important areas due to ‘economic cost’
The long-awaited consultation on the next stages of Marine Conservation Zone designation in English and non devolved waters is launched today. But with only 23 out of a possible 37 sites included, The Wildlife Trusts are frustrated at the lack of ambition shown by the Government.

Joan Edwards, The Wildlife Trusts’ Head of Living Seas, said: “We are bitterly disappointed that the Government has opted to consult on just 23 new Marine Conservation Zones and that some very important areas for marine wildlife have been dropped from the list. We are particularly frustrated that a number of sites – including in the Irish Sea – have been removed because of the likely ‘economic cost’.

“The Wildlife Trusts believe this is a missed opportunity to achieve longer-term gains that will benefit marine biodiversity and fishing. Ultimately an economic activity that is based on over-exploitation, beyond the ability of the resource to renew itself, is not sustainable and has no long-term future.

Professor of Marine Conservation at the University of York, Callum Roberts, says: “The decision not to create protected areas in the Irish Sea on the grounds of cost to fisheries is ironic and misguided. Irish Sea fish stocks are among the most heavily overexploited in the UK and are now on their last gasp. Two centuries of fishing with destructive trawls and dredges has stripped the seabed of its fish and once-rich habitats like oyster and horse mussel reefs. It will remain impoverished without protected areas; it has a chance of recovery with them. There is no in between.”

The North West Wildlife Trusts’ Marine Conservation Officer, Dr Emily Baxter, said: “The muddy habitats of the Irish Sea are as diverse as the Amazon rainforest and coral reefs. There are also living reefs that support a wealth of species from sponges, crabs, lobsters, and anemones to an array of seaweeds. At least 30 species of shark and a dozen species of cetacean (whales, dolphins and porpoises) live in the Irish Sea, including the basking shark, the world’s second largest fish.

“By postponing action to protect these areas yet again, the Government is leaving the Irish Sea open to an environmental disaster.

“Supporting sustainable fisheries, instead of encouraging overfishing and habitat destruction, would increase fish landings, generate more income and create more jobs in the sector. Decision-makers need to think of sustainable fisheries as an opportunity for job creation and increasing the value of fisheries rather than an environmental principal that comes at a price to the industry. Marine Conservation Zones are a vital part of this process.”

Joan Edwards explains: “Only this week, the Government’s Natural Capital Committee published a report which shows that investment in nature makes obvious economic sense. The Government must develop a comprehensive strategy to secure the recovery of nature in a generation. This must include the designation of a well managed and ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas.”

The Wildlife Trusts will be responding to the Government consultation and plan to publish our recommendations online in due course. We will be urging the public to have their say and respond to the consultation to help ensure no further potential Marine Conservation Zones are lost. See www.wildlifetrusts.org/mcz

Marine Conservation Zones protect threatened undersea habitats such as eelgrass meadows, rocky reefs and deepwater canyons – and the animals that live in and around them. These important sanctuaries for marine life remain at risk until more areas offering effective protection are established. Marine Conservation Zones should protect the species and habitats found within them from the most damaging and degrading of activities such as scallop dredging and trawling, whilst mostly allowing sustainable activity to continue.

Of the 37 sites listed below, 23 are now included in the current Marine Conservation Zones consultation, which runs for 12 weeks from Friday 30 January 2015. The 23 sites are shown in bold black (we’re disappointed the ones in red have been dropped – for site descriptions, please see attached document):

Coquet to St Mary’s Farne’s East Fulmar Runswick Bay Compass Rose
Holderness Inshore Cromer Shoal Chalk Beds Swale Estuary Dover to Deal Dover to Folkestone
Offshore Brighton Offshore Overfalls Utopia Bembridge Norris to Ryde
Yarmouth to Cowes The Needles Studland Bay Western Channel Mounts Bay
Lands End North-West of Jones Bank Greater Haig Fras Newquay and the Gannel Hartland Point to Tintagel
Bideford to Foreland Point North of Lundy South of Celtic Deep Celtic Deep East of Celtic Deep
Mid St Georges Channel North St Georges Channel Slieve Na Griddle South Rigg West of Walney
Mud Hole Allonby Bay

The centre-piece of the landmark Marine & Coastal Access Act (2009) legislation was the commitment to establish a network of Marine Protected Areas throughout UK seas; a response to the widely acknowledged crisis facing the health, diversity and productivity of our seas. While this Parliament has seen the first designations, we remain a long way from the full network.

127 recommended Marine Conservation Zones were chosen after two years of hard work by more than one million stakeholders from all sectors of the marine environment and at a cost of over £8.8 million to Government. Twenty seven Marine Conservation Zones were designated in November 2013 as a first step towards achieving an ecologically coherent network of areas which will protect and help to restore the marine environment. In February, Defra released a list of 37 sites, recommended by experts and stakeholders, to be considered for a second tranche of Marine Conservation Zones. The excluded areas were identified by the statutory nature advisors as necessary to help fill current gaps in the network of protected areas at sea and achieve ecological coherence. The Government is committed to a third tranche, to complete the network, by 2016.