Marine protection bids unveiled

Snakelocks anenome The zones encompass protection for important plants and animals on the sea bed

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Protection for key nature sites in UK seas has come a step closer with the unveiling of proposals to create over 100 Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs).

The zones range from tiny stretches of coastline to large tracts of sea floor.

The proposals stem from the 2009 UK Marine Bill and cover seas abutting the English coast and waters around Wales more than 12 miles from the coast.

They will be assessed by an expert panel before the government makes its final decision, probably next year.

The panel will also have to finalise levels of protection in each zone, as the Marine Bill allows regulators a lot of flexibility in what to prohibit (such as fishing) for which periods of the year.

If all proposals are approved, just over a quarter of English waters would end up under some kind of protection. Currently, the total is way under 1%.

But the zones are also supposed to be designed in such a way as to leave room for other activities such as industries and recreation.

"Today has seen our ambition to put in place special protection areas for marine life off the coast of England take a significant step forward," said Environment Minister Richard Benyon.

"The thousands of species of sealife and habitats that live hidden under our waters need just as much protection as those that we can see on land."

Scotland's Marine Bill passed only last year, so Scottish bids for protected areas are a little behind, but are expected to materialise next year. The Northern Ireland assembly has still to legislate.

'Coherent' aim

The ultimate aim is to create an "ecologically coherent" network of protected areas around all UK coasts, safeguarding important natural habitats while allowing other activities such as recreational angling, commercial fishing, surfing and marine energy to go ahead.

Tidal turbine The zoning is designed to leave space for industries such as tidal electricity

Four different groups were formed to develop the portfolio of proposals in different parts of England and Wales.

They have brought together stakeholders that - at least in principle - cover all parties with an interest in the seas.

The group covering south-west England, for example, numbered representatives of the minerals industry, renewable electricity companies, charter boat skippers, scuba divers and the Ministry of Defence among a set of 41 stakeholders consulted.

The hope is that with a lot of the consultation already undertaken, the proposals should chart a relatively straightforward course through the approval process.

"We will scrutinise the recommendations carefully," vowed Peter Ryder, chairman of the Marine Protected Area Science Advisory Panel that will now assess the bids.

"And in October (we) will provide our scientific assessment on the extent to which the resulting composite network of MCZs and existing Marine Protected Areas is likely to achieve the goal of ecological coherence."

Among the sites proposed for protection are:

  • Chesil Beach, Dorset's remarkable stretch of shingle
  • Land's End
  • the Silver Pit, a relic of an ancient sub-glacial valley in the seabed off the Yorkshire coast
  • the Donna Nook seal colony in Lincolnshire
  • tracts covering thousands of square kilometres of seabed off the Cornish coast
Map of proposed zones

The government and its advisors hope that in part, the protection measures will benefit industries such as tourism and fishing, by securing features that divers like to visit and by providing secure "nurseries" for juvenile fish.

"All MCZs should be fully protected from damaging activities and bottom-towed fishing gears, and our work has shown overwhelming public support for this stance," commented Melissa Moore, senior policy officer with the Marine Conservation Society (MCS).

"Fully protected sites have been shown to yield a fourfold increase in the weight of marine species, whilst species diversity increases by 20%."

While some proposed areas have already been struck off the list by industry concerns, she said, conservationists welcomed the proposals that "are desperately needed so that marine habitats and ecosystems can begin to recover from decades of degradation."

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  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    The BBC coverage is incorrect - 24% of English inshore waters currently are protected under European legislation. The 1% they are referring to is the Lundy MCZ - but there are loads of other types of sites that provide varying levels of protection.
    IFCAs and the MMO will lead on enforcement apparently, SFCs are no longer in existence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    I'm not convinced that this proposal goes anywhere near far enough to really protect the marine environment. However, the good news is that some of the best marine reserves may well turn out to be within the areas which are being covered by offshore wind farms. Presumably all fishing is either banned within these areas, and / or trawler skippers won't risk their gear by going in there to fish?

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    The Marine Bill was the ultimate in pointless, unnecessary, self serving legislation. Fought for decades by an army of hard core bunny huggers from various special interest groups within the voluntary and public sectors. Enactment should secure jobs for the boys and girls for many years to come and curtailment of freedoms for everyone else. If you want to protect fish then don't eat them. Simple.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Good news, a little late but it will hopefully raise awareness of a fragile hidden place, which has been out of sight out of mind for far too long. Thanks to all the conservation groups and volunteers who are making this happen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    What rubbish here. As Natural England say, MPAs are only part of the solution. Most industries "ruin the environment" but dont pay the true cost of habitat destruction - take farming for example - vast areas of monoculture and ruined soils. The fisheries committees are fishers, scientists, fisheries officers,conservationists and local businesspeople. 1 fisherman at sea employs 4-7 people ashore.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    The repeated trawling has severely damaged vast areas of the North and the Irish seas. We can now, like Norway and Canada, use seabed fish farms for Cod, Haddock, Halibut and Hake, leaving 80to 90% of the seabed undamaged. These fisheries could provide far more human food than the rapidly declining stocks of wild marine fish.

    My research was in the feasibility of North Sea fish farming.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    More jobs for the boys, a huge bureaucratic organisation to oversee these areas, lots of jobs for graduates in the eco arts and lots of jobs for the relatives of the great and good. Sadly at the end of it all , no advantage to the people or the environment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Sorely needed after decades of overfishing, and desecration of seabed environments. Sadly, I doubt this goes anywhere near far enough to stop the decline, but it is a step in the right direction. However, as already mentioned, it is worth nothing without effective enforcement.

    Just a pity they still seem hellbent on turning the Country into a giant slab of concrete with the planning proposals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Would help greatly if sewage was not dumped into the sea. Storm overflows dump untreated directly into rivers & the sea. Agri pollution from nitrates continues to be a major problem. Value has to to be given to something before it can be protected. I dont know if it is still operating but on the Thames they used to put a mock paddle boat out to artificially aerate the water. Thats how bad it was

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    As a former member of a Sea Fisheries Committee I see little hope of any real enforcement action being taken against commercial fishing boats who flout the regulations regarding MCZ's. After all, many SFC members are the very people who are in need of regulating; commercial fishing enterprises.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    4- Corrall
    It benefits the fishing industry in the long term by protected nurseries of fish aiding sustainable fishing, so allowing a constant supply of fish, therefore an infinite supply of fish over time as opposed to wiping out fishing stocks and having no fish. Maintaining habitats will boost tourism as people will pay to scuba dive/ visit to snorkel and create a constant revenue to the area.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    How does an extra level of bureaucracy and restricting where you can put your equipment help industry? I'm all for preserving a few areas of natural interest, but please don't try to tell me its going to be profitable."

    The idea isn't to help industry or turn a profit, it's about preserving marine life.

    I though tthat was obvious.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    My wife was a marine biologist, she quit the job because of the futility of it all, the oceans are destroyed beyond repair, trawlers have scooped up entire eco-systems and destroyed them.

    People know of the problems with marine conservation yet still continue to eat fish and the supply cannot meet the demand.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Four sites along the UK's 19,000 mile coastline (including islands)? Not very impressive. Pretty soon we'll be competing with Asia for food resources, and it is suicidally short-sighted not to protect more areas from overfishing and commercial exploitation.

    @Corrall: Any industry that ruins the environment but does not pay the true cost of the habitat destruction is making an illusory profit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    The conservation/no take areas i know of. Lamlash bay, lundy, Flambourgh head, have all produced remarkable amounts of information. life as returned and spilled out into surrounding waters. the Lundy island site been the best i believe with crabs/lobsters spilling out, plant life creating habitat for juvenile fish. It will take years but the benefit to fishermen and anglers will come to fruition.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Who will police these zones? I expect it will probably be the Sea Fisheries Committees, who are composed of the very people who they are supposed to be policing, commercial fishermen. They turn a blind eye to their friends activities now and they will continue to do so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Marine protection is immensely important. Human society depends on the seas and the life in them being healthy for the fishing industry and so much more.

    We are only beginning to understand these links and so we must protect not only what we understand.

    I commend this plan for striking a good balance and note the important fact that the government now has a legal duty to protect our seas.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Looking forward to the Marine Conservation Zone on the lower Thames but wondering what it will achieve. The tidal river downstream from Kew is devoid of fish after a summer of extreme sewage discharges. Thames Anglers' Conservancy found no dead fish there yesterday despite an Environment Agency alert that oxygen levels had fallen to 9%, presumably because the fish were already dead.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    In 1974 I was part of a team from the BSAC which helped with Project North Sea Net run by Durham University and EEC funded. We carried out a marine biological survey around the Shetlands, prior to the oil terminals being built. I would love to know what happened to all this data.
    Then there were palns for conservation areas, Lundy for example, so this is nothing new. I hope it gets beyond talks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    astrojoeuk the fisheries agency as many assets to monitor fishing vessels from satellite tracking of all f/v over 15m, aircraft with infra red cameras and probably very soon to come e logbooks that automatically log and report to the fisheries center. CCTV as also been trialed on certain f/v to monitor activities although this is aimed at discards. Boardings at sea are a small part of enforcment.


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