UK Marine Bill will set up protected reserves

Posted: 16 March 2007

The British Government has published details of a proposed Marine Bill under which oil, gas, marine renewables, CO2 storage, inshore fisheries and shipping will all be spatially allocated under proposals for the first time.

This marine spatial planning system, set out in a White Paper, will enable environmental issues as well as industrial activities to be considered strategically at the planning stage.

"We are pleased that we are one step closer to a Marine Bill for our oft neglected seas" said Melissa Moore, Senior Policy Officer of the Marine Conservation Society. "The Cabinet now needs to show its environmental agenda extends to our seas and allocate a slot for the marine bill in the next parliamentary session".

Most importantly for conservationists, the Marine Bill White paper details plans for a representative network of nationally important Marine Protected Areas which should include Highly Protected Marine Reserves, areas of the sea where all damaging or potentially damaging activities are excluded. At present the UK falls far behind international action on this issue. Natural England's chief executive Dr Helen Phillips said: "While Marine Protected Areas can't necessarily help far ranging fish likecod, they do benefit many other species and can contribute to the recovery of damaged habitats. Divers monitoring the sea bed near Lundy [Lundy Island is the UK's only existing marine reserve]have found lobsters seven times bigger compared to surrounding waters since 2003. The scallop stock in an area closed to fishing off the Isleof Man is twenty times bigger than in fished areas nearby, and scallop catches have also increased around the closed area. A network of Marine Protected Areas could give habitats and species much needed time and space to recover from industrial scale fishing."

Offshore energy

WWF, which has campaigned over many years for a marine bill, welcomed the White Paper as a major step towards achieving the sustainable management of UK seas but warns it is now essential that the White Paper continues to progress towards a Marine Act. WWF warned the Government that unless the Marine Bill is included in the 2007 Queen's Speech it could fail to protect the UK seas and fail to meet its own CO2 emissions reduction and renewables targets.

It said the new legislation would help the Government to tackle climate change by encouraging offshore renewables development and by allowing our marine wildlife to adapt to its impacts. In addition, in the absence of a proper planning system for our seas, we are continuing to see the decline of our marine wildlife and biodiversity.

Recent estimates suggest that over 23 per cent of England and Wales seabed is suffering under the pressures of human activities2 and these activities are increasing. But less than one per cent is protected.