Gordon Brown ' failing marine environment'

Posted: 12 July 2007

The new British prime minister, Gordon Brown, has come under attack for 'ignoring one of the key environmental issues facing the UK by failing to include a UK Marine Act in his proposed legislative programme for next year.'

Without proper legislation, key species will continue to decline and the UK could fail to meet its own CO2 emissions reduction and renewables targets, says WWF, which now questions the new Prime Minister's commitment to the environment.

Hastings fishing boat
Hastings fishing boat
A small beach-launched fishing boat from Hastings, South England. The boats have to be hauled out of the sea after each trip, which stops them being more than about ten metres long. This means that they can only carry small amounts of gear and travel just a few miles. As a result the fleet has always fished in an ecologically sound way. Photo © Jiri Rezac/WWF-UK
By failing to announce the Marine Bill in his "Brown's Speech" to the Commons today, WWF says the Prime Minister gave the strongest indication possible that the Government has turned its back on protecting the seas from serious damage for another year. Ben Bradshaw, previous Fisheries Minister made repeated assurances that the bill, which was a manifesto commitment, would be introduced before the next election.

Sally Bailey, Deputy Head of WWF's Marine Programme says: "The UK is in urgent need of a Marine Bill. The health of the UK marine environment is in severe decline and by turning his back on our seas the new Prime Minister has fallen at the first hurdle in proving his green credentials. WWF has been warning of the detrimental effects of not introducing a Marine Bill for several years but it now appears these warnings have fallen on deaf ears. Our marine environment does not stand a chance unless proper legislation is put in place."

Species in decline

Currently less than two per cent of the UK sea area is afforded any level of protection. WWF's Marine Health Check in 2005 reported that of 16 key marine species and habitats all but two were in decline in UK waters. These include the harbour porpoise, common skate, long-snouted seahorse, and basking shark.

Jewel anemone, Cornwall
Jewel anemone, Cornwall
Jewel anemone, Cornwall. Photo © Charles Hood/WWF-UK
"Our marine biodiversity faces threats from climate change, fisheries and other human activities. These range from aggregate and oil and gas extraction to building, cable and pipelines. It is crucial that we have a proper planning system in place to deal with all these conflicting pressures on our seas", says WWF.

The conservation organisation has been campaigning for a UK Marine Act for over five years, and says a new Marine Act is urgently needed to update the management of the UK's activities at sea and to protect our marine wildlife and the entire marine ecosystem.

The UK has the best wind, tidal, and wave energy resources in Europe, and WWF believes that a UK Marine Act would help speed up the development of the off-shore renewable sector by streamlining the planning and consenting process for the future.

To see a WWF film illustrating this report click here