UK to have network of marine reserves

Posted: 3 April 2008

There has been a generally warm reaction from environmental groups to the UK government's long-awaited draft marine bill. This proposes a network of new marine reserves along the British coasts, to protect marine species and their habitats.

Publishing the bill, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), said new powers would be taken to enable for better management of fisheries around the UK.

© J.P. Nacivet/Planet Earth Pictures
© J.P. Nacivet/Planet Earth Pictures
The ocean is our life support system. Photo © J.P. Nacivet/Planet Earth Pictures
The measures will be supervised by the Marine Management Organisation, which will regulate development and activity at sea and enforce environmental protection laws.

The network of conservation zones will try to ensure that some types of fishing, dredging or other forms of development do not damage protect habitats and species of national importance.

Positive steps

Sally Bailey. North East Atlantic Marine Manager at WWF-UK said: "There are many positive steps forward outlined in today's draft Marine Bill, however WWF is concerned that there is still no indication of how this legislation will deliver for the whole of the UK's seas. Without effective legislation across UK and devolved seas, many species and habitats will still be at risk."

While welcoming the Government's commitment to a network of marine conservation zones covering 14 to 20 per cent of UK seas by 2012, WWF points out that this may not provide the necessary level of protection needed.

"This is a huge leap forward from the current situation where only 0.001 per cent of UK seas are offered high levels of protection from damaging activities. There is a considerable body of work that suggests that a network of marine protected areas should cover from 20 - 30 per cent of waters with some work even suggesting as much as 40 per cent. The Government must ensure it sets the right criteria for identifying the areas most in need of protection.

There is disappointed that the proposed network of reserves will not be in place by 2010 as previously planned. Campaigners 'strongly encourage' the government to avoid further slippage against the worldwide deadline of 2012.

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
WWF is encouraged by the promise to introduce a UK-wide marine planning system to manage activities at sea, but it wants to see a timed programme for introducing this, and greater details of how it will work across UK seas.

"We welcome this draft Marine Bill and the opportunity it provides to safeguard our seas and the amazing wealth of wildlife inhabiting them" says Sally Bailey, "However this is only the first stage of a longer process and if the Government is serious about protecting our seas it must include a full Marine Bill in November's Queen's Speech."

Legal 'rehash'

The environment secretary, Hilary Benn, said: "Our seas are already showing the effects of climate change and with increasing use of the sea by many competing interests we must make sure that the marine environment can cope with changing conditions. We have a duty to look after our seas for future generations.

"Our proposals will raise protection and management of our seas to a new level, halting the decline in biodiversity to create clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas.

"For the first time in our history all of us will be able to walk the length of the coast and get close to the sea right around England."

But the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) said the draft Bill appeared to be a rehash of existing laws, and did not put "ocean recovery" at its heart.

Simon Brockington, head of conservation at the MCS, said: "Our seas are in a thoroughly run-down state, as can be seen from the collapse of our fisheries, and it's about time the government recognised the consequences of its actions over the last three or four decades."

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