UK go-ahead for Marine Bill

Posted: 4 December 2008

There has been a warm welcome by environmentalists to the inclusion in the Queen's Speech to the UK parliament yesterday of the UK Marine Bill. The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) which has campaigned with others for this legislation says it expects it to be introduced into parliament within the next few weeks.

"This is a long awaited and much needed step forward, enabling the UK to comprehensively plan, manage and protect its seas as never before." MCS told Planet 21.

The ocean is our life support system© Still Picture/EIA
The ocean is our life support system© Still Picture/EIA
The ocean is our life support system.© Still Pictures/EIA
The Bill, now called the Marine & Coastal Access Bill, proposes an ambitious new approach to managing the marine environment which will include establishing Marine Conservation Zones, a Marine Planning system, inshore fisheries reform, streamlining of licensing, establishment of a Marine Management Organisation (for England and UK matters) and coastal access provisions.

Melissa Moore, MCS Senior Policy Officer, said "We strongly welcome the Government's continuing commitment to a Marine Bill, and the wide-ranging scope of the Bill. However, it needs further toughening up if it is to leave a lasting legacy for nature conservation. It is now in the hands of MPs and Lords who need to further strengthen the bill if it is to achieve its goals for healthy ecosystems. Any weakening would be disastrous for our seas."

Gill Bell, MCS Welsh Officer, said "We are pleased that Wales has signed up to the UK Marine Bill. However, we now call on Welsh MPs and Lords to ensure that establishment of Highly Protected Marine Reserves is a clear objective in the nature conservation provisions - something that both Welsh NGOs and Welsh government are calling for. MCS also call on the Welsh Assembly to work with UK and other governments to plan and manage our seas according to ecological, rather than political boundaries."

Deadline needed

Under the propose Bill Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) could be established that will protect nationally important habitats and species such as eelgrass beds, seahorses and sea fans. At present there are over 6,000 Sites of Scientific Interest on land, but only 3 sites protecting habitats of national importance at sea.

MCS wants to see a clear deadline of 2012 to establish a network of MCZs. It also argues that the location of MCZs and their conservation objectives should be selected by governments conservation organisations not by fishermen and industry as proposed. It also believes that Government should set a policy target for the percentage of sea they want protected. MCS welcomes the Marine Planning system to be established under the Bill, but believes improvements must still be made. At present it is not clear how many plans will be produced for what areas or whether the objective is development or ecosystem recovery.

"The Marine Bill needs to include a duty to produce plans for each regional sea throughout UK waters, with all UK administrations working together to achieve this and ecosystem recovery." MCS says. "Without these commitments the bill may result in plans only being produced for busy estuaries such as the Solent and for these being little more than development plans.

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
It says Inshore Fisheries reform has long been needed as much of the existing legislation harks back to the 1960s and some the late 1900s. We recommend that the new authorities be given an additional duty to further conservation of coastal and marine fauna and flora and that the number of marine environmental experts that sit on their committee is made clear on the face of the bill."

On the question of Coastal Access, it recommends that fragile coastal habitats such as estuaries, saltmarsh and bird sanctuaries are excluded from the access route. Scotland and Northern Ireland will be producing their own marine legislation.