UK government promises draft Marine Bill

Posted: 12 November 2009

Environmental organisations today welcomed the inclusion of a draft Marine Bill in the programme of legislation for the new session of the UK Parliament, but called on the Government to move quickly to bring forward a full bill.

Ben Stafford, Chairman of Wildlife and Countryside Link's marine campaign, said: "We are pleased to see the inclusion of this draft bill pledge in the overnment's programme, and we will be campaigning to ensure that the bill makes better protection of marine wildlife a priority...

Short-snouted seahorse
Short-snouted seahorse
A short-snouted seahorse, photographed in UK waters. © Paul Naylor / www.marinephoto.org / WWF-UK
"What is vitally important now is that the Government presses ahead quickly with this draft bill, so that a full bill can be introduced at the earliest opportunity. Britain's rich marine wildlife has been damaged through years of neglect, over-exploitation and inappropriate development. There is now an opportunity to make real change, and Ministers must seize it."

The Wildlife and Countryside Link is a coalition of the UK's major environmental non-governmental organisations:its marine campaign is led by: the Marine Conservation Society; the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds; the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society; The Wildlife Trusts; and WWF-UK, and is supported by other Link members.

WWF-UK said the new piece of legislation puts a duty on the UK Government, for the first time, to conserve and protect marine species and habitats.

It points out that the UK has a remarkable 20,000km of coastline and its seas are teeming with life. Until this now has been left exposed to a multitude of pressures, including fishing, aggregate extraction, oil and gas exploitation, and emerging threats such as the impacts of climate change.

Pivotal moment

David Norman, Director of Campaigns at WWF-UK says: "This is a pivotal moment for UK conservation efforts and shows what can be achieved through tireless campaigning. This long-awaited piece of legislation has the potential to really make a difference to thousands of species. Not just dolphins and sharks, but seahorses, turtles, commercially important fish stocks, and lesser-known species like pink sea fans and sunset cup corals."

"The Marine and Coastal Access Act will bring together the many rules and regulations that currently govern our seas to ensure our seas are used sustainably, and this legislation will provide long-term benefits to many people who rely on healthy, well-managed seas - from fishermen to tourist operators."

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
Of the 16 flagship species and habitats monitored by WWF in 2005, 13 were found to be in decline and a new investigation this year concluded that none were at healthy levels.

WWF says the new Act puts a clear and unambiguous duty on the Government to designate a network of protected areas to conserve and improve the marine environment. A new Marine Management Organisation will manage and champion the UK's seas, and a Chief Scientific Advisor will be appointed to provide a stronger scientific steer for its decision-making

David Norman adds: "We now have the tools to protect our marine species and habitats but we must ensure that political momentum is not lost and both current and future Government's are held to account on delivering the intentions behind this Act. With the right implementation the UK Marine and Coastal Access Act could become a leading piece of legislation that other countries across Europe can follow."

The UK Government has a duty to designate a network of marine conservation zones by 2012. It will prepare a statement setting out the principles it will follow in creating this network in the New Year.