Wednesday, 9 November 2011

North West Seas at risk as government waters down protection plans

Photo: Doctor Alex Mustard (yes, that's name of the seal, apparently)
Wildlife in North West England’s seas is facing a serious threat, warns The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside.

Plans for Marine Conservation Zones - the long-awaited network of marine protected areas promised by Government for 2012 - are in danger, says the Trust, which has been instrumental in marine campaigning and research.

After years of pressure from NGOs and with huge public support, the Marine and Coastal Access Act of 2009 promised a coherent network of protection around the coasts by 2012. Now 127 marine sites around England’s coast, including 15 in the North West, have been recommended by four regional stakeholder groups to become Marine Conservation Zones next year.

The recommendations are the result of two years of consultation – costing the Government £8.8m to date - with more than one million stakeholders involved including fishermen, conservationists and businesses.

This has been the first ‘Big Society’ experiment where local stakeholders have decided together which areas of the sea should be protected, but ow, there is concern that Government’s Statutory Nature Conservation Bodies (Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee) will recommend to Government that only a fraction of the 127 recommended sites are designated. This would result in a much smaller and less effective network of Marine Conservation Zones, leaving vulnerable and precious areas unprotected.

The Turst is now urging the public to write to Under-Secretary for Natural Environment and Fisheries, Richard Benyon MP, in support of Marine Conservation Zones.

“It would be a disaster if all 127 recommended sites weren’t designated," says Cheryl Nicholson, Marine Conservation Officer for the Trust. "A huge amount of work has been done to get a broad agreement on this network of sites, all are needed for the health and future productivity of our marine environment.

"Now, however, in the final stages the Government has completely lost its direction and is proposing to over-ride the recommendations of local stakeholders and cut the 127 sites down to an unrealistic 30 in contradiction with the aims of the new Marine and Coastal Access Act.

"Our seas are a shadow of their former selves we must act now to protect them before it’s too late.”

The recommended sites off the Lancashire coast are: the Sefton Coast and Fylde Offshore, th latter highly productive sand and gravel seabed supports a diversity of marine life including rich bivalve populations which is an excellent food source for seabirds.

The animals living within the seabed support populations of flatfish, rays and gurnard, as well as swimming crabs, hermit crabs and other crustaceans.

“With Wildlife Trusts all around the UK, we are lobbying hard for the successful completion of a process that will make the difference between the life or death of our seas," Cheryl added. "We need to demonstrate the weight of public support for Marine Conservation Zones to Government.

"This is a once in a lifetime chance. We can’t afford to let it slip away.”

• The Trust is urging people to write to Richard Benyon and ask for Government to create the proposed network of 127 in England. It has produced some guidance on writing to the Minister, which can be found at

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