Leading conservation and animal rights charities have urged Fisheries Minister Fisheries Richard Benyon to stand by his promise to establish a network of ‘Marine Protected Zones’ – areas of ocean where human activity is restricted – and set out a clear timetable within which it can be achieved.
The Marine Conservation Society, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), The Wildlife Trusts, and the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) have questioned the Government’s commitment to moving forward on the issue and are calling for urgent action. The charities claim that an ‘ecologically coherent’ network of Marine Protected Zones would offer protection to rare and vulnerable species as well as all marine life within their boundaries, and will also influence other areas as burgeoning populations spill out into the surrounding sea.
The fresh pressure to establish the protection zones comes on the eve of The Wildlife Trusts’ National Marine Week, which showcases the UK’s varied marine wildlife. Joan Edwards, The Wildlife Trusts’ Head of Living Seas, said they are “frustrated” by the lack of progress, claiming: “Our seas are in urgent need of protection. Wildlife Trusts across the country have been gathering additional data, both last year and this, to strengthen the case. We want to see an ambitious timetable for designation of future sites that we, and the scientific community, agree our seas need.
“Marine plans provide a clear opportunity to manage our seas in a sustainable manner and allow for recovery of our seas. However, it must be ensured these plans are truly about sustainability, rather than just promoting economic development, if they are to achieve this aim.”
A petition signed by 350,000 people was presented to Downing Street in June calling for the establishment of Marine Protected Zones. Many of the signatures were put forward in creative ways such as through sand sculptures, willow carvings and silver-scaled marine creatures.
A recent report by the Government’s Science and Technology Select Committee supported the call for the creation of Marine Conservation Zones and recommended that the Government set out a clear timetable for their establishment with a clear commitment to an end date.
The Committee’s Chair Andrew Miller MP said that although the Department for Environment has expressed a desire to move the Marine Conservation Zone process forward, this intention has not been translated into action. Mr Miller warned that “The Minister should not let his priorities be set by fear of judicial review. Further delay to the process perpetuates the uncertainty that has already been damaging to the Marine Conservation Zone project.”
In May a State of Nature report compiled by scientists and 25 wildlife organisations revealed that 60% of terrestrial and marine animal and plant species have declined in the past 50 years, with seabirds, harbour seals, sharks, skates and rays worst affected.
A Government consultation into the designation of Marine Conservation Zones released in December 2012 was criticised by campaigners for approving only 31 of the 127 sites recommended for protection by a two and a half year public consultation. Iconic sites such as Flamborough, Studland, and the chalk reef at Cromer were missing from the list of proposed Conservation Zones.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has said that it is still making final decisions on the process but aims to finalise its designated sites and propose a timeframe for action in autumn 2013.