New wave of proposed Marine Conservation Zones don’t go far enough

The Government has today launched a three month consultation on the next tranche of Marine Conservation Zones around the coast of England. Below is a joint response to the announcement from the National Trust and the Marine Conservation Society.

Second round of Marine Conservation Zone designation will leave English waters woefully under protected

Conservation charities say promised network of protection is not even close as vital sites don’t even get to public consultation

The UK’s leading marine charity says it is hugely disappointed that, in the same week the Government has been warned how England’s declining natural environment is harming the economy, it has failed to deliver on promises to better protect English seas.

37 sites had been proposed to go forward to a second public consultation on Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs), all identified by Government’s scientific advisers as vital to plugging “major gaps” that currently exist in the development of a UK network.

However, only 23 sites have made the final list when the consultation for potential new MCZs was launched on Friday 30th January. While MCS is keen that members of the public air their views to ensure that these sites become a reality, the charity has real concerns that English seas will not contribute a network of sites that we can be proud of in future.

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) is supported in its criticism by the National Trust, which owns 750 miles of England’s coastline. The National Trust says the underwater landscape of England’s coastline must be protected in the same way the visible land is and the protection must be put in place now before it’s too late.

MCS says sound scientific advice has once again been ignored with 14 important sites not included in the consultation. The charity says this tranche had been promoted as one to fill in major gaps, but instead appears to have slowed the MCZ process right down.

“We are extremely frustrated that these proposed MCZs have been shelved, at least for the time being. We believe all of the sites are necessary to achieve the Government’s
Marine Conservation Society stated commitment to deliver a full network. Delaying 14 sites means that a number of the UK’s iconic marine places and habitats are still not adequately protected,” says MCS Biodiversity and Fisheries Programme Manager, Dr Peter Richardson.

“This decision doesn’t match urgent conservation needs, or indeed, the ambition of the public, who continue to demonstrate their support for the establishment of a network of marine protected areas in UK seas. Parties must recommit to a network in their manifestos and deliver this by 2016” Dr Richardson continues.

Simon Pryor, Natural Environment Director at the National Trust, said: “Steady progress is being made to have a good network of Marine Conservation Zones around the coast of England. However, it’s disappointing that we’re not even half way to the original target of 127 that the Government outlined just two years ago.

“With good stakeholder buy-in to the original network of 127 MCZs, we believe the Government should have the courage to bring forward the consultation on controversial sites, in order to work through any difficulties”, Simon Prior says. “Protecting the seas around the English coast must be a priority as they face unprecedented pressure. Without the protection that they deserve marine wildlife and the quality of our seas will suffer.”

Both groups say that important sites missing from the consultation will leave huge gaps in the network. Studland, Bembridge, Norris to Ryde, and Yarmouth to Cowes have all been dropped putting at risk the future of the spiny seahorse, mantis shrimps and large seagrass meadows.

MCS says that all 23 sites being consulted on must be designated. These include well-known Cromer Shoals Chalk Beds referred by many as the “great barrier reef of Norfolk”, Farnes East which hosts an array of seabed life such as sea pens, and Newquay and The Gannel known for its crawfish, pink sea fans and migrating eels and salmon.

“It’s essential that those who care about the future of our seas respond to this consultation by giving their full support for the designation of all 23 MCZ sites announced today, and call for more sites to be proposed to make up a much-needed network of UK marine protected areas,” says Dr Richardson.

Last year, NGOs delivered a petition of over 350,000 signatures to the Prime Minister calling for a network of marine protected areas. And over 150 cross-party MPs have signed a Marine Charter calling for an ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas. Earlier this week the Natural Capital Committee, an independent advisory group, told the Government that England’s natural environment decline is damaging the economy.

MCS and the National Trust are urging their supporters and the wider public to take part in the public consultation by going to http://www.mcsuk.org/mpa

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