In a disappointing move today, the government department for environment, food & rural affairs (DEFRA) has confirmed that it’s proposing only 31 of a possible 127 Marine Conservation Zones in UK waters. They’ve also failed to indicate if or when others will follow. To us this shows a serious lack of commitment to “ecologically coherent” marine protection – something the government said it was “fully committed to” in November 2011.
When the government introduced the UK Marine and Coastal Access Act back in 2008 (after 10 years of campaigning by ourselves and others), we were excited at the prospect of a much-needed network of protected marine areas around UK coasts.
We were then involved, along with specialist marine organisations, scientists and the fishing industry, in the two-year consultations to identify potential Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs).
We supported the recommendation of 127 sites around English coasts (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will designate their own MCZs), including thousands of miles of seabed off the Cornish coast and seal colonies in Lincolnshire.
The government’s proposal to designate only 31 of the 127 MCZ sites falls well short of what’s needed to protect our seas.
If all 127 MCZs were approved, it would mean more than a quarter of English waters would have had some kind of protection. At the moment less than 1% of the coastline around England and Wales is protected.
The aim is to safeguard important natural habitats while allowing other activities such as recreational angling, commercial fishing, surfing and marine energy to go ahead.
The government has failed to come up with a clear timetable or process for showing how an ecologically coherent network of protection can be delivered without creating the full number of Marine Conservation Zones.