Tuesday 22 January 2013

Huge support for strong marine protection

There is now a huge wave of public support for greater protection for UK’s seas and coastline. A quarter of a million people have signed up to the Wildlife Trusts Petition Fish campaign, to be presented to Natural Environment Minister, Richard Benyon at a Parliamentary reception at the House of Commons, hosted by the Wildlife Trusts. Sussex Wildlife Trust collected some 5,000 of these signatures.

Sussex Wildlife Trust hopes to meet local MPs to highlight the unprecedented opportunity that this country has to protect our marine environment using Marine Conservation Zones. There were 10 MCZs recommended for the sea around Sussex including a diversity of valuable marine habitats. These range from the tiny “Utopia” site off Selsey, important for its rare mixture of sponges and coral through to the large “Offshore Brighton” site, a deep water rocky site important for its diversity of rays and other fish. Of these 10, only 3 of the smaller sites (Pagham Harbour, Kingmere and Beachy Head West) have made it to this consultation phase.

A new poll, commissioned by The Wildlife Trusts, also shows the extent of public support for greater marine protection. 92% said that in circumstances where sea life is threatened by commercial activity such as industrial fishing or dredging, priority should be given to protecting nature, even if this means putting restrictions on where commercial activities can take place.

A new report highlights the benefits to be gained by society and the economy if the Government adopts a network of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) around UK shores in 2013. Our surrounding seas have an astonishingly varied range of submerged landscapes which support wonderful marine life: from cold water coral beds to sponge meadows, canyons and sandbanks. MCZs were conceived to protect the plants, animals and habitats within them from the most damaging of activities, whilst mostly allowing sustainable activity to continue. This report helps confirm our long-held view that marine protection is not simply a clash between economy and environment. Protecting our marine life is the right thing to do in any case, but on top of that will yield far greater economic benefits than if we allow it to carry on degrading.

Securing the benefits of the Marine Conservation Zone Network was written by the Centre for Marine and Coastal Policy Research at Plymouth University and commissioned by The Wildlife Trusts. Its publication coincides with The Wildlife Trusts’ parliamentary event and with the Government’s current public consultation on MCZs (which closes on Sunday, 31 March).

The assessment was carried out in two ways: by analysing the provision of beneficial ecosystem services from the entire recommended MCZ network (of 127 sites) and by doing a more detailed analysis of four example MCZs. These four sites were analysed to identify the changes in beneficial ecosystem services under four different management scenarios: do nothing, recover, maintain, and improve. The report reveals that:

• MCZ designation is likely to improve the beneficial ecosystem services available at MCZs, eg food security, resilience against environmental challenges and pollution – looking specifically at four case studies, including Kingmere off Sussex. These ecosystem services, in turn, support activities of social and economic importance such as fishing, tourism and recreation.

• In all four case studies it was predicted that there would be potential additional benefits for commercial fishing, improved natural coastal protection, and increased opportunities for nature-watching and tourism while accepting that some commercial fisheries could possibly experience initial short-term disadvantage before longer-term benefits were seen.

• If these benefits of MCZ designation were copied across all recommended MCZ sites, the benefits of designating the entire network of 127 recommended sites are anticipated to be significant. MCZs working together in a network would play an instrumental role in the delivery of ecosystem service benefits and their socio-economic value. Therefore, designation of an ecologically coherent network as a whole is likely to bring greater benefits than the designation of a few isolated sites.

• Non-designation of sites is likely to result in the deterioration of the beneficial ecosystem services at MCZ sites. It could also have an adverse impact on the potential to deliver ecosystem services on a wider scale.

Sussex Wildlife Trust was disappointed that the full network of 127 recommended MCZs for the whole England were not on the Government’s list published for public consultation in December.  These Marine Conservation Zones were chosen after two years’ work by more than one million stakeholders from all sectors of the marine environment and at a cost of over £8.8 million to Government. You can visit all these zones on our interactive map and see some of the wonders they are home to.
The Sussex Wildlife Trust now calls for:

• The Government to designate all 31 of the proposed MCZs in 2013 and enforce appropriate management in these sites as soon as possible. 31 Marine Conservation Zones are a step forward, but is less the 25% of the minimum that is needed for a coherent and effective ecological network.

• The Government to set a clear timetable for the rest of the network to be designated.

• The sites identified by Natural England as being most under threat to be designated urgently.

• The evidence that the Government spent £5m collecting last year (which has not yet been used) to be taken into account immediately, along with that collected by stakeholders in 2012.

• Proper protection of sites as soon as they are designated - including banning bottom-trawling and dredging in these areas.

I would now like to encourage everyone in Sussex to respond to the Government’s consultation. The public can help us ensure that the 31 sites that the Government have selected are only the start. We also need to ensure that the remaining sites are not forgotten.

Simon King OBE, The Wildlife Trusts’ President, said:

“Whilst disappointed all 127 recommended Marine Conservation Zones are not immediately being designated, we are heartened to hear the Government confirms it has every intention of designating 127 and more if necessary. We understand that resources don’t allow this to happen in the first year - nonetheless the pressure is on. Time is of the essence. With every passing week, month, year, we are at risk of losing more of this precious resource.”

Go to www.wildlifetrusts.org to respond to the consultation.