Battle to protect wildlife at sea receives boost

Tuesday 12th June 2018

Common seal TWT

Suffolk Wildlife Trust welcomes the possibility of 41 new Marine Conservation Zones - including the county's first

The government has launched a consultation asking the public for their views about protecting a new group of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) – areas at sea where wildlife is protected from damaging activities. 41 special places have been chosen for the public to comment on; these range from seagrass beds in Studland Bay to deep, rich habitats off the coast of Orford that are important spawning grounds for species such as dover and lemon sole, sprat and sandeels

Joan Edwards, Director of Living Seas at The Wildlife Trusts says:
“We’ve been calling for the government to give real protection to a connected network of diverse sea-bed habitats since 2009. Only 50 have been designated so far and this new consultation on 41 special places is really good news. We need to restore the sea-bed that has been ravaged over the past century and allow fragile marine life to recover – and this can only be done with good management. Without these astonishing submerged landscapes there simply wouldn't be any fish, let alone fantastic jewel anemones, seahorses, and all the other wild and extraordinary creatures which are part of a healthy marine ecosystem.”

Suffolk Wildlife Trust believes that the consultation is a big step in the right direction for England’s seas. Proper protection of these sites after designation will mean that our seas will be given the opportunity to recover. However, there is disappointment that several vital areas are missing, including the Alde-Ore Estuary in Suffolk.

Joan Edwards continues:
“Forty-one potential new protected areas represent a great leap forward but we are disappointed that a number of sites have been left out of this process, particularly mud habitats in the Irish Sea and English Channel. Although these habitats can appear featureless, mud is a diverse and wildlife-rich habitat and we think it’s important that these areas are protected too.”

The Wildlife Trusts are calling on the public to back the 41 potential Marine Conservation Zones in the consultation – details of how to do this can be found here. The consultation closes on Friday 20th July 2018.


Find out more about MCZs in the southern North Sea

Background to recommended MCZs: 

At the end of 2009, the UK Government passed a piece of landmark legislation, the Marine and Coastal Access Act. This was swiftly followed, at the start of 2010, by similar legislation in Scotland - the Marine (Scotland) Act. These pieces of legislation place a duty on the UK, Welsh and Scottish Governments to dramatically boost protection by creating an ecologically coherent network of protected areas.

In June 2013, the strength of feeling was demonstrated when more than 350,000 pledges, calling for a network of Marine Protected Areas, were presented to Downing Street by The Wildlife Trusts, RSPB, MCS and WWF.

In November 2013, The Wildlife Trusts welcomed Defra’s designation of 27 Marine Conservation Zones, the first step towards the creation of an ecologically coherent network so vital to ensure the healthy future of our seas. The designation followed a consultation and two years of stakeholder negotiations involving fishermen, conservationists, divers, shipping companies and other sea users. At that time, Marine Environment Minister George Eustice also announced plans to designate two more phases of MCZs over the next three years to complete the Government’s contribution to a network of marine protected areas. Defra announced its list of candidate sites for the second round in February 2014 and in January 2016 designated a further 23 more MCZs bringing the total so far to 50.

In July 2014, the Scottish Executive created 30 new Marine Protected Areas (more information here). This decision came after an overwhelming 99% of responses to a public consultation, held during the summer of 2013, backed the proposal. At the time, Joan Edwards, Head of Living Seas for The Wildlife Trusts, said: “As Scotland’s waters make up over 60% of UK seas, this is a momentous day for anyone involved in UK marine conservation. Our marine wildlife does not respect country boundaries and designation of these sites will bring us a significant step closer to the comprehensive and ecologically coherent network of protected sites needed in the UK to help our marine life recover from years of neglect and decline."

In December 2014, the Welsh Government designated its first Marine Conservation Zone, safeguarding Skomer’s important marine species. Grey seals and pink sea fans are just two of very many species that will now be better protected (more information here).

Also, in December 2014, Northern Ireland’s Department of Environment announced plans for new Marine Conservation Zones for the seas around Rathlin Island, an area of Carlingford Lough and an area of Belfast Lough by December 2016. Designating these sites will be a significant step towards the protection of important marine species and habitats for Northern Ireland such as the vulnerable black guillemot found on Rathlin Island, fragile communities of quill-like sea pens in Carlingford Lough and the long-lived clam, the ocean quahog in Belfast Lough (more information here).

The Wildlife Trusts’ ‘Save Our Ocean Giants’ report
In November 2014, The Wildlife Trusts published ‘Save Our Ocean Giants’ which identified, for the first time, 17 important special areas on which whales, dolphins and basking sharks most depend and highlighted the need to protect them by law. Despite the variety of fantastic species and habitats, our marine environment is in decline. In the last 400 years, two species of whale and dolphin have gone extinct in UK waters and of the 11 commonly sighted species found in UK waters, all are considered to be in decline. Basking shark numbers have declined by 95% and species such as the common skate, once abundant in our waters are now critically endangered.

The Marine Charter
In November 2014, 120 MPs and 20 Peers supported 21 non-government organisations - including Marine Conservation Society, RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts and WWF - which are championing Wildlife and Countryside Link’s ‘Marine Charter’ campaign. The Charter is calling for commitments within the 2015 General Election manifestos to complete the full UK network of Marine Protected Areas. At the time, Chair of Wildlife & Countryside Link’s Marine Working group, Joan Edwards, said: “This political support has added considerable weight to the united call from NGOs, overwhelming numbers of the public and the scientific and industry communities. It is important, however, that this support translates into a firm, timetabled commitment as the parties craft their manifestos.”

The way back to Living Seas – published October 2017
Read our latest report showing how the UK can become a world leader in marine management here.

The Wildlife Trusts
There are 47 individual Wildlife Trusts covering the whole of the UK. All are working for an environment rich in wildlife for everyone. We have more than 800,000 members including 150,000 members of our junior branch Wildlife Watch. Our vision is to create A Living Landscape and secure Living Seas. We manage around 2,300 nature reserves and every year we advise thousands of landowners and organisations on how to manage their land for wildlife. We also run marine conservation projects around the UK, collecting vital data on the state of our seas and celebrating our amazing marine wildlife. Every year we work with thousands of schools and our nature reserves and visitor centres receive millions of visitors. Each Wildlife Trust is working within its local communities to inspire people about the future of their area: their own Living Landscapes and Living Seas.