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Joan Edwards

Joan Edwards is the Head of Living Seas at The Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts.

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Ecological coherence made simple!

Posted: Monday 16th June 2014 by Joan

Loch Carron by Paul NaylorLoch Carron by Paul Naylor

Whilst ‘ecological coherence’ is a term that appears throughout various legislation and policy documents, and trips off the tongue of many working in the field of marine policy, we must ask ourselves what we actually mean by this?

To put it in context, it is used in reference to how we wish to see a network on marine protected areas put together. We all know that areas set aside for the protection of the marine environment benefit our seas and sea life, but if these patches are to be meaningful, not isolated island oases then you will often hear people say that they should be ‘well managed’ and ‘ecologically coherent’.

The ‘well managed’ part of that statement is pretty self explanatory, these areas of the sea should have conservation objectives set which dictate what activities can occur within them, and what should be restricted. However, the situation is less clear when it comes to them being ‘ecologically coherent’ as there is no agreed definition.

The term presents a multi-faceted and complex issue, as it takes into consideration a variety of principles. The convention for the protection of the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR convention) in attempting to deal with this to meet the contracting parties objective of an ecologically coherent network (originally by 2012, now 2020) developed a series of principles including representativity / representativeness, adequacy / viability (are sites large enough?), replication, and connectivity. These principles do provide a number of tests against which any network can be assessed, however, even that isn’t as simple as it sounds. Though significant gaps in a network are readily identified, determining at what point ecological coherence has been achieved is more challenging. Indeed there may be a variety of site configurations which meet the criteria and so form an ecologically coherent network.

Working as part of the Joint Links (Wildlife & Countryside Link, Wales Environment Link, Scottish Environment Link and Northern Ireland Marine Task Force) we have recently commissioned a piece of work to examine the concept of ecological coherence against the current and proposed marine protected area network within the UK. This alongside other pieces of work, carried out by the Joint Nature Conservation Council (JNCC) and PANACHE will be discussed at this week’s Marine and Coastal Policy Forum to be held at Plymouth University within a workshop examining what we mean by ‘ecological coherence’.

We hope that the Forum will provide an arena in which experts and students will debate the issue. One question which we are posing to attendees will be how we can use the term in public communications, demystifying it and making it a concept understood by all, not just by those working in marine policy. After all if we are going to achieve a ‘well managed and ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas’ then we need people to understand and support them – local communities to stand up for sites that matter to them. You can help us and keep up to date with our campaign work by becoming a Friend of Marine Conservation Zones here.
 

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