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Our new report to Government identifies 48 potential new protected areas (Marine Conservation Zones) in English seas.

Posted: Friday 30th September 2016 by LivingSeas

Tompot blenny - Paul Naylor

Today we are launching our report calling for more Marine Conservation Zones to be designated in English and Secretary of State waters - writes Joan Edwards. ‘Why?’ I hear you ask. Well to us the answer is simple: without the 48 additional sites we will not achieve the target of delivering an ecologically coherent network of protected areas.

We already have 50 sites (designated within the first two tranches), but alone these are not enough to make a proper network in which we will have a representative mix of wildlife, in the right proportions, and close enough to be connected – to allow species to travel between these oases of protection in an otherwise very busy and overworked marine environment. For instance, we need sites to protect our deep sea mud and a clam which if left undisturbed can live to 500 years, the ocean quahog, and we need areas of seagrass protected to provide important habitat for the seahorses that live amongst the fronds – a single site for either of these species is not enough.

In the past the only level of protection afforded to the marine environment has been in the form of European Marine Sites, but until recently these have done nothing to restrict damaging activities. So, concerned about the declines we were seeing in our species and habitats, we challenged the Government to take a new approach. After a long campaign which attracted enthusiastic cross party support from the backbenches, the Marine and Coastal Access Act passed in 2009. Similar legislation followed in Scotland and Northern Ireland. These are the laws which permit Government to deliver a UK-wide network of Marine Protected Areas. The challenge now is to make it happen.

In 2013, the first tranche of 27 Marine Conservation Zones were designated. A second tranche of 23 were added in early 2016. Taken with our European Marine Sites (Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas) this is significant progress, but it is not yet an ecologically coherent network. Now the UK Government has committed to designating a third and final tranche of Marine Conservation Zones – part of their 2015 manifesto commitment to delivering a ‘Blue Belt’ around the UK.

The Wildlife Trusts believe there are at least another 48 sites required to complete the network. As we learn more about our marine environment there will undoubtedly be more.

These sites are even more important since we voted to leave the Europe Union. While the legislation, the Marine and Coastal Access Act is unaffected by Brexit, the Government’s commitment to a Blue Belt and delivering it could indeed by at risk.

All sites currently in the network play an important role and it is crucial that protection of our European Marine Sites is not weakened or lost, in the face of Brexit. Especially not now, now there is real management taking place within these sites preventing the most damaging fishing activities from taking place. Likewise, progress towards the third tranche of Marine Conservation Zones under UK law should not be derailed or significantly slowed.

Our report sets out what we believe is the minimum requirement for designation in English and Secretary of State waters to complete the network. It provides information on 48 sites – the large gap fillers required to help our seas recover and thrive.

Designation of this network is just the first step to allow our seas to recover and thrive. But we still have a lot of work to do to ensure the sites are properly managed and protected. And, if this Blue Belt is to be truly ecologically coherent, then we need more progress in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Read our report to find out more information about the 48 sites. 

We need your help to achieve these 48 sites, sign up to become a Friends of Marine Conservation Zones. We will undoubtedly be calling on you again to help safeguard our European Marine Sites too.

Joan Edwards is The Wildlife Trusts' Head of Living Seas

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