Marine Conservation Zones at risk

Tuesday 8th November 2011

Image credit: Dave Peake Image Credit: Dave Peake

Big Society has spoken up for our seas - but will Government listen?

The wildlife in England’s seas is facing a serious threat, warns The Wildlife Trusts.

The long-awaited network of Marine Conservation Zones, promised by Government for 2012, is in danger, according to the conservation organisation, which has been instrumental in marine campaigning and research. It is urging the public to write to Under-Secretary for Natural Environment and Fisheries, Richard Benyon MP, in support of Marine Conservation Zones.

We need to demonstrate the weight of public support for Marine Conservation Zones to Government. This is a once in a lifetime chance. We can’t afford to let it slip away. Joan Edwards, Head of Living Seas, The Wildlife Trusts

After years of pressure from NGOs, and with huge public support, the Marine and Coastal Access Act of 2009 promised a coherent network of protection around the coast of England by 2012. Now 127 marine sites around England’s coast have been recommended by four regional stakeholder groups to become Marine Conservation Zones next year.

The recommendations are the result of two years of consultation with more than one million stakeholders involved including fishermen, conservationists and businesses. This has been the first ‘Big Society’ experiment where local stakeholders have decided together which areas of the sea should be protected.

There is concern that Government’s Statutory Nature Conservation Bodies (Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee) will recommend to Government that only a fraction of the 127 recommended sites are designated. This would result in a much smaller and less effective network of Marine Conservation Zones, leaving vulnerable and precious areas unprotected.

Joan Edwards, The Wildlife Trusts’ Head of Living Seas, said: “A huge amount of work has been done to get a broad agreement on this network of sites needed for the health and future productivity of our marine environment. Now, however, in the final stages the Government has lost its direction and is proposing to over-ride the recommendations of local stakeholders and cut the 127 sites down to an unrealistic 30 in contradiction with the aims of the new Marine and Coastal Access Act.

“With Wildlife Trusts all around the UK, we are lobbying hard for the successful completion of a process that will make the difference between the life or death of our seas. We need to demonstrate the weight of public support for Marine Conservation Zones to Government. This is a once in a lifetime chance. We can’t afford to let it slip away.”

The Wildlife Trusts is urging people to write to Richard Benyon and ask for Government to create the proposed network of 127 sites in England. It has produced some guidance on writing to the Minister, which can be found at

Further information

Reduced number of MCZ recommendations
The Wildlife Trusts fear the number of MCZs consulted and ultimately designated may be reduced from 127 sites to 30. This is based on discussions at a number of meetings with Statutory Nature Conservation Bodies and other stakeholders over the last few months.

The stakeholder groups adhered to guidance on evidence levels from Defra, issued in September 2010 throughout the process. The Wildlife Trusts are concerned about a new piece of guidance regarding levels of evidence released by Natural England and JNCC after the stakeholder groups had made their recommendations, in May 2011. This is available online:

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