Unique moment to save our seas

Wednesday 25th October 2017

Dahlia Anemone and Spider CrabDahlia Anemone and Spider Crab, Thurlestone, South Devon ©Dan Bolt

New report urges Government to tackle five challenges simultaneously

Today, The Wildlife Trusts publish a new report that identifies five unprecedented challenges for our seas which must be addressed before the UK leaves the European Union. The Government must ensure there is a clear vision for our marine environment. Its first responsibility is to ensure that we bring across existing European regulations which provide protective measures for our seas and sea-life – we need to safeguard existing protective law, as promised in the Withdrawal Bill. With that done, the following five challenges remain:

  • There are not enough protected wild places at sea – the network needs to protect the whole range of wildlife in our seas.
  • Industrial fishing ©Chris Gomersall/2020VISIONFishing – after the significant reform of the Common Fisheries Policy we have begun to see some of our fish stocks recover. But there are still significant discard issues. We need to make sure that this process is continued which will benefit jobs, consumers and wildlife.
  • Lack of planning of competing interests – fishing, oil rigs, wind farms and gravel extraction from the seabed all take a huge toll on UK seas, fragile seabed habitats and the wildlife that lives in them; we need to plan our seas so that we have space for wildlife to recover and to provide certainty to industry as to where they can develop and fish.
  • Severe pollution – sewage, farming chemicals, plastic litter washed out to sea, abandoned fishing nets and noise pollution from new developments at sea are killing wildlife and adversely affecting human health.
  • Human behaviour – our success in tackling these threats ultimately rests on people’s understanding and accepting the need for change.

The Wildlife Trusts’ Director of Living Seas, Joan Edwards, says: “We are witnessing unprecedented pressures on UK seas and their fragile seagrass meadows, reefs and mud plains on which fish, dolphins and whales depend."

The natural balance of our seas is at an all-time low and we need a brand new strategy

"Plastic is in the marine food-chain and is now affecting humans too. Seabird numbers are dropping due to lack of food. More dolphins are being caught in fishing nets than ever and sea bass stocks have declined by 50% in five years. The natural balance of our seas is at an all-time low and we need a brand-new strategy for the new era that we’re entering which tackles all these threats together – simultaneously.

“Our report shows why we need a new marine management system based on Regional Sea Plans which would allow a new spatial planning programme and achieve global goals for sustainable development. At the heart of this we also need a network of protected areas that represent the full range of marine habitats and species and are well distributed so that fragmented undersea places and wildlife can recover.”

The Wildlife Trusts believe that there is now an excellent opportunity to build on what has been achieved within Europe and to create a healthy, productive Common cuttlefish, Devon ©Alex Mustard/2020VISIONand biologically diverse sea for future generations. This is only possible if we grasp the possibilities and think about new ways of working at this unique moment in time.

The new report by The Wildlife Trusts, The way back to Living Seas, is published today, Wednesday 25th October, and will be presented to the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Dr Thérèse Coffey MP at a marine round table being held on board Research Vessel Cefas Endeavour on the Thames in London this afternoon. A pdf can be downloaded here.

Peter Barham, Chair, Seabed Users Development Group, says:
“Marine industries are essential to meet the challenges of Blue Growth and UK climate change targets. Marine industry is also quite rightly highly regulated to make sure that developments have minimal impact on the environment. We are working with The Wildlife Trusts and decision-making authorities to examine potential impacts and using that information to look for better ways of working. In this way we can meet the needs of both the economy and the environment.”


Brexit, devolved countries and the marine environment
The impact of Brexit on devolved governments around the UK and how the natural environment is managed in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England is complex and, at present, uncertain. For example, currently each devolved country is largely responsible for management of their marine environment. This report considers the future management of our seas from an environmental perspective rather than a political one, and its guiding principles are based on how we can restore our seas and their wildlife.