Living Seas

Living Seas

Around half the UK's wildlife lives in the sea – from microscopic plankton to mighty whales. But our seas are under pressure from all sides.  

Undersea landscape, Lundy - Alexander Mustard/2020Vision

Living Seas

A sustainable society and economy needs productive and healthy seas. Yet for many years pollution, unsustainable development and the way we fish have damaged and depleted our seas. Our vision is for Living Seas - where better protection and management of our seas means that species which have declined can become common again.

Living Seas means thriving fish stocks and healthy, recovering marine habitats. It means environmentally sustainable use of our seas' resources. It means ocean processes helping to slow down climate change. It means people valuing the sea for the many ways in which it supports our quality of life.

Our seas in crisis

UK seas, 2019: plastic-strewn beaches, fisheries on the verge of collapse, unsustainable infrastructure development and the ever growing effects of global climate change. These are the pressures altering the balance of our seas, depleting its resources beyond safe limits and jeopardising what we take from it - from the fish stocks to feed our country to energy to the air we breathe.

What we've lost

The picture below shows a bluefin tuna landed at Scarborough, Yorkshire in 1949. The North Sea bluefin tuna fishery collapsed in 1963 and today it is effectively extinct here as a commercial fish stock. If we improve how we manage our seas and protect marine habitats, we could see the proper return of bluefin tuna and many other magnificent animals to the UK.

Bluefin tuna, Scarborough, 1949 - Phil Burton

Bluefin tuna, Scarborough, 1949 - Phil Burton

What are The Wildlife Trusts doing?

Since the 1970s we have campaigned for better protection for our seas and their wildlife. The principal ways we do this today are:

Campaigning for Marine Protected Areas - we campaign for parts of the seabed and the sea to be protected from damaging activities.

Fisheries policy - balanced fishing policies that help to protect our marine environment and ensure a sustainable fishing industry.

Surveying - we run surveys along the coast and under the sea to gather information on marine habitats and wildlife.

Advising on development - we help to ensure that developments at sea, like wind farms, avoid the most important parts of the sea for wildlife.

Inspiring people about the sea - we run events around the coast from talks to rockpool rambles and underwater snorkel safaris. 

The natural world is valuable in its own right, and is the foundation of our wellbeing and prosperity; we depend on it and it depends on us.

The Way Back to Living Seas

In 2019, the UK plans to leave the European Union. Before our departure, the Government must ensure there is a clear vision for our marine environment.

While it is important that we retain existing EU law through the Withdrawal Bill and anticipated Fisheries Bill, this departure is a unique opportunity to improve the way we manage the sea.

Our report The Way Back to Living Seas sets out The Wildlife Trusts’ proposals for a new UK Marine Strategy. This would guide how we develop industry at sea, how we fish within environmental limits and how we can restore our marine ecosystems so that we have seas full of fish and wildlife. All sea users would be involved in its development. A UK Marine Strategy would help to provide economic security and essential benefits for all citizens. And we could inspire a new generation who will love and care for our seas in the decades to come.

Way back to Living Seas report cover

The way back to Living Seas report, published October 2017


The way back to Living Seas

Read our proposals for a UK Marine Strategy to guide development at sea,  environmental limits for fishing and protected areas for wildlife


Five challenges facing our seas

We have identified five challenges that must be addressed before we leave the European Union and take over management of most of our fisheries policy. Whilst some good progress has been made over the past 10 years thanks to reform of the Common Fisheries Policy there are still massive problems facing our seas. Our fishing industry is not yet sustainable, our network of Marine Protected Areas is not yet complete, marine creatures are killed every day by pollution and our marine planning system does not yet adequately incorporate all the activities in the sea. We believe that the UK can do better in balancing the needs of both people and wildlife.

This is a historic opportunity to change how we fish, how we extract resources such as aggregates and how we manage development at sea. Through a new marine planning system based on Regional Sea Plans and a joined-up network of Marine Protected Areas, we can safeguard marine wildlife and help the livelihoods of the many people who depend on the sea.

The first responsibility of the Government 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. Following that, the five challenges remain:

  1. Not enough protected areas at sea - there are not enough protected wild places at sea. The UK’s network of Marine Protected Areas needs to protect the whole range of wildlife in our seas.
  2. Fishing – 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
  3. 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. 
  4. 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
  5. Human behaviour – our success in tackling these threats ultimately rests on people’s understanding and accepting the need for change.
Alexander Mustard/2020VISION

Cuttlefish ©Alexander Mustard/2020VISION

Discover the wildlife in our seas