Benyon review of Highly Protected Marine Areas published today

The Wildlife Trusts back new form of protection for the sea and call on Government for ambitious delivery plan for Highly Protected Marine Areas within a year.

The Benyon review of Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) is published by Defra today. The Wildlife Trusts back its recommendations that HPMAs should be an essential part of the UK network for protection and recovery of the marine environment, and the government should introduce HPMAs within existing protected areas.

The review is published on World Oceans Day by an independent panel of members from academia, industry and conservation backgrounds and chaired by former MP and Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon. The Wildlife Trusts believe that there is an overwhelming case for HPMAs across our seas which would see a ban on all damaging activities. We are calling for an ambitious HPMA delivery plan within a year.

One of the Review panel, Joan Edwards, director of marine conservation at The Wildlife Trusts says:

“Our seas are in an impoverished state and it’s hard for our generation to comprehend how abundant our waters once were. Cod were once as long and wide as humans are tall, and whales, dolphins and basking sharks were many times more common than they are today. We need to let the sea show us what it’s capable of. Today’s publication proposes a vital way of achieving marine recovery. We want to see real ambition from the Government with a commitment to a HPMA delivery plan agreed before World Oceans Day in 2021.

“Existing Marine Protected Areas are limited in their ability to restore habitats and wildlife because their remit to protect nature only extends as far as maintaining the status quo. In these areas only some of the most damaging activities are prevented and even then, only in some locations.

“In Highly Protected Marine Areas, on the other hand, all damaging activities including fishing, dredging, construction and sea angling would be banned. This new type of designation means that nature could properly recover. HPMAs could be monitored to allow us to understand what a thriving seabed and restored marine life really means. They could set a bar against which other sorts of protected areas could be measured.”

The Wildlife Trusts believe that HPMAs should be designated in each regional sea, in both inshore and offshore English waters, encompassing a range of habitats so that experts can study how recovery works in different ecosystems. In October 2019 The Wildlife Trusts submitted evidence to the panel saying:

  • A selection of well monitored HPMAs that are sufficient in size and number are needed to understand what happens when damaging activities are removed and how our seas can recover. In turn this will help us determine appropriate management for the rest of the Marine Protected Area (MPA) network
  • Highly Protected Marine Areas provide a higher level of protection than other types of MPAs - this means marine areas will be able to return to as natural a state as possible with more marine wildlife
  • Highly Protected Marine Areas act as a natural solution to climate change in the form of carbon capture, whilst at the same time helping to conserve the animals and plants living there
  • Highly Protected Marine Areas have the potential to generate direct benefits through increased tourism and recreational activities while indirect benefits will improve people's wellbeing for decades

The designation of HPMAs can act as an ecosystem tool for recovery and significantly contribute to the Government’s aim of achieving a well-managed and ecologically coherent network of protected areas at sea.

Joan Edwards continues:

“When bottom trawling was banned from Lyme Bay in 2008, we learnt that recovery in the marine environment can happen, and sometimes much sooner than scientists thought possible. Beautiful sunset cup corals blossomed and pink sea fans grew across the area. By removing all pressures and damaging activities, HPMAs will give parts of our sea the best opportunity to recover to as natural and pristine condition as possible.”

In May 2019, the Government announced the creation of 41 new Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) to complete a network of 91 MCZs. With the aim of protecting vulnerable and rare habitats and species, these sites added to the rich tapestry of MPAs in the UK. This was progress towards becoming an ‘ecologically coherent’ network – one that is large and well-connected enough to allow an array of habitats to thrive. Well-enforced HPMAs could be designated across parts of these areas and offer the strictest form of environmental protection; they would become the gold standard of protection, the first of their kind in the UK.

Peter Barham Chair of the Seabed Users Development Group (SUDG) says:

"We were grateful that the views of marine industry were included within the very considered discussions in the panel about HPMAs and how they may be introduced. SUDG warmly welcomes the designation of HPMAs and the outcome of the review is a set of recommendations to Government that we feel puts protection and restoration of marine conservation on a course which SUDG industries can work with comfortably and which will help us in developing better ways of working in the future."

Editor’s notes

Benyon review

In June 2019, the Secretary of State announced a review to examine whether and how the strongest protections for areas of sea, known as Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs), could be introduced. The review was led by Richard Benyon MP. The review ran from June 201.It considered the waters for which the Secretary of State has responsibility: the English inshore and offshore and Northern Ireland offshore zones.

8th June 2020 – Benyon Review recommendations:

The Review recommends that HPMAs are an essential part of the UK MPA network for protection and recovery of the marine environment and the government should introduce HPMAs within existing MPA.

Other key recommendations of the Benyon review include:

  • HPMAs should be defined as areas of the sea that allow the protection and recovery of marine ecosystems. They prohibit extractive, destructive and depositional uses and allow only non-damaging levels of other activities
  • HPMAs should take a whole site approach, protecting all species and habitats within their boundaries.
  • Government should acknowledge displacement in its decision making and put strategies in place to support marine uses and avoid creating new problems from moving pressures to other parts of the marine environment.
  • Government should adopt the principles of transparency and early, continuous engagement with a range of stakeholders in HPMA site consideration.
  • Government should use ecological principles to identify HPMAs and use social and economic principles as a secondary filter.
  • Government should adopt co-management to agree effective management in partnership with sea users.
  • Pilot sites should have sufficient geographic spread to cover nearshore, inshore and offshore areas and different regional seas.

The Wildlife Trusts welcomed the news that the Government designated a third phase of 41 new Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) in May 2019. This historic move will help protect the seas around our shores and follows on from previous announcements of 50 MCZs (in 2013 and 2016). It is the third of three phases promised by the Government in order to fulfil the remit of the Marine and Coastal Access Act. Media release here.