Greater Pipefish by Paul Naylor

The Wildlife Trusts welcome today’s statement on Marine Conservation Zones by the Environmental Audit Committee and urge the government to press on with protecting these special places at sea

The Wildlife Trusts welcome today’s statement on Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) by the Environmental Audit Committee. The Committee rightly points out that the 2015 Conservative Party Manifesto committed to “complete the network of [Marine Conservation Zones] MCZs.” Yet only 50 MCZs have been designated so far — well short of the 127 sites originally recommended by the regional projects in 2011. In its report the Environmental Audit Committee says: “To fulfil this commitment, the third tranche of MCZs must be considerably larger and more ambitious than the previous two. The delay is unacceptable and we call on the Government to put in place this final piece of the protected area MPA (Marine Protected Area) jigsaw as soon as possible.”

We agree also with the Committee’s findings that without effective management, surveillance and monitoring, protected areas are just lines on a map. Once a site is designated then its status as a protected area should be made the primary consideration for management and decision-making. The Government must act to protect protected areas properly by implementing a robust and well-coordinated management strategy.

Joan Edwards, Head of Living Seas at The Wildlife Trusts says:

“Our seas are suffering from decades of overfishing, exploitation for resources and damage to natural habitats and so we welcome the EAC’s inquiry and its findings. There is no reason why the government could not designate the rest of the recommended Marine Conservation Zones right now and fulfil their 2015 manifesto commitment to achieving a ‘blue belt’ of protected marine habitats around the UK. But we don’t just want ‘paper parks’ – these special places at sea must be managed and the most damaging activities must be banned straight away. Only 50 MCZs have been created in English waters, falling far short of the amount of protection scientists say is needed to safeguard our seas. 50 further sites could help turn that around.

“The new places being recommended for a public consultation to be run by the Government next year include South of the Isles of Scilly, which supports commercially important Monkfish; Norris to Ryde, which is rich in seagrass meadows; Mud Hole off the north-west coast – 35 metres deep and home to rare sea pens – and Compass Rose off the Yorkshire coast, which is an important spawning and nursery ground for herring and lemon sole.”