New Marine SACs and SPAs announced by Natural England and JNCC

In connection with a public consultation lasting until 26th February 2010, Natural England, in conjunction with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW), has announced that a new raft of marine Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas for wild birds (SPAs) are to be created under the Natura 2000 Habitats Regulations (EU Habitats Directive).

10 new marine SACs and 2 new marine SPAs are to be created.

There are currently 81 SACs with marine components, covering 2% of the UK sea area. A list of the SACs and their qualifying marine features is available, see www.jncc.gov.uk/page-4658. 76 of these SACs are in inshore waters, 5 are in offshore waters. There are four marine habitats and four marine species present in UK waters offshore from the coast for which the European Commission has stated that SACs may be designated.

The marine habitats are:

  • Sandbanks which are slightly covered by seawater all the time.
  • Reefs
  • Submarine structures made by leaking gases.
  • Submerged or partially submerged sea caves.

The marine species are:

  • Grey seal (Halichoerus grypus)
  • Common seal (Phoca vitulina)
  • Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
  • Harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena)

The 5 existing offshore marine SACs are:

  • Braemar Pockmarks, North Sea (Submarine structures made by leaking gases)
  • Scanner Pockmark, North Sea (Submarine structures made by leaking gases)
  • Haig Fras, South West seas (Bedrock reef)
  • Stanton Banks, West Scotland (Bedrock reef)
  • Darwin Mounds, North Scotland (Reef)

The 12 new proposed marine SACs and SPAs are:

  • Inner Dowsing, Race Bank and North Ridge, inshore and offshore waters of southern North Sea (Sandbanks which are slightly covered by seawater all the time)
  • Haisborough, Hammond and Winterton, inshore and offshore waters of southern North Sea (Sandbanks which are slightly covered by seawater all the time)
  • Margate and Long Sands, Thames Estuary (Sandbanks which are slightly covered by seawater all the time)
  • Bassurelle Sandbank, offshore waters of Dover Strait (Sandbanks which are slightly covered by seawater all the time)
  • Poole Bay to Lyme Bay Reefs, Dorset and Devon coast (Reefs)
  • Prawle Point to Plymouth Sound and Eddystone, Devon coast (Reefs)
  • Lizard Point, Cornwall (Reefs)
  • Lands End and Cape Bank, Cornwall (Reefs)
  • Shell Flat and Lune Deep, Morecambe Bay (Reefs and Sandbanks which are slightly covered by seawater all the time)
  • North West Rockall Bank, off North West Scotland (Reefs and Harbour porpoise)
  • Liverpool Bay (SPA)
  • Outer Thames Estuary (SPA)

The offshore marine SACs are being identified by the UK Government in conjunction with their legal commitment under the OSPAR Convention (www.ospar.org) to create an ecologically coherent network of marine reserves by 2010. For the exact location of the existing and proposed UK marine SACs, see www.jncc.gov.uk/page-1455.

Full details about the existing and proposed new marine SACs (both inshore and offshore) and the proposed new SPAs can be obtained by visiting Natural England and Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

MARINET welcomes these new additions to the UK marine SAC and SPA network, both inshore and offshore. They are an essential improvement on the marine conservation network. However, these new and existing sites are entirely linked to the European Habitats Directive (four types of habitat: Sandbanks which are slightly covered by seawater all the time; Reefs; Submarine structures made by leaking gases; Submerged or partially submerged sea caves ) and take no account of the vast number of other types of marine habitat that exist, all of which are important and many of which are being severely damaged.

Therefore MARINET observes that it cannot be said by the UK Government that these new and existing marine SAC sites are representative of the marine ecosystem as a whole — a key characteristic required by the OSPAR Convention commitment to create an ecologically coherent network of marine reserves by 2010. In addition, it is not clear either how these new and existing marine SAC reserves are linked to each other in any coherent ecological manner to sustain the four different marine ecosystems which they are protecting.

Further, MARINET observes that none of these marine SACs are focused on fish species and commercial fish stocks which are under very severe pressure in all UK seas. MARINET observes that a network of marine SACs which takes no account of fish species and fish stocks — a key, dominant feature of the whole marine ecosystem — simply cannot be said to comply with the UK Government’s OSPAR Convention commitment to create an ecologically coherent network of marine reserves by 2010.

Thus, whilst MARINET welcomes these new SACs and SPAs, it advises that we must be under no illusion as to the serious shortcomings that these actions represent when considering the urgent need to be creating and ecologically coherent network of marine reserves in order to protect the marine ecosystem as a whole throughout UK seas. These recently announced actions to create new SACs and SPAs fall woefully short of the real action which is required. Over 80% of European commercial fish stocks are being overfished at the present time, and 30% beyond their safe biological limit (see CFP Reform Green Paper).

These actions on SACs and SPAs will do little to address this urgent crisis.


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