Defra proposes a “tranche three” of MCZs, as Marinet questions their value

CMS Marine and Coastal News reports, 21st November 2016: The Government’s scientific advisors have provided proposals on where a final set of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) are needed around England. Leading marine conservation charities, the Marine Conservation Society and The Wildlife Trusts are excited about the plans, which are a positive step forward towards restoring our seas.

The sites are being proposed for protection by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and Natural England. They would form the third and final round of Marine Conservation Zone designations around England. In the previous two tranches, only 50 protected sites have been created in English waters, falling far short of the amount of protection scientists say is needed to safeguard our seas. These new plans with approximately 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.

Melissa Moore, Marine Conservation Society said “the 50 Marine Conservation Zones being recommended by the government’s scientific advisors are essential to ensure we are protecting examples of all habitats. They will allow a proportion of our seas to begin to recover from over a century of damage and contribute to the restoration of biodiversity in our seas. We call on Government to include all these sites in their third tranche consultation next summer.”

Joan Edwards, The Wildlife Trusts said “UK seas are home to a stunning array of wildlife, as well as playing a vital role in the planet’s life-support system. If designated as Marine Conservation Zones, these 50 new sites will help to establish a proper network of protected areas in our seas. This is a huge step towards ensuring that future generations will be able to rely on healthy and productive seas, rich in wildlife.”

Marine Conservation Zone designations — Tranche 3

Defra asked JNCC and Natural England to provide scientific advice on a suite of site options from which they could select potential Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) that could form a third tranche of MCZ designations. Further information about this process can be found here:
http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-7119

It was requested that the site options were discussed with stakeholders before the scientific advice is submitted.  A stakeholder workshop was held as part of the advice process on 14-15th November 2016. Both the Marine Conservation Society and The Wildlife Trusts took part in this meeting. Further details of the workshop are available at: http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-7325

The sites being recommended for designation are:
Alde Ore Estuary, Axe Estuary, Dart Estuary, East Meridian (Eastern section), Erme Estuary, Hythe Bay, Otter Estuary, Ribble, Taw Torridge Estuary, Thames Estuary, Beachy Head East (Royal Sovereign Shoals), Bembridge, Camel Estuary, Cape Bank, Compass Rose, Devon Avon Estuary, Goodwin Sands, Holderness Offshore, Inner Bank, Kentish Knock East, Markham’s Triangle, Morte Platform, Mud Hole, Norris to Ryde, North-East of Haig Fras. Offshore Foreland, Orford Inshore, Selsey Bill and the Hounds, Silver Pit, Slieve Na Griddle, Solway Firth, South-West Deeps (East), South of Celtic Deep, South of Portland, South of the Isles of Scilly, South Rigg, Studland Bay, Wyre-Lune, Yarmouth to Cowes, Queenie Corner, East of Start Point MCZ Area of Search, South of Chesil Beach.

MCZ Area of Search includes: West of Copeland MCZ Area of Search, West of Lundy Area of Search, + 3 inshore MCZ Areas of Search, + over 10 mobile species proposed MCZs by 3rd parties.

Source: CMS Marine and Coastal News, 21st November 2016.

Marinet observes: Whilst the prospect of a further body of MCZs is ostensibly welcome, we have to observe the following facts:

  • The Marine and Coastal Access Act which provides and legislates for MCZs came into force in 2009, but delivery of these marine conservation zones has been at a very slow pace. The initial MCZ identification process in 2010/11 eventually came up with 127 candidate sites, but so far only 50 have been created.
  • Those MCZs which have been created have protected features and conservation objectives, but they have no management plans. Thus the method by which they are to be protected, and where necessary restored to a sound conservation status, is very vague. The Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs) are responsible for MCZs within the 6 nautical mile limit, but their remit only covers fisheries. The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) is responsible for MCZs beyond 6 nautical miles but, like the IFCAs, it has no management plans for the marine conservation zones within its sphere of responsibility. As a result, some observers have remarked that MCZs are just lines drawn on a map, and merely “paper parks”. If nature reserves on land were created in a way that its management authority failed to draw up and deliver a serious management plan for the reserve, there would be a public outcry. However at sea, the Government seems more than content to let different rules apply . . . .
  • On land, a nature reserve would not be subject to commercial exploitation or injury due to commercial interests. A company would not be allowed to run an open-cast mine in it, or to discharge toxic and polluting materials into its rivers and streams. Yet at sea, the reality is different. The Kingmere MCZ, off West Sussex, has just been subject to a licence granted by the MMO to aggregate companies permitting them to dredge sand and gravel from its seabed. The Blackwater Estuary MCZ, Essex, has been made to endure by the Environment Agency a licence issued to the decommissioned Bradwell nuclear power station which allows the power station to discharge heavy metals, nitrates and radioactivity into its waters. And the Goodwin Sands rMCZ, recommended for designation in “tranche three”, is threatened by a possible licence from the MMO to the Dover Harbour Board permitting it to extract 3.75 million tonnes of sand from it so that the Harbour Board can undertake construction work at the Port of Dover.
  • The reality is that MCZs are wide open, under law, to commercial exploitation and injury. Therefore, in addition to no management plan, one must ask whether the “conservation purpose” of Marine Conservation Zones actually has any meaning ? And if, as Marinet has been forced to conclude, that it is highly devalued — then what is the point of a “tranche three” of MCZs?

 


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