Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall leads rally to Parliament for increased number of MCZs

The TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has said it is “vital” that the government does more to protect UK seas as he led hundreds of campaigners in a march to Westminster. The presenter has urged ministers to increase the number of “marine conservation zones” (MCZs) after more than £8m was spent on identifying 127 areas where dolphins, seahorses and other rare species most need protection.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has so far managed to set out plans to create 31 sites by the end of this year, while the majority of MCZs have no timetable.

Fish Fight protest outside the Houses of Parliament with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Fish Fight protest outside the Houses of Parliament with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Protesters call on the government to protect the seas around the UK coast.
Photograph: Sean Dempsey/PA

Speaking outside Parliament, Fearnley-Whittingstall said: “We’re all here today because we believe in the sea. We know it has an incredible power to enhance our lives. There’s a public consultation going on right now over the proposals of 127 new marine reserves around the UK. So far we’re a little concerned that the government are only going to look at 31 of those in the coming year, and at this point they haven’t given us a time frame for the rest. This is the sort of opportunity that may not come again. We might not have such a vital and appropriate time frame as we’ve got right now to make real changes. If we leave it too much later, too much damage will have been done. It will be hard for a lot of the areas to recover. What’s particularly worrying is there are 33 areas that scientists have assessed as being in urgent need of protection and recovery that have not been included in the areas to be considered.”

Fearnley-Whittingstall joined forces with the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), Sea Life and the British Sub Aqua Club (BSAC) at the rally. BSAC divers arrived in inflatable boats at Westminster Bridge, while Sea Life visitors have signed an estimated 40,000 postcards in support of MCZs.

Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, biodiversity policy officer at the MCS, said: “We need to protect our seas now. More than a million people took part in the process that resulted in the list of 127 recommended MCZs. It cost the British taxpayer in excess of £8m. Thirty-one is a start, but shows a lack of ambition for the responsible management of our seas. Government must make a firm commitment to designate these now, and the rest of the 127 zones in 2014.”

Sea Life senior marine biologist Rob Hicks said: “To know that there are both sea creatures and habitats in English waters that are now at serious risk because of this decision is incredibly concerning. The evidence of dwindling catches, shrinking average sizes of those fish that are caught and disappearance of species like the undulate ray is sufficient, in our view, to justify action now. It may well be too late in four, five or 10 years’ time.”

Source: The Guardian, 25th February 2013

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