Parliament critical of the Government over English MCZ delivery

The Guardian reports, 21st June 2014: “Four years since the launch of the government project to create a national network of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZsMCZ Marine Conservation Zone) designed to protect sea life and give fish stocks space to recover, only 27 of the 127 sites recommended by experts and stakeholders in the government’s own consultation have been designated.

Marine Protected Areas, a new report from MPs on the environmental audit committee (EAC), examines the government’s progress to date and says that the pace at which the zones have been designated is “disappointing and suggests a lack of government commitment to this initiative”.

Chair of the committee, Joan Walley MP, said the government must stop trying to “water down” its pledge to protect the UK’s seas and “move much more quickly” to establish further protection zones and ensure they can be enforced.

A fishing boat passes Round Island lighthouse Isles of Scilly, Cornwall, UK.

A fishing boat passes Round Island lighthouse in the Isles of Scilly, Cornwall, UK.
Photograph: Nigel Hicks/Alamy

“Marine conservation zones can protect our seas from overfishing and give species and habitats space to recover, ultimately benefiting people whose livelihoods depend on healthy seas. But the government has been too slow in creating these zones, and it has failed to get coastal communities and fishermen on board,” she said.

The government plans to designate two more tranches of MCZs over next two years. Consultation on the first is expected in early 2015 with designation of sites by the end of the year and a third tranche expected to follow a year later. But the committee called on the government to bring forward the programme so that more zones are designated in the next phase.

“To demonstrate to all sides that it is committed to the environmental protection of our seas, it should front-load the selection of further MCZs so that more fall in that next tranche of designations,” the report said.

Ministers should apply an environmental precautionary principle approach to the new designations, based on the “best available” data, rather than the more stringent evidence standards it has sought so far. MPs say this fuller, “robust” data is much harder and more expensive to obtain.

“When a rare species or biodiverse stretch of seabed is destroyed, it may be lost for ever. The government must therefore act on the best available evidence and base its decisions on new MCZs on the precautionary principle, rather than demanding unobtainable evidence,” Walley said.

But Dr Tom Pickerell, technical director at industry body Seafish, said designation must be based on scientific and socio-economic factors. “Without robust evidence, we risk not competently designating the features we are aiming to protect and instead merely running a ‘draw lines on a chart’ exercise to reach 127 MCZs,” he said.

“The fishing industry has been involved in the regional MCZMCZ Marine Conservation Zone projects and has engaged with conservation groups in order to reduce its impact on the marine environment. The industry is however opposed to targets they feel have been adopted on the back of a misplaced popular perception that UK fish stocks are at immediate risk of collapse.”

Blue jellyfish caught on soft corals St Abbs marine reserve on July 13, 2013

Blue jellyfish caught on soft corals, St Abbs marine reserve. The government has designated 27 of the 127 recommended MCZs.
Photograph: Peter Bardsley/Green Shoots/ Flickr

The MPs also raised concerns that the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), the public body tasked with managing the zones, will not have the resources to manage and enforce the zones at a time of constrained budgets.

The government must set out a strategy for the management of the 27 zones and management plans for individual zones to demonstrate that they can be enforced, the report said, and this should be underpinned by “enforceable statutory regulation”.

“It is not acceptable that the MMO will have management and control plans in place for existing MCZs only in 2016 — over two years after they were designated. The failure to move more quickly and decisively raises questions about whether the government and its agencies are really committed to marine conservation zones. The government needs to show that a falling MMO budget will not jeopardise this essential programme,” Walley said.

The Marine Conservation Society’s senior policy officer, Melissa Moore, said: the recommendation to put management measures on a statutory footing was vital. “Effective local collaboration is important to engender understanding and compliance, but the processes must be underwritten by a regulatory fail-safe,” she said. “Otherwise the good work of many can be undermined by a minority, with no form of redress for those involved, or indeed our marine environment.”

Eelgrass - Zostera marina. Eelgrass bed, off St Helen's, Isles of Scilly.

Eelgrass (Zostera marina) off St Helen’s, Isles of Scilly.
Photograph: Paul R. Sterry/Alamy

In 2011, 127 marine conservation zones were recommended to the government. But in late 2013 ministers announced they would only establish 27 zones.

The existing zones cover 9,700 kilometres squared (km2) from the Aln estuary in the north-east to Beachy Head and Chesil Beach in the south and Padstow Bay and the Scilly Isles in the south-west.

But the “paper park” selections have been widely criticised. “From an environmental protection perspective, they betray a lack of ambition and there are gaps in the level and types of biodiversitybiodiversity Biological diversity in an environment as indicated by numbers of different species of plants and animals. covered. But there are also concerns about potential harm to business and leisure activities,” said the report.

Professor Callum Roberts, a marine expert at the University of York who led 86 marine scientists in condemning the government last year for reneging on the designation of all 127 MCZs, said: “The delays highlighted by MPs are eclipsed by a far greater problem — there appears to be no intention to give them any meaningful protection. We are building the world’s most comprehensive network of ‘paper parks’. If the present course continues, it represents an expensive exercise in futility.”

Sarah North, Greenpeace UK head of oceans, said: “This report is a damning indictment of government inaction on ocean protection. In failing to create marine protection zones in English waters, ministers have yet again left fish stocks and wildlife to the mercy of those who treat the oceans like a mine to be exploited, rather than a resource to be cherished.”

Joan Edwards, the head of living seas at the Wildlife Trusts, said she had no fears that the government would renege on its commitment to create further protection zones. “The EAC has summarised what we all feel — this process has been long and frustrating… but it’s not about how long it takes — it’s about getting the right MCZs in the right places that are protected in the right way. The important thing is that the government has said it will create an ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas.”

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs did not respond.

Source: The Guardian, 21st June 2014. For the full text, see:

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