20% Of English Waters Are Now Protected: But Don’t Celebrate Yet

Yesterday marked a great step forward for marine conservation in the UK as the number of marine conservation zones (MCZs) doubled. As you read the story in your Sunday newspaper you can bask safely in the knowledge that much more of our rich coastline and the biodiversity which comes with it is protected. From seagrass to seahorse and from Northumberland to Cornwall; 8,000sq miles are now afforded protection against the harsh reality of the 21st Century. If you wanted to make it sound even more impressive 20% of our waters are now protected, something we should all be celebrating; yet many conservationists are branding these zones as worse than useless.

It’s no secret that marine life is under significant threat from a multitude of factors. Take for instance the Cromer chalk beds; designated yesterday. With the prestigious title of Europe’s longest chalk bed and playing home to vulnerable species such as the pink fan sea coral this unique habitat could easily be destroyed like other chalk beds by fishing and dredging.

So in other words, its fantastic news that Cromer has got a new MCZ to its name. Not quite. The designation of these zones and the management of them are treated as separate processes, therefore until bylaws or legislation have been put in place the activities in these reserves will potentially remain unchanged.

Speaking to the BBC Paul Trebilcock, from the Cornish Fish Producers Association expressed his anger at this process; “It’s madness. A line has been drawn on a map but there is no management plan in place. No-one knows what will and will not be able to continue. The majority of fishermen rely on the marine environment being healthy to make a living – they have more interest in keeping it healthy than anybody. To hear the government drawing a line and saying it’s all fine doesn’t inspire much confidence.”

The Government has claimed it aims to draw up management plans within the next two years. However many are sceptical of this as David Cameron’s Conservative government don’t have the greatest green record despite being in power less than a year.  If you need further reason to become sceptical about the UK’s pledge to protect you might need a reminder that the Welsh Government decided in 2015 that scallop dredging in the protected area of Cardigan Bay would be a good of helping out the dolphin population that lives there.

Is it possible that the creation of MCZs is all a box ticking exercise? The UK is lagging behind many other nations in the protections of their waters and the creation of protected areas will actively help achieve a good environmental status under the EU’s marine directive.

Although it may sometimes feel like that way, it would be unfair to all those who have campaigned and been involved with the process so far and undermine all that they have achieved. The UK certainly knows how to protect marine areas you just have to look at its work for its overseas territories and its leadership there. Areas around Ascension Island and in the Pacific Oceans are afforded full protection whilst those closer to home still lag behind.

Of course the designation of 23 more MCZ’s is a good thing. But these will be useless without the next stage being rapidly completed, without proper management they are just a line on a map. That is the crux of the issue, that you will read that these areas are now protected and you will be satisfied. You will no longer feel the need to campaign because by definition you would assume these places must be protected from activities like dredging.


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Emily Stewart
Owner of Inspirewildlife - a site dedicated to sharing positive conservation news stories from around the world. Zoo Management Graduate from University of Chester
Emily Stewart

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