Network of marine nature reserves planned for UK
by Rachel Thomas
April 3, 2008
Today the government’s draft marine bill was released revealing plans for a network of new marine nature reserves.
These reserves are to protect endangered species and habitats across the length of the UK’s coastline.
The government has stated that this system of marine conservation zones is set to be in place by 2012 with plainly set out targets to guarantee that some types of fishing, dredging or other forms of development do not endanger protected habitats and species considered to be nationally important.
The draft bill includes measures that for the first time will allow for people to walk along the coast of England.
Other measures proposed included a planned nationwide marine planning system that would help to manage British seas whilst making it easier to license offshore developments, including wind farms.
When publishing the bill the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) stated that the updated powers would result in a better management of fisheries over Britain.
The Marine Management Organisation is set to oversee the measures in the bill, an organisation to regulate development and activity at sea and implement environmental protection laws.
Hilary Benn, the environmental secretary has stated that Britain’s seas are currently already showing the results of climate change and that as a result it is our job to ensure that the marine environment is able to cope with constantly shifting conditions.
Benn declared that the proposals in the bill will take protection and management of Britain’s seas to a better level resulting in “clean, healthy, safe, productive” and biologically diverse seas.
However environmental groups have are worried that the bill will not go far enough to protect ecosystems and marine species along the coast.
WWF has announced its opinion that, although the bill included encouraging measures, the success of the bill would be restricted if it wasn’t applied across the UK.
Particular concern from WWF lay with the fact that there is still no sign of how legislation will deliver for all UK seas.
The north-east Atlantic marine manager, Sally Bailey, discussed that if UK seas are to be protected in a secure and effective manner then it is essential that a marine bill will be passed in both Westminster and Scotland- with the suitable devolved legislation in Northern Ireland and Wales.
The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has expressed opinion that the bill is merely a repeat of existing laws with a different spin.
Head of conservation at the MCS, Simon Brockington, has commented that it is about time that the government recognised the costs of its actions over the last few decades but stated that the new bill doesn’t seem to do this.
Natural England saw the benefits of the bill, especially the access it would allow for in the English coastline.
Yet the National Farmers’ Union spoke of its deep disappointment with the government’s decision to open coastal areas wondering whether there was in fact enough funding for the scheme.
Peter Ainsworth, environment secretary for the opposition, similarly criticised the measures regarding coastal access stating that the move should be on a voluntary basis, perhaps with incentives for landowners and protection where there are sensitive areas.
More pressingly Ainsworth commented on the fact that it is a shame that the government has hesitated before getting to this stage, allowing for marine habitats to further decline.
The MCS has released figures that show that at present 2% of UK seas are shielded from harm with under 0.002% fully protected.
Any legislation to protect UK coasts has been a long time coming, with two previous consultations over the marine bill having occurred.
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