Supporting Petition Fish Campaign for Marine Protected Areas
I joined Yorkshire Wildlife Trust today to support the Petition Fish Campaign, which calls on the Government to create a coherent network of Marine Protected Areas for the UK’s sea life.
Marine Conservation Zones, which will protect nationally important marine wildlife, habitats and geology, were made possible by the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, which was introduced by the Labour Government, with cross-party support. The Marine Act was the first of its kind in the world and enabled the designation of Marine Conservation Zones to protect rare and valued species in UK seas.
The UK has a rich and varied sea life, which includes colourful reefs, rare seahorses, vast seal colonies, and migrating turtles and whales. However, our seas are under increasing stress from human impacts such as fishing, pollution and climate change. A well designed and managed network of Marine Protected Areas will improve the marine environment as a whole, helping it to recover from past impacts and sustain current pressures.
I was a strong supporter of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill and successfully lobbied for a network of highly protected marine reserves to be included in the Bill. I organised a public meeting in York in September 2009, which was attended by Huw Irranca-Davies, the Minister responsible for the Bill, and enabled local views to help shape the final legislation.
Since the passing of the Act, proposals for 108 general Marine Conservation Zones have been developed which protect the full range of marine wildlife. However, there are signs that the Coalition Government is wavering in its commitment to these recommendations and ultimately to the full designation of the Marine Conservation Zones.
In his Written Ministerial Statement of 15 November, Natural Environment and Fisheries Minister, Richard Benyon stated that the Government intends to consult on the recommended zones by the end of 2012, with the first designations taking place in 2013 and others to follow. His full statement can be read here.
The Coalition Government is failing to meet the 2012 deadline which was enshrined in Labour’s Marine Act. Yorkshire Wildlife Trust are concerned that the Government’s proposals will not adequately protect wildlife and that some of the UK’s most important marine wildlife sites could be missed altogether. They are urging the Government to take forward all the recommended Marine Conservation Zones to help the UK’s seas become some of the most productive and wildlife-rich on Earth.
I wrote to the Minister on 10 November about this issue and received a reply which contained an assurance that all recommended sites will be included in the public consultation next year. I will be encouraging Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and interested local people to respond to the consultation and make their views heard.
The Wildlife Trusts’ Petition Fish campaign aims to demonstrate public support for Marine Protected Areas and calls on the Government to deliver Marine Protected Areas that:
• are in the right place – where nature conservation is required;
• support recovery from past decline – not just maintenance of their current, sometimes damaged condition, and;
• are managed well – with adequate regulation and controls.
You can read more about the campaign and sign the petition here.
Labour’s Marine Act was one of the most important pieces of legislation for the marine environment for decades. It is disappointing that the Coalition Government has not only delayed designation but intends to designate the zones in a piecemeal fashion. Reducing the number of Marine Protected Areas will risk losing essential protection for marine species and habitats.
It was good to hear about Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s marine work today and I was pleased to add my name to the Petition Fish campaign. I will continue to press the Government to honour its commitment to an ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas.
Photo: Dr Rob Stoneman (Chief Executive of Yorkshire Wildlife Trust), Hugh Bayley MP and Kirsten Smith (YWT’s North Sea Living Seas Manager) – photograph taken by Joanna Richards