From 'Your Deal'
Marine sites around the Kent coast could become protected areas under new conservation laws.
As part of an ongoing project called Balanced Seas – one of four regional programmes taking place in England – stretches of the sea around Dover, Deal, Shepway and Thanet and estuaries in Swale and Medway could be named Marine Conservation Zones (MCZ).
The scheme looks to balance socio-economic activities, such as development and water sports, with the preservation of nationally important biodiversity and threatened species. Margate and Long Sands, on the north Kent coast, became a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) last year with the MCZ project looking to form part of the wider network of Marine Protected Areas.
A third progress report by Balanced Seas has been submitted to the Science Advisory panel (SAP) – an independent body of marine scientists appointed by Defra – outlining recommendations for new protected sites.
Dover Harbour, Deal’s Goodwin Sands, Folkestone Holes, Thanet coast and Medway and Swale estuaries were all put forward as draft MCZs.
Phil Darrell-Smith, communications co-ordinator for Balanced Seas, stressed that some of the sites may not end up as MCZs, but that they had been highlighted for consideration by the expert panel.
"Something that makes this project unique is for the first time stakeholders are leading the way and choosing the sites," he said.
"With other protected sites in Europe, Government decided where they would be.
"We have got stakeholders from all different groups; sea-users, developers, wildlife groups – everyone that has an interest in or uses the sea. We have to remain neutral."
Mr Darrell-Smith said stakeholders looked at areas which had ecological importance as well as high socio-economic activity.
"Less than one per cent of seas around England are protected. We’re looking to create a balance to allow for sustainable use and a sustainable future," he said.
"There are a variety of sea-users; yachters, kite surfers, energy companies looking for sites for wind farms – they are all involved in the stakeholder process."
Final recommendations for the MCZ will be submitted at the end of August 2011.
Following a formal public consultation in spring 2012 the Government will designate new protected zones by December 2012, based on stakeholder input.
Balanced Seas project manager Sue Wells said she was grateful to the hard work of the groups involved in the report process.
"For the first time in the UK, marine protected areas are being recommended by people with a real interest in the sustainable management of the sea and its resources," she said.
Andrew Finlay from Crown estate – one of the organisations involved – congratulated Balanced Seas from the progress made.
"We welcome the important role MCZs will play in supporting a coherent network of UK Marine Protected Areas," he said.
Balanced Seas, which works in partnership with Natural England, University of Kent and Kent County Council, covers inshore and offshore UK water of the eastern Channel and adjacent areas.
The protected zones will fall under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. For more information go to www.balancedseas.org.