From Kent Wildlife Trust
Marine Conservation Zones at risk
Big Society has spoken up for our seas – but will Government listen?
The wildlife in England’s seas is facing a serious threat, warns Kent Wildlife Trust.
The long-awaited network of marine protected areas, promised by Government for 2012, is in danger, according to the largest voluntary conservation organisation for Kent and Medway, which has been instrumental in marine campaigning and research. Kent Wildlife Trust is urging the public to write to Under-Secretary for Natural Environment and Fisheries, Richard Benyon MP, in support of Marine Conservation Zones.
After years of pressure from NGOs, and with huge public support, the Marine and Coastal Access Act of 2009 promised a coherent network of protection around the coasts by 2012. Now 127 marine sites around England’s coast, including eleven around Kent*, have been recommended by four regional stakeholder groups to become Marine Conservation Zones next year.
The recommendations are the result of two years of consultation with more than one million stakeholders involved including fishermen, conservationists and businesses. This has been the first ‘Big Society’ experiment where local stakeholders have decided together which areas of the sea should be protected.
There is concern that the Government will only progress a fraction of the 127 recommended sites to designation. This would result in an ineffective network of Marine Conservation Zones, leaving vulnerable and precious areas unprotected.
Bryony Chapman, Marine Policy Officer at Kent Wildlife Trust, said:
“A huge amount of work has been done to get a broad agreement on this network of sites needed for the health and future productivity of our marine environment. Now, however, in the final stages the Government has lost its direction and is proposing to over-ride the recommendations of local stakeholders and cut the 127 sites down to a fraction of this number, in contradiction with the aims of the new Marine and Coastal Access Act.”
*The recommended sites around Kent are:
Thames Estuary, a hugely important ecological corridor supporting fish spawning and nursery grounds.
Medway Estuary with its rich muddy sediments full of small creatures which provide food for fish and birds, and home to the very scarce tentacled lagoon worm.
Swale Estuary, with its channels and creeks providing very important fish spawning and nursery grounds.
Thanet Coast, with its wonderful chalk reefs extending across the shore and out to sea, rich with mussel beds, rossworm reefs, colourful seaweeds and fish, and supporting special species such as stalked jellyfish. Outer Kentish Knock, an impressive sediment bank where mussels and rossworm reefs provide habitat shelter for other species.
Goodwin Sands, the famous sand banks where grey and common seals can forage for fish, and haul out to rest, and where some even have their pups.
Deal to Dover Reef, with its colourful chalk gullies and boulders which abound with special plants and animals, including stalked jellyfish, elegant anemones and tompot blennies.
Dover to Folkestone Reefs, where the chalk, clay and greensand outcrops provide home to seahorses and other varied animal and plant life, while rossworms build reefs on the sediment in between.
Folkestone Pomerania Ross Coral Holes, large seabed bowls where delicate and colourful sponges, ross corals, fan worms and anemones live on the rocky ledges.
Hythe Bay, with its specialised community including spoonworms, square crabs and molluscs that burrow in the soft muddy seafloor.
Offshore Foreland, an area of high biological diversity on the rock and sand seabed in the middle of the Dover Strait.
John Bennett, Kent Wildlife Trust’s Chief Executive added:
“Kent Wildlife Trust’s Marine Officer, backed by a large body of volunteers, has for years been recording the marine animals and plants we find off the Kentish coast, and on our shores. Now, with other Wildlife Trusts all around the UK, we are lobbying hard for the successful completion of a process that will make the difference between the life or death of our seas. We know there is great public support for Marine Conservation Zones. This is a once in a lifetime chance. The Government can’t afford to let it slip away.”
Kent Wildlife Trust is urging people to write to Richard Benyon and ask for Government to create the proposed network of 127 zones in England. Guidance on writing to the Minister can be found at www.wildlifetrusts.org/saveourmczs.