‘Bitterly disappointed’

Friday 14th December 2012

Kent Wildlife Trust reacts to the Marine Conservation Zones consultation just published

On 12th December Defra released its long-awaited consultation on the next stages of designation of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) in English and non-devolved waters.

Along with other English Wildlife Trusts, Kent Wildlife Trust is gravely concerned at the lack of ambition shown in this consultation. Defra proposes to designate only 31 of the 127 sites recommended by experts and stakeholders at the end of August last year. This includes just four small sites of the eleven MCZs recommended around Kent and just 9 of the 31 recommended in the south east. The four Kent sites are: Medway Estuary, Thanet Coast, Folkestone Pomerania and Hythe Bay.

Kent Wildlife Trust’s Marine Policy Officer, Bryony Chapman, said: “We were promised a network of sites to help reverse the decline in our marine wildlife and habitats, and this does not even approach a network. We are bitterly disappointed that the Government has largely ignored the recommendations made by the stakeholder groups, and is failing to safeguard the future of our seas.”

The 127 recommended Marine Conservation Zones were chosen after two years of hard work by more than one million stakeholders from all sectors of the marine environment and at a cost of over £8.8 million to Government. Kent Wildlife Trust was heavily involved in this process, attending all the stakeholder meetings, discussing the best sites for wildlife and for all the various industries and recreational users and reaching consensus on a network of sites across the south east.

Seven of the recommended sites around Kent are not being put forward for designation in this consultation. Of these, four have been identified as being at high risk to damage, and yet their designation is being delayed for an undetermined time, so they will continue to be degraded, and wildlife lost.
See Editors’ Note 1.

To admire some of the many wonders these MCZs feature, visit The Wildlife Trusts’ interactive map at wildlifetrusts.org/MCZmap. This includes videos taken on survey dives in several of Kent’s recommended Marine Conservation Zones, showing the wonderful and fragile marine life we are trying to protect.

Marine Conservation Zones should protect the species and habitats found within them from the most damaging and degrading of activities whilst mostly allowing sustainable activity to continue. The network was designed to ensure that we don’t end up with isolated and vulnerable sites and to ensure that the wide range of marine habitats found in UK seas are protected. Failure to designate all but a very small proportion of sites recommended by these stakeholders will mean that we lack the ecologically coherent network that our seas so badly need to recover.

The UK’s marine habitats are rich and diverse but largely unprotected - which is why The Wildlife Trusts spent a decade asking the Government to pass the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. This included a commitment to designate this ecologically coherent marine network of protected areas.

The seas surrounding Kent have an astonishingly varied range of submerged landscapes which support wonderful marine life: from sponge meadows and shrimp beds to rossworm reefs, and from deep chalk gullies and greensand ridges to massive sandbanks. Without these habitats and wildlife communities there simply wouldn't be any fish, let alone fantastic dahlia anemones, seahorses, dolphins, brittlestars and all the other wild and extraordinary creatures which are part of a healthy marine ecosystem.

Despite the variety of fantastic species and habitats, our marine environment is in decline. In the last 400 years, two species of whale and dolphin have gone extinct in UK waters and of the 11 commonly sighted species found in UK waters, all are considered to be in decline. Basking shark numbers have declined by 95% and species such as the common skate, once abundant in our waters are now critically endangered. For too long, we have taken this environment for granted, taking too much, with too little care, destroying fragile habitats.

Designation of an ecologically coherent network would provide our seas with the protection they need to recover from past abuses and help them to be restored to their full potential.
The Wildlife Trusts will be responding to the Government consultation. We will be publishing our recommendations on the consultation on our webpage. Meanwhile, we urge those interested in responding to the consultation, to sign up to be an MCZ friend so that we can contact you when we complete our response to the consultation.

Go to www.wildlifetrusts.org/MCZfriends to sign up

Editors’ Notes:

1) Kent sites included in the 31 for designation in 2013:
Medway Estuary, Thanet Coast, Folkestone Pomerania, Hythe Bay
Sites not included for 2013 designation:
Thames Estuary, Swale Estuary, Goodwin Sands, Kentish Knock, Offshore Foreland, Dover to Deal and Dover to Folkestone.
Four sites ‘at high risk’ but not included for designation in 2013:
Thames Estuary, Swale Estuary, Dover to Deal, Dover to Folkestone.

Tagged with: Living Seas