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Support for marine protection puts government in the shallows


Today I’m standing shoulder-to-shoulder with my colleagues representing four leading nature conservation charities to present pledges to the Prime Minister – all calling for the urgent designation of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) in the Marine and Coastal Access Act.

Just waiting to hand the petitions in to Number 10. © Chris Wood

We’ve united with The Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and Marine Conservation Society to demonstrate the huge public support for greater protection of our seas. Over 350,000 people signed in support of the designation of MCZs, which we’re handing in today – all providing the Government with a mandate for swift and effective action.

A two and a half year discussion involving a million stakeholders recommended the establishment of 127 MCZs in English seas. However, the Government has chosen to consult on only 31 of the proposed sites – with no timetable for the designation of future sites.

This is far from sufficient to make up the ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas that is absolutely vital to ensure the future health of our seas. In a recent open letter to the Prime Minister from by 86 leading scientists says that even if these 31 sites were established, they will fall far short of the original aims of the legislation and the Government’s own guidance. Also, they will not deliver the needed protection for marine life. The sites put forward so far do not protect some of our best-known and best-loved sealife; whales, dolphins, basking sharks and seabirds could all be at risk.

The Science and Technology Committee agrees. In a recent report, the committee states that the creation of new MCZs are vital to protect biodiversity in UK waters; with the Chair of the Committee went as far as accusing the Government of shifting the goalposts regarding the level of scientific evidence needed to support MCZ designation. This selective approach to implementation has thrown the process into confusion and disarray.

Handing in the petition to Number 10.Handing in the petition to Number 10. © Chris Wood

To restore confidence the Government must act decisively and swiftly. It must commit to a timetable for designating future MCZs and completing the network of Marine Protected Areas. The Government’s own nature conservation advisers have said that many of the recommended MCZs are in severe threat of damage – but the Government continues to procrastinate despite the known decline to marine life.

There has never been a better time to put in place the protection our seas so urgently need – MCZs provide us with an amazing opportunity to halt the decline in marine wildlife.

By joining forces and demonstrating the huge public support for better protection of our seas, I hope that today’s event will convince the Government that the time to act is now!

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