The Marine Conservation Society supports the concept of highly protected sites, where, like nature reserves on land, wildlife has a safe haven, and activities that could be damaging will be managed.
Some publicity recently shows that the wording in the Welsh Government’s consultation (reproduced in part, below) is open to interpretation. But suggestions in newspaper articles that recreational boat owners, dog walkers and even children playing in rock pools or building sandcastles could find their activities curbed are simply misguided.
The key thing is that the highly protected sites will exclude very few activities, only those that remove (largely through fishing) or dump (eg. dredge spoil) material, and most recreational activities are very unlikely to be controlled in any way unless they are causing serious damage or disturbance.
MCS understand the Welsh Government chose sites that minimise any threat to fishers’ livelihoods, and is open to discuss any issues that arise through this consultation. We believe that every one of the ten sites under consultation has the potential to benefit all sea users, including commercial fishers and recreational anglers, as has been demonstrated by highly protected sites elsewhere in the UK and around the world. The sites should be given the chance to prove their value, rather than be dismissed out of hand.
At this consultation stage, everyone is free to voice and describe their support or concerns about any of the particular proposals – even boundaries are currently flexible. We urge everyone to take part in the consultation here, and more information can be gained at www.wales.gov.uk/consultations where the frequently asked question document outlines the Welsh Government’s initial thoughts.
Footnote: The precise wording of the consultation states that “Highly Protected sites are defined as sites that are protected from the extraction and deposition of living and non-living resources, and all other damaging or disturbing activities and all other potentially damaging and disturbing activity.” It goes on to say “…by their nature extractive and depositional activities are considered incompatible with a natural ecological state and therefore will not be allowed. Other activities if found to be damaging or disturbing will need to be managed.”
The consultation gives more detail on the activities involved: "Activities that are considered to be depositional or extractive include: Commercial and recreational fishing activities, including catch-and-release fishing; anchoring; bait collection; aquaculture; collection of flora or fauna; collection of curios; removal or deposit of living or non-living materials; mining; dredging;petroleum/gas operation; discharges (including untreated or treated waste, pollutants, warm water), building of structures; and any other activities that meet the definition of extractive or depositional activities. N.B. This includes depositional or extractive activities that occur outside site boundaries but result in deposition or extraction within site boundaries."
MCS believes that this is a valid interpretation of what Highly Protected could mean for sites.
The text which has given rise to concerns about potential restrictions reads: “Potentially damaging or disturbing activities that may be excluded, subject to restrictions, zoned, allowed under licence/permit, undertaken according to codes of conduct, or with other mitigating measures in place to limit impacts, include but are not restricted to:
Scientific research and monitoring; Navigation and transit of vessels (including non motorised boating and recreation including the use of rowing boats, kayaks,surfboards, windsurfers, kite-surfing, sailing as well as use of motorised vessels);Wildlife observation; Low flying aircraft; Maintenance/operation of existing structures (including ports and harbours); Petroleum/gas exploration; military activities; Driving of vehicles across the shore; recreational activities such as horse-riding and dog walking; and any other activities that meet the definitions of being potentially damaging or disturbing. N.B. This includes potentially damaging or disturbing activities that occur outside site boundaries but result in damage or disturbance within site boundaries."
MCS believes it is very unlikely that any of the recreational activities listed above would be managed in any way in protected sites unless a case were proven that harm was caused by one of them. Codes of conduct, such as the well-known Countryside Code shown on coastal footpaths, are examples of a measure that could be taken to mitigate such an impact.
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