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MCS backs MPs report on MCZ process

MCS welcomes today's (11th April 2013) Marine Science report from the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee which, through careful enquiry, methodically unpicks the Government's preferred narrative as to why only 31 out of 127 Marine Conservation Zones have thus far been proposed for designation.

Far from endorsing Defra Minister Richard Benyon's position that there is presently not enough scientific evidence to designate more sites, the Committee has reiterated a truth. The Government's statutory advisors JNCC and Natural England, 'taking into account the findings of the Science Advisory Panel and further evidence that had been produced', recommended that all 127 Marine Conservation Zones should be designated.

MCS shares the Committee's stated concerns that ' a clear vision for Marine Conservation Zones has not been articulated', and the Minister's priorities appear instead to have been skewed by fear of judicial review whereby 'the Government moved the goalposts during the Marine Conservation Zone designation process, to require robust evidence showing the presence or extent of marine features rather than the best available evidence reflecting our current understanding of the marine environment.'

We agree with the Committee that 'lack of full scientific certainty should not be a reason for postponing proportionate decisions on site selection', and that ' a clear timetable is required for the designation of this tranche and future tranches of Marine Conservation Zones, with an clear commitment to an end date by which the ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas, as the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 requires, will be established.'

The Committee has also identified a lack of clarity regarding why the proposed 31 Marine Conservation Zones were selected for designation first, despite the JNCC and Natural England's advice that 59 sites, 51 of which are not included in the first tranche, are currently at high risk of further damage'. We agree that the Government should 'publish the criteria used by Defra to select sites for conservation' and 'outline action being taken to prevent further damage to these areas as the Marine Conservation Zone process continues'.

Crucially, we also support the Committee's finding that people need to understand what Marine Conservation Zones mean for their lifestyles and livelihoods. Uncertainty creates room for scare-mongering.

As Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, MCS Biodiversity Policy Officer, told the Committee: "People will see lines on maps but want to know what happens in them. When we get clarity in the measures, then we can have a really decent conversation with stakeholders at the local level."

Dr Solandt also told BBC Radio 5 Live today that sound management will lead to success and the excuse of cost put forward by Governent will not wash. "Years of trawling has turned parts of our seabed into muddy, gravelly ground. Balance is needed between evidence and action. The excuse of cost is wrong. The trawling and scallop dredging fishing indusry is less than 1/2% of GDP."

MCS says now an all party committee has heard from a variety of witnesses, including MCS, resulting in this strongly censured report into the way the Government has handled the MCZ process, it feels that Defra Minister Richard Benyon should bite the bullet, accept the Committee's findings, articulate a clear vision for Marine Conservation Zones in English seas, and commit to designating all 127 sites - 64 this year with clear binding timetable for the other 63.

Read the full report here

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