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MCS supports scientists' open letter to Government backing marine conservation zones

Posted: 22nd April 2013

Leading scientists, led by Professor Callum Roberts - a leading authority on Marine Protected Areas, are backing MCS's call for Westminster to step up and protect English seas. 127 Marine Conservation Zones are essential to stop the decline of the seas around England's coast - but the government is proposing to establish as few as 31 - it's not good enough! Here's what Professor Callum Roberts said in an open letter to the Prime Minister, David Cameron. The letter was signed by Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, MCS Senior Biodiversity Policy Officer, and 86 other environmental academics.

cc. Right Honorable Owen Paterson MP, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural AffairsRichard Benyon MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Natural Environment, Water and Rural Affairs

Dear Prime Minister,

Following years of rapid decline in fish stocks, fisheries and wildlife in UK seas, the 2009 UK Marine and Coastal Access Act laid the legal foundation for a national network of Marine Conservation Zones to protect and recover the richness and productivity of our waters. In 2010, launching a stakeholder-led process to design such a network for English waters, your government committed to creating "an ecologically coherent network" of such protected areas.

A two-year consultation followed that cost in excess of £8 million and involved thousands of people from a wide-spectrum of marine interests and industries, including fishing. This recommended a network of 127 Marine Conservation Zones and 65 highly protected Reference Areas be established in English seas. According to your Government-appointed Scientific Advisory Panel, the majority of targets that Government set to achieve an ecologically coherent network of protected areas would only be met if the proposed sites were designated in their entirety. The network was widely heralded as a foundation for recovery of English seas.

We are very concerned that your Government has chosen to consult on only 31 of the proposed Marine Conservation Zones and have dropped the Reference Areas entirely. Even if the 31 areas were to be established, they will fall far short of the original aims of the legislation and the Government's own guidance, and will not deliver the needed protection for marine life. This selective approach to implementation has thrown the process into confusion and disarray.

To restore confidence, we urge you to reaffirm your Government's commitment to establishing a comprehensive, world-class network of Marine Conservation Zones that delivers high levels of protection from damaging activities, especially mobile fishing gears, and to publish a clear timetable for the completion of the network, including Reference Areas.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Callum Roberts, Professor of Marine Conservation, University of York.

Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, MCS Senior Biodiversity Policy Officer agreed with Professor Roberts and said:

"Our seas badly need to be protected, and the public has become truly aware of the damage and decline going on unabated under the waves. But, in a time of economic gloom, we actually have an  opportunity to bring back the wealth that productive, well cared-for seas have to offer. A full network of 127 sites (already chosen through extensive consultation and collaboration) would produce a world-class network of marine protected areas. The Government has a chance to leave this lasting legacy, but needs to show its green credentials to do so.

MCS  is seriously worried that the Government has become timid and noncommittal on the issue of marine protection. Defra recently ran a  staged consultation that is likely to lead to a reduced number of protected sites because many areas, known to be in danger of imminent destruction, were not even consulted on. In a cut down form, there will be no real network and the opportunity to give  English marine life the protection it desperately needs will be missed.

This scientific viewpoint is timely and welcome. The recommendations from scientists are clear - the full network of 127 sites is the simple answer to ensuring a future for our neglected seas."

[1] http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm100916/halltext/100916h0001.htm

[2] http://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2010-07-21a.10219.h

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