The UK’s marine "Blue Belt" is expanding to protect rare seabirds' habitats.

By: Clare Fischer
Date posted: 5 December 2017

The UK’s marine “Blue Belt” is expanding to protect rare seabirds’ habitats to safeguard populations of rare, vulnerable and migratory birds like the little tern and black-throated diver.

Little_Tern_N
© Jason Thompson

Governments need to be far more ambitious and ensure that our Blue Belt of marine protected areas properly protects our precious marine wildlife from damage and destruction.

Dr Jean-Luc Solandt,
MCS, Principle Specialist, Marine Protected Areas

The latest expansion will add a 24-mile stretch of coastline between Falmouth Bay and St Austell Bay in Cornwall to the Blue Belt, which already protects 23% of UK waters, and more than 300 sites across land. The latest designation, at 650 square miles, covers an area equivalent to 55,000 football pitches.

Nearly 150,000 rare seabirds, will benefit from moves to expand the Blue Belt, which is made up of classified Special Protection Areas (SPAs).

Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, MCS Marine Protected Area Specialist, says the charity is delighted about this designation: “It’s the first step in the process to protect our coastal marine bird populations in these beautiful areas. But designation alone isn’t enough, there has to be effective management in our marine protected areas to allow vulnerable marine species and habitats a chance to recover.

“At present only about 1% of our UK seas are within marine protected areas protected by law from damaging activities such as bottom-trawling and dredging. Governments need to be far more ambitious and ensure that our Blue Belt of marine protected areas properly protects our precious marine wildlife from damage and destruction.”

This latest expansion targets the UK’s most important site for the wintering black-throated diver. It is intended to help minimise disturbance to the feeding areas and marine habitats the black throated diver relies on and to provide a safe haven for them during winter

The designations will help to safeguard the feeding grounds for little terns, Sandwich terns, and common terns, which are all amber-listed due to declines in the size or range of their breeding populations.

It will also cover the habitats frequented by the great northern diver and Eurasian spoonbill.

Environment Minister Therese Coffey cited BBC1’s Blue Planet II in the ongoing efforts to expand the Blue Belt.

“Like the millions of others watching Blue Planet II, I am only too aware of the importance of protecting our precious marine environment, and the wildlife that relies on healthy and productive seas.”

A further marine SPA has also been announced in the Irish Sea between the Isle of Man and Anglesey, home to the largest known aggregation of Manx shearwaters, which can number at up to 12,000 in the area.

Natural England chairman Andrew Sells said extending the Blue Belt was a vital measure to protect the UK’s wildlife that would help them “thrive into the future”.

“Terns and Manx shearwaters, with their dramatic aerial displays, are a magnificent sight above our seas.”

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Did you know?…

An area over 9 times the size of Wales is now in marine protected areas in the UK, but less than 1% is considered by MCS scientists to be well managed

Over 170 parliamentarians from across the political spectrum signed up to our Marine Charter calling for a network of ‘marine protected areas’ in UK Seas

Over half a million people have voiced their support for ‘marine protected area’ designation in the UK through our campaigns

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