Giving our seas the protection that they deserve

Twelve miles off of the north Devon coast is Lundy Island. This magical Island made history back in 1986 when it was designated the first official Marine Nature Reserve in England cementing its place in the opening chapter of the long journey to give our seas greater protection.

Lundy

My first experience of visiting Lundy was back in 2008 – we were planning to mark the 40th anniversary of this rocky outcrop in the Bristol Channel being owned by the National Trust for forty years. As the ferry, the workhorse MS Oldenburg, chugged slowly to within touching distance of the Island a pod of twenty-five dolphins began to swim around the boat and my affection for this romantic and windswept place was confirmed.

Lundy

Lundy has a rich natural heritage below and above the water. Its name comes from the norse for Puffin Island (it’s still home to a growing number of puffins, a growing number of manx shearwater and garden birds can be found in its more sheltered parts) and it is home to five species of cup coral, pink sea fans, a kelp forest and grey seals can often be seen swimming around the shoreline and sunbathing on the rocks.

Nearly thirty years on from this pioneering designation and five years after it became the first Marine Conservation Zone in 2010 only slow progress is being made to protect other marine areas around the coastline of England.

The UK Marine Act, passed in 2009, was an important legislative moment to create the framework for a network of Marine Conservation Zones. However, it took another four years for the first 27 to be designated (less than hoped).

These zones are pretty fundamental to the future of our marine environment. Blighted by over fishing, the impact of pollution and marine waste, it sometimes feels like they are under permanent assault.

We have, as a nation, a natural affinity with the coastline. It’s somewhere that we’re drawn to time and time again. Many organisations such as the Wildlife Trusts, Marine Conservation Society and the National Trust have been doing there bit to ensure that the Government delivers greater protection for the seas. The coast has shaped our national identity and now it is time that we throw our support behind protecting the very special environment that we can’t see under the waves; making sure that it is a home fit for the plants and creatures that live there.

The Government has today announced a consultation on a second tranche of Marine Conservation Zones around the coastline of England.

After the first 27 were designated in 2013 (including Lundy Island which had its original designation in 1986) it had been hoped that another 37 locations would be on the list. However – only twenty three sites have been named as being part of the consultation. This is way off the original wish list of 127 MCZs (with a possible total of fifty sites if you add trance one and two together) around our coastline and on the estuaries. At a time when the oceans are under unprecedented pressure from pollution, over-fishing and waste this feels like a missed opportunity.

The story from Lundy shows that MCZs can work.

The Marine Conservation Society and the National Trust are asking supporters to get behind this consultation. Yes it’s a step in the right direction but to paraphrase the well-worn school report phrase the Government could have done better. I’ll be writing to my local MP and the Minister to get behind the need for MCZs to protect this special environment off of the English coast.

We need everyone that loves the coast to get behind this via: http://www.mcsuk.org/mpa/

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