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UK Government Inaction

…belies its ‘greenest ever’ claim!

The Government’s sheer lack of an adequate plan for designating marine protected areas in English waters to meet the international 2012 deadlines has become apparent. Following a lengthy and costly process to identify a network of sites for marine wildlife, the Government has announced today that of the proposed list of 127 sites - which will now not open for consultation until the end of next year - only a subset will actually be designated initially. Moreover, we understand from comments from Government made last week that the initial number of sites may number fewer than a quarter of the original proposed list. See: http://www.defra.gov.uk/news/2011/11/15/wms-marine-conservation-zones/

Kate Sugar is a marine policy officer with the RSPB. Commenting on the Government’s latest position, she said: “Two years ago, we were delighted that the importance of marine conservation – the Cinderella of UK wildlife protection – was finally recognised with the introduction of the UK Marine & Coastal Access Act. However, the latest position looks like Cinderella has returned has from riches to rags – as far as English water are concerned - as the Government shows no ambition for providing a comprehensive network of marine protected sites to protect species as diverse as seahorses, corals, seabirds, whales and dolphins in a timely fashion.

England is a seafaring nation and much of our heritage is built on this. What would heroes, like Admiral Nelson, have thought about the Government’s current lack of a battle plan for defending our seas?”Apart from the reduction of the number of proposed marine protected sites that will be designated in a first tranche, the RSPB is concerned there are no guarantees about when further sites will be put forward after this measly initial tranche.

Martin Harper is the RSPB’s Conservation Director. He said: “We do not understand how Government can still claim to be delivering an ecologically-coherent network, and to be a world leader on marine protected area designation, when there is so much uncertainty around. There is no clear business plan for completing either the English Marine Conservation Zone network or designating sites of European importance, and the international 2012 deadline will be missed.”

Even the full complement of 127 marine conservation zones does not include many sites proposed for mobile species, such as basking sharks, dolphins and seabirds – and some vitally-important seabird sites were excluded from the proposals from the outset. With such sweeping reductions planned in the number of sites going forward to designation after next year’s belated consultation, the RSPB is very concerned there will be nothing left in the English marine conservation zone network for seabirds at all, and the benefits for other marine wildlife will be dramatically reduced.

One startling omission is the Flamborough-Helgoland Front, stretching offshore from Yorkshire’s Flamborough Head. This site is known as an area of food-rich waters, important for a whole range of marine wildlife, including seabirds, such as those from the nearby RSPB Bempton Cliffs reserve – including kittiwakes, puffins, gannets, razorbills and guillemots.

Martin Harper added: “To achieve true coherence, sites such as the Flamborough-Helgoland Front should be included in the marine conservation zone network. A network cannot be ecologically coherent if it doesn’t cover all marine wildlife.”A lack of supporting evidence for sites is being blamed now as the stumbling block for the shortfall in the first tranche of sites, but the paucity of marine data is news to no-one. The RSPB has been highlighting the dangerous lack of investment in data collection at sea to Government for over a decade and the implications for marine protected area designation for many years; so far to little avail. From the outset, the English regional projects were set up to work on the basis of “best available evidence”, which is exactly what they have done. While the available evidence may not be perfect, it is certainly enough to support site designation in many locations.

The RSPB’s Martin Harper added: “It is hard not to feel short-changed by Government. We have committed time, energy and money towards achieving comprehensive marine protection for example with our own work in furthering marine research.”

The FAME project (Future of the Atlantic Marine Environment) is an innovative project involving the RSPB which uses GPS tags (sat-nav technology) fitted to seabirds to collect valuable new evidence about the areas of sea that seabirds use, especially where they forage for food.

In addition, thousands of RSPB’s members and supporters have stepped up to the challenge facing Government on marine protection by supporting our call for a coherent network of marine protected areas across the UK, including sites for seabirds. They have also made donations to our campaign to fund more marine research and monitoring. This announcement shows clearly that the Government cannot demonstrate the same level of commitment.

Martin Harper added: “While wanting to wear the mantle of ‘Greenest Government Ever’ our Government seems strangely reluctant to invest in and come up with a convincing business plan to deliver the commitment for protecting our seas. We can, and will, continue to do all we can to support marine research and site designation, but in reality we will never get the evidence we need to support the marine protected network area unless Government steps up and provides resources to support adequate monitoring of our sealife.”

To support the RSPB campaign and step up for seabirds, please visit http://www.rspb.org.uk/marine to sign a pledge encouraging the UK government to protect all the sites of importance for seabirds in our waters.

4th July 2014