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Marine Wildlife’s Future

…in Your Hands!

RSPB hopes the tide of public opinion will turn the fortunes for marine wildlife - The RSPB hopes that the pleas of over 50,000 people - who are calling on the government to create a network of marine protected areas for birds, other species and habitats - will turn the tide on this long overdue commitment to wildlife protection.

At an event in London, later today [Tuesday 29 November, 2011], Martin Harper - the Society’s conservation director - will be joining RSPB supporters in putting key questions on the Government’s plans for marine conservation to Defra Minister Richard Benyon. The Minister will also receive the 50,000-strong petition.

Martin Harper said: “Eight million seabirds nest in colonies around our coastline, creating wildlife spectacles to fill the senses. Although these nesting colonies on land are protected, the birds' feeding areas offshore are not. This is a nonsense and our supporters agree and want their voices to be heard. We believe the Government must ensure a future for all marine sites worthy of protection. We will be challenging the Minister today to ensure Government honours its commitment to marine wildlife, guaranteeing that all our fantastically important marine sites receive the protection they deserve."The ‘Question Time’ style event will be streamed live on the web, allowing all those interested in marine conservation to hear the debate, especially the Minister’s responses.

The Government is committed to designating a network of marine protected areas that includes both internationally and nationally-important sites for marine wildlife and habitats. On current timescales however, targets for both the internationally- and nationally-important sites are set to be missed. Government has disclosed that further internationally-important sites for seabirds (known as Special Protection Areas) will not be identified until 2015 at the earliest, and designated some time after this – way beyond the international deadline of 2012 [note] – and even further beyond the legal deadline for protection of these sites which passed 30 years ago.

In parallel, an intensive process to recommend a network of nationally-important marine conservation zones for Government designation in English waters has been running since the introduction of the Marine and Coastal Access Act at the end of 2009. Although 127 sites have been recommended, and some of these will undoubtedly be designated, the Government has already admitted that the 2012 deadline for the designation of these sites will be missed. There may only be a small proportion of the recommended 127 sites designated in the first instance, and the first of these will not now be designated until 2013, raising concerns about how long other sites will have to wait for protection.Furthermore, a report Marine Protected Areas for Seabirds - published today by the RSPB - shows there are significant gaps in the protection that the recommended network offers to mobile species, such as seabirds and dolphins. The report also shows that some sites of key significance for all marine wildlife have not been included on the list of those sites so far being considered, for example the waters stretching off Yorkshire's Flamborough Head which are important feeding grounds for a whole range of seabirds and other marine species.

Our waters are important for a variety of seabirds and a range of other mobile species, such as basking sharks and common dolphins; but sites of importance for these species have either been excluded entirely from the list of marine conservation zones going to public consultation next year, or the sites have only been considered for protection on the basis of seabed features.

For example, Beachy Head, in Sussex, has been recommended as a potential marine conservation zone because of the site’s significance for delicate chalk reefs, but the site’s importance as a key area for feeding seabirds, such as kittiwakes and terns, has so far been ignored. Without being recognised as important features of a site, the seabirds will not be protected by any management measures brought in for that site.The RSPB report also contains details of other sites, such as the Cumbria coast, and Torbay, which have been identified as important for seabirds. The Society is eager to ensure these seabird sites are kept in the network and they are designated as quickly as possible.

Martin Harper added: “The Government has stated its desire to create a coherent network of marine protected areas where wildlife can thrive, but currently many sites are falling through the net.

Currently, the RSPB believes the Government lacks a decent and well-resourced business plan to support the acquisition of the necessary data to allow more sites to be included for the completion of the network.

Martin Harper added: “While we have enough information to designate some sites right now, the same cannot be said for completion of the network. This is therefore a significant omission and one that we fear will cast a long shadow over the process of marine site designation until it is rectified.”

The online question-and-answer session can be viewed at http://www.rspb.org.uk/marine from approximately 11.10am and 11.45 am on Tuesday 29th November, 2011. Afterwards, edited highlights will be available on the same site.

4th July 2014