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Merseyside and Lancashire’s huge support for strong marine protection

Photography by Eleanor Stone

A huge wave of public support will shake Westminster today as a quarter of a million people call for greater protection for UK’s seas and coastline. 250,000 signatures on the Wildlife Trusts’ Petition Fish will be presented to Natural Environment Minister, Richard Benyon at a Parliamentary reception at the House of Commons, hosted by the Wildlife Trusts. The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester & North Merseyside collected over 4 000 of these signatures across northwest England.

The Wildlife Trust hopes to meet local MPs to highlight the unprecedented opportunity that this country has to protect our marine environment using Marine Conservation Zones. There are 19 recommended MCZs off the coast in the Irish Sea of which only four made it onto the Government’s consultation list recently. Only two of the eight considered by the Government’s own advisers to be in immediate danger made it onto that list.

A new poll, commissioned by The Wildlife Trusts, also shows the extent of public support for greater marine protection. 92% said that in circumstances where sea life is threatened by commercial activity such as industrial fishing or dredging, priority should be given to protecting nature, even if this means putting restrictions on where commercial activities can take place.

A new report published today highlights the benefits to be gained by society and the economy if the Government adopts a network of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) around UK shores in 2013. Our surrounding seas have an astonishingly varied range of submerged landscapes which support wonderful marine life: from cold water coral beds to sponge meadows, canyons and sandbanks.  MCZs were conceived to protect the plants, animals and habitats within them from the most damaging of activities, whilst mostly allowing sustainable activity to continue. 

Securing the benefits of the Marine Conservation Zone Network was written by the Centre for Marine and Coastal Policy Research at Plymouth University and commissioned by The Wildlife Trusts. Its publication coincides with The Wildlife Trusts’ parliamentary event and with the Government’s current public consultation on MCZs (which closes on Sunday, March 31).

The report reveals that designating MCZs is likely to increase current benefits such as food security, resilience against environmental challenges and pollution at these sites. It predicts that there would be potential additional benefits for commercial fishing, improved natural coastal protection and recreation too. The report highlights the importance of MCZs working together as a network and points out that non-designation of sites is likely to result in their deterioration.

The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester & North Merseyside was disappointed that the full network of 127 recommended MCZs were not on the Government’s list published for public consultation in December. Today, The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester & North Merseyside calls for:

The Government to designate all 31 of the proposed MCZs in 2013 and enforce appropriate management in these sites as soon as possible. Refine to give local/regional picture. And move quickly to do the same with the others considered to be in most immediate danger. 31 Marine Conservation Zones are a step forward, but nowhere near enough for an ecological coherent network.

The Government to set a clear timetable for the rest of the network to be designated.

The sites identified by Natural England as being most under threat to be designated urgently.

The evidence that the Government spent £5m collecting last year (which has not yet been used) to be taken into account immediately, along with that collected by stakeholders in 2012.

Proper protection of sites as soon as they are designated - including banning bottom-trawling and dredging in these areas.

Joan Edwards, The Wildlife Trusts’ Head of Living Seas, said: "We’d like to encourage the public to respond to the Government’s consultation. The public can help us ensure that the 31 sites that the Government have selected are only the start. We need to ensure that the remaining sites are not forgotten."

Simon King OBE, The Wildlife Trusts’ President, said:  "Whilst disappointed all 127 recommended Marine Conservation Zones are not immediately being designated, we are heartened to hear the Government confirms it has every intention of designating 127 and more if necessary.  We understand that resources don’t allow this to happen in the first year - nonetheless the pressure is on.  Time is of the essence.  With every passing week, month, year, we are at risk of losing more of this precious resource."

Go to www.wildlifetrusts.org to respond to the consultation.

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