Maritime ‘nature reserves’ seen as answer to habitat protection

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SCARBOROUGH’S famous coastline and a vast area more than 80 miles out to sea are just some of the key nature sites which have been put forward in a bid to protect the region’s waters.

Yorkshire’s recommended sites cover a range of habitats from the rocky shores at Runswick Bay, Scarborough and Filey Brigg, to the eroding Holderness coastline and the rare chalk habitats off Flamborough Head.

The site furthest out to sea is known as “Markham’s Triangle”, which is located 85 miles from the Humberside coastline.

“Holderness Offshore”, located eight miles off the Holderness coast, is the largest zone covering 454sqm.

While “Castle Ground” is the smallest site at just 1.4sqm, running along the coastline from Filey Brigg in the south to the north of Scarborough.

Around half of the English population of purple sandpiper - a wading bird - are found within the site.

Joanna Redhead, the project manager for Net Gain, the regional group set up by the Government to recommend marine conservation zones (MCZs) in the North Sea, said: “The sites include areas which are important for fish to spawn and grow, and feeding areas for larger animals like seabirds, seals and porpoises.

“All in all the sites capture some of the best-known and well-loved locations on the Yorkshire coast and beyond.”

The majority of the sites are expected to be “multiple-use zones”, where most activities, such as those of fishing and diving, will be able to continue.

However, in some sites, the recommendations suggest that certain activities are banned in order to protect the area from further deterioration.

Net Gain is in the process of finalising a report which will lay out the costs and benefits of designating each site, and will highlight the potential impact on activities.

So far the process, which has been set up to protect the thousands of species of sealife and habitats around the UK’s coastline, has taken two years and involved more than one million people at a cost of almost £7m.

Recommendations for MCZs have been delivered through four regional projects covering south-west seas, the Irish Sea, the North Sea and south-east seas.

In order to put forward the best possible sites, the North Sea’s regional project, Net Gain, was split into four groups.

Yorkshire and the Humber was the largest of these groups and 45 members, who use the sea for their livelihood or leisure, met regularly over two years to decide on which zones should be adopted.

Ms Redhead said: “We found people tried to work together to find solutions everyone was happy with and the members really listened to each other.”

Net Gain has put forward six Yorkshire sites which have varying degrees of protection, with two further sites being recommended as having the highest level of protection, known as reference areas.

The locations were chosen to be as beneficial as possible for marine wildlife, while at the same time also taking people’s recreational and commercial interests into account.

This “bottom-up” approach, which has made sea users central to the process, has not been experimented with before in this country.

However it has been pioneered in the Pacific off the coast of California in the United States.

One of the sites put forward by the Yorkshire and the Humber hub as a reference area is a 10sqm plot which lies 17 miles off the coasts of Whitby and Scarborough.

The site is called “Compass Rose” – and boasts large numbers of cup corals, sea fans, anemones, urchins, sponges and brittlestars.

Lobster can also be found in the waters and it is also been shown by biologists and conservationists to be an important area for herring and plaice to spawn.

The second reference area at Flamborough Head was given rigid protection in 2010 as a “no-take zone”, where nothing – from shells on the beach to fish in the sea – can be removed.

The area stretches from the Bridlington edge of Danes Dyke to Sewerby Steps and extends from the cliffs to about 700m out to sea.

It was seen as an ideal reference site as it is already seeing early signs of improvement as a result of the existing bylaw.

The area is also home to an abundance of wildlife, and blue mussels, barnacles, limpets, whelks, winkles, fish and sea squirts are among the species that can be found there.

Additionally, its proximity to the Bempton Cliffs also means the area supports large numbers of seabirds such as kittiwake, razorbill, guillemot, puffins, gannets and gulls.

Both of the reference areas will provide a unique opportunity for scientists to investigate and assess how these fragile eco-systems would fare without were it not for the impact of human intervention.