UK ‘may miss the boat’ on marine protection

A “ONCE in a lifetime” opportunity to conserve the nation’s coastal waters with a vast network of protected areas may be missed, conservationists have warned.

They fear only a handful of the 127 Marine Conservation Zones proposed will be ratified, in the face of lobbying from marine industry groups.

Yorkshire has eight recommended sites, covering a range of habitats, from the rocky shores at Runswick Bay, Scarborough and Filey Brigg, to a 454 square metre area called Holderness Offshore, eight miles off the Holderness coast. They include areas which are important for fish to spawn and grow and where seabirds, seals and porpoises can feed.

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So far the process set up to protect thousands of species of sealife and habitats round the coast of the UK has taken two years and cost almost £7m.

The first conservation zones were expected to be unveiled this year, but the scheme has been delayed and consultation on sites put forward will not get under way until December and there are concerns only a few dozen will be chosen out of the 127 when Defra designates the zones in the summer next year.

The UK’s network of Sea Life centres, including Scarborough, aims to collect 250,000 postcards from visitors asking that all 127 sites are approved. Schoolchildren will deliver the cards to Westminster in the New Year.

Dr Jean Luc Solandt, of the Marine Conservation Society, said it was a “bit of lottery” as to which sites would be chosen, with big offshore sites particularly at risk as the Government will have to ask for approval from other countries with fishing rights in areas outside the six-mile

He said: “What saddens me is small lobby groups and it is mainly the trawling sector are able to push back Government to where they are going to reduce the consensus of the majority of society to the ultimate disbenefit of society.”

He said the vast majority of the larger sites would only ban particularly destructive “bottom” trawling.

Senior Aquarist at Scarborough Sea Life and Marine Sanctuary Todd German said he still hoped one or two sites in the North Sea would be approved: “I am cautiously optimistic things are moving in the right direction – but we need to be quicker.”