Hopes rise of protection for sea habitats off Yorkshire coast

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COASTAL waters off Yorkshire could get extra protection soon, conservationists hope.

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust said it welcomed the announcement that three recommended marine conservation zones for Yorkshire will be put forward for consultation next year.

Researchers claim designating habitats – including a three-mile wide strip from Skipsea to Spurn Point on the Holderness coast –would improve economic returns for everything from fisheries to nature watching.

There was disappointment when Yorkshire missed out in the first round of marine conservation zones two years ago and the trust and its 36,000-strong membership has been campaigning hard for more to be included since then.

North Sea Living Seas Manager Kirsten Carter said: “We have been engaged with the process to establish Marine Conservation Zones since 2009 and I am delighted these Yorkshire zones shall be included in the second public consultation in 2015.

“The North Sea has a wealth of marine habitats that provide year round homes to all kinds of marine species.”

The trusts said the MCZs were “one of the best tools to protect marine wildlife effectively and restore our seas to their full potential following decades of neglect and decline”.

Some 27 MCZs have already been designated, however some environmentalists have warned that as they stand marine conservation zones are simply “paper parks”, which don’t offer the level of protection that the public assumes.

Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, of the Marine Conservation Society, said they were far from being “no go” zones as only “little bits” of the sites, certain features, are “potentially protected by voluntary measures.”

He said the Government had been tiptoeing through a legal minefield, and were fearful of threats of legal action both from the fishing industry and environmentalists.

Dr Solandt suspects that it will take toughening up of European legislation to make a real difference in the end.

He said: “The public will look at the maps and think they are protected, but it is not true.

“These are literally lines on the maps at this stage. The measures they want to introduce are voluntary.

“It wouldn’t stop a commercial interest from outside who wasn’t signed up to a local voluntary code to come in and exploit the area and damage the habitat for commercial gain.

“The vision is right, but it will only succeed if the Government is bullish enough to push through protection measures that will result in effective recovery and protection of our seas.

“It is sad to say yet again with the lack of conviction of the Government. It may be that we may have to ask Europe for the law to offer true protection of our seas.”

Marine conservation zones have been enthusiastically embraced in Australia where zones are “much better protected”, and includes 800km of the Great Barrier Reef.

Dr Solandt said: “Australia had a tourism industry that didn’t want to see the reef trashed.”

The three sites in Yorkshire are Runswick Bay, north-west of Whitby, whose rocky reefs are home to a wealth of wildlife found hidden in cracks and crevices.

The second is Compass Rose, 30km off the Yorkshire coast and which provides spawning and nursery grounds for fish including plaice, herring, and sprat. Part of the site is called Heartbreak Ridge due to the unpredictable and sometimes disappointing catches made by fishermen.

Finally Holderness Inshore which stretches from Skipsea to Spurn Point has a seafloor with a wealth of diversity supporting a dense coverage of hydroid and bryozoan turf, sponges and ross worm reef – where large numbers of worms form reefs - as well fish, including tope and smoothhound.