Our seas are suffering serious damage and need protection now, says Northumberland Wildlife Trust.
The charity was responding to this week’s announcement that the Government intends to gather further evidence on the 127 Marine Conservation Zones recommended by stakeholder groups.
The recommendations are the result of consultation with more than one million stakeholders including fishermen, conservationists and businesses. The process has cost around £8.8m to date.
The groups made their recommendations based on the ‘best available evidence’ as advised by Defra in 2010. The process of gathering additional evidence is expected to delay designation of Marine Conservation Zones by at least a year.
Northumberland Wildlife Trust believes all 127 sites should be designated. The statement, made by Natural Environment and Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon promises all the sites will be consulted on.
However, there is no indication of when, or how many, might be designated. The charity fears the delayed timeframe could put marine species and habitats at considerable risk of further degradation.
Steve Lowe, head of conservation at Northumberland Wildlife Trust, said: “We welcome the commitment that Defra has announced to consult on all 127 recommended Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) in English Waters. However, despite international evidence for the urgent need to protect our seas, the Minister’s statement will result in further unacceptable delay.
“Stakeholders have been discussing Marine Conservation Zone recommendations for more than two years, based on Defra’s 2010 guidance to use ‘best information currently available’. But now Defra appears to be changing the level of evidence required, after stakeholders have made their recommendations.
“If more data is needed, it could be collected during consultation or even after MCZ designation. We are disappointed that we now face a further delay of at least 12 months when more damage to marine habitats will continue to occur.”
The Wildlife Trusts’ national Petition Fish campaign aims to raise public support for Marine Protected Areas at sea. To find out more visit www.wildlifetrusts.org/petitionfish.
Read more about the Northumberland coast.