The aim of the Lobby was to help gain support from MPs to strengthen the Marine and Coastal Access Bill (currently going through parliament) in order to allow for the UK’s impressive marine wildlife to receive the protection it deserves. If this legislation isn’t strengthened our marine life, including bottle-nose dolphins, seahorses and corals, will still remain under threat.
In response to the threat from human activities - including development - The Wildlife Trusts, the RSPB, the Marine Conservation Society and WWF have been calling for comprehensive legislation to protect our marine environment for nearly a decade. The Marine and Coastal Access Bill should provide a salvation for marine wildlife: yet serious weaknesses remain. The current draft contains no guarantees that the most important areas for marine wildlife will be adequately protected.
With the Bill about to enter the final phase of Parliamentary debates before it passes into law later this year, the coalition of conservation groups recognise this is the last chance to effect the necessary changes to strengthen its ability to protect the marine environment. The groups are still seeking for three key changes to the legislation:
- The inclusion of a clear duty to designate Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) for the protection of the full range of marine wildlife or habitats.
- Amendment of the Bill to ensure that individual MCZs contribute to an ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas, which must also include some “highly protected” sites.
- The removal of the clause that states socio-economic factors (such as fishing) can be taken into account when deciding whether or not to designate an MCZ.
Poor drafting of the 1981 Wildlife & Countryside Act has resulted in only three marine sites ever being designated under this legislation in nearly 30 years. We do not want this mistake to be repeated!
Joan Edwards, head of marine policy for The Wildlife Trusts, commented: “The Wildlife Trusts have campaigned for more than a decade for new laws to protect the UK’s amazing marine life. At long last, the Marine and Coastal Access Bill is passing through Parliament - but the Bill needs to be much stronger if it is really going to make a difference for our seas and sea life. It is literally ‘make or break’ time. With this Bill we have a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity. If our campaign succeeds, we will get the Bill we so urgently need and our seas will be protected and start to recover their health. If we fail, the state of our seas will continue on its downward spiral. We need to ensure that the Bill delivers effective protection for the marine environment.”
The Marine and Coastal Access Bill is currently being scrutinized by Peers in the House of Lords before the Bill begins its passage in the House of Commons within
weeks. The UK’s coastline is home to a fantastic array of species, including: 18 exclusively marine species of seabird, including puffin, gannet, kittiwake and guillemot; the world’s second largest fish – the basking shark; more than half of the world’s grey seals; two dozen species of whale and dolphin, innumerable corals and two types of seahorse.
Kirsten Smith, The Wildlife Trusts’ North Sea Marine Advocacy Officer said: “At the moment less than 0.001% of our seas are highly protected from damaging activities. The Marine Bill will provide us with the necessary legislation to allow us to designate Marine Conservation Zones, areas that will provide a safe haven for wildlife. We hope the level of support shown by the NGOs and local MPs will help to strengthen the Bill and make it fit for purpose. Lincolnshire is home to some fantastic marine wildlife. Our two estuaries, The Humber and the Wash are internationally important for wildlife; and we have large populations of common seals and grey seals. We hope our efforts will help secure these precious local features for generations to come.”