Today, two important consultations for marine conservation close in the UK. Firstly, there is the consultation on the proposed second tranche of English Marine Conservation Zones (all 23 of them), which fills in some of the biggest gaps in the network. We’ll have a separate blog about this in due course.

My last couple of weeks have been busy finalising our response to the current consultation on the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (the joys of being a policy officer!). This piece of EU legislation aims to restore and maintain the health of our seas by 2020, and the current consultation has been laying out some of the actions (or ‘measures’) the joint UK Governments will take to achieve this.

Mostly, they are things that are being done or planned anyway. This includes the network of Marine Protected Areas (including MCZs), the reformed Common Fisheries Policy, Water Framework Directive and marine plans. All well and good, and we support using these, but many measures are far from complete in their own right. We won’t get marine plans across the UK until 2021 at the earliest, for example. The cynic in me would also ask why the MSFD was needed in the first place, if the existing things were all doing their job – the continuing decline of our seas means new ideas are also needed.

For seabirds, however, there are some particularly welcome references to two planned measures in the consultation. These are, firstly, an action plan to tackle UK seabird bycatch, and secondly an island restoration and quarantine plan. In our response we strongly support these measures: reducing the number of birds accidentally caught in fishing nets, and making sure seabird breeding islands are free of invasive mammal predators, are two of the most effective ways to restore seabird populations.  With climate change already having a real impact on birds' food supply, these measures can make a real difference by removing other direct pressures.

The RSPB has been working on both bycatch and island restoration for over a decade, and we want to work with Government and other partners to make these plans happen, and get them implemented. For example, we’re currently fundraising to remove rats from the seabird mecca that are the tiny Shiant Isles - similar projects on other UK islands have already been extremely successful and led to dramatic increases in burrow-nesting seabird populations. A coordinated plan led by Government to prioritise future projects and ensure best practice in keeping them predator-free is a key next step.


(Puffins like these ones on the Shiants will benefit from removing rats from the islands, and help meet MSFD targets too. Photo by Alec Taylor)

All in all, it’s a good example of how a high-level policy like the MSFD can provide some direction and coordination for practical work on the ground. And that’s how all good policy should be.

You can read our response to the MSFD consultation at 0624.MSFD Measures Consultation RSPB Response April 2015.pdf