Fersiwn Gymraeg ar gael yma

The school holidays are over and our coastal towns and villages are taking a breather. As human visitors make their way home, birds are heading on far longer journeys. Manx shearwaters that nested on RSPB Ramsey Island, for example, are heading for a winter off the South American coast while Arctic terns are travelling from Anglesey islands to South Africa and beyond.

RSPB South Stack, Ben Hall rspb-images.com

2018 is the Year of the Sea in Wales, and RSPB Cymru has been celebrating this valuable wildlife habitat that surrounds three sides of our nation. I hope that you got to spend time somewhere along the 1680 miles of Welsh coast this summer?

Perhaps you visited a beach and explored the wonders of a rockpool alive with sea anemones and starfish?

Or stretched your legs on the Wales Coast Path, enjoying the beaches, cliffs and stunning views, perhaps lucky enough to spot a dolphin or porpoise offshore. Or even orcas, as some visitors did from RSPB South Stack Cliffs in June?

Perhaps you visited a seabird colony, experiencing the sight, sound and smell of guillemots and kittiwakes clinging to a rocky ledge, or took a boat trip and watched puffins bobbing around one of the islands they call home?

Tourists love the sea, and love nature

We know that the sea and its wildlife are major reasons to visit Wales. A whopping 67% of visitors who overnight in Wales come to enjoy the landscape, beaches and countryside, and since these people spend more than £17 million every day, we think it’s important that the Welsh Government listens to what they value.

The most recent survey of visitors holidaying in Wales found that a visit to the beach is the primary motivation for visiting, and one in four of these people visited a nature reserve or wildlife attraction. The same survey ranked the “quality of the natural environment” as the top factor for visitor satisfaction.

Wales has some amazing wildlife spectacles, and we have celebrated Year of the Sea with events on RSPB nature reserves, from the seabird city at RSPB South Stack Cliffs in the northwest to our Newport Wetlands visitor centre in the southeast. In north Wales, we were on the road, meeting hundreds of people at our Coasts in Crisis events at resorts from Prestatyn to Barmouth, finishing with a community beach clean at Llanfairfechan recently. And, of course, people visiting RSPB nature reserves support local pubs, shops, hotels and other businesses that depend on healthy seas, such as boat companies.

Vital for Wales’ prosperity

The coastal and marine environment in Wales supports nearly 92,600 jobs and generates an income of £6.8 billion (and that was from research in 2006), so looking after it should be a top priority for the Welsh Government.

The Government is working on a Welsh National Marine Plan, which must recognise the importance of marine ecosystems, for their own sake and because they benefit people. That’s why we’re calling for a robust and ambitious National Marine Plan to demonstrate the value of Wales’ ambitious Well-being and Environmental laws. It will be an important test of how Wales looks after its seas in the year ahead.

Arctic terns

Given that a lot of marine wildlife tourism centres around seabirds, it is worrying that some nationally important concentrations of seabirds remain unprotected, particularly the places they feed. Welsh Government is expected to begin looking at designating Marine Conservation Zones this winter, and RSPB Cymru will be saying strongly that seabirds must benefit from these zones, as there is a real risk they might be excluded.

Tourism and nature conservation have benefited from EU funding over the last 40 years, and we are asking the Welsh and UK Governments to commit to maintaining that funding to ensure that wildlife and habitats can be restored, giving Wales an even better countryside and coast for visitors to enjoy.

So, as we batten down the hatches for autumn, think of the seabirds foraging in the mid-Atlantic or off the Cape of Good Hope. And hope that by the time they return next May, Wales has made some real commitments to their future. For our marine life, every year is Year of the Sea.