Yesterday, Biodiversity Minister Richard Benyon released a Written Ministerial Statement on Marine Conservation Zones.  We're grumpy about what has been published.

It's simple really.  We have been promised a decent network of protected areas in the marine environment to complement the network on land.  Our finest wildlife sites getting the protection they need.  This is what we and others have been campaigning for over the past decade.  The announcement falls a long way short of our expectations.  This news needs to be looked at alongside our inability to establish a network of marine protected areas of European importance (under the Birds and Habitats Directives).

A lengthy and rather costly process to identify a network of sites for marine wildlife, has resulted in 127 sites being nominated.  But not all of these will now be consultated upon until the end of next year - indeed only a subset will actually be designated initially.   We understand that the initial number of sites may number fewer than a quarter of the original proposed list.  What's more, there are no guarantees about when further sites will be put forward after this measly initial tranche. 

Even the full complement of 127 marine conservation zones does not include many sites proposed for mobile species, such as basking sharks, dolphins and seabirds – and some vitally-important seabird sites were excluded from the proposals from the outset.  With such sweeping reductions planned in the number of sites going forward to designation after next year’s belated consultation, the RSPB is very concerned there will be nothing left in the English marine conservation zone network for seabirds at all, and the benefits for other marine wildlife will be dramatically reduced.

One startling omission is the Flamborough-Helgoland Front, stretching offshore from Yorkshire’s Flamborough Head. This site is known as an area of food-rich waters, important for a whole range of marine wildlife, including seabirds, such as those from the nearby RSPB Bempton Cliffs reserve – including kittiwakes, puffins, gannets, razorbills and guillemots.  To achieve true coherence, sites such as the Flamborough-Helgoland Front should be included in the marine conservation zone network. A network cannot be ecologically coherent if it doesn’t cover all marine wildlife.

The main problem is a lack of supporting evidence for sites, but the paucity of marine data is news to no-one. The RSPB has been highlighting the dangerous lack of investment in data collection at sea to Government for over a decade and the implications for marine protected area designation for many years; so far to little avail. From the outset, the English regional projects were set up to work on the basis of‚ best available evidence‛, which is exactly what they have done. While the available evidence may not be perfect, it is certainly enough to support site designation in many locations.  It is hard not to feel short-changed by Government. We have committed time, energy and money towards achieving comprehensive marine protection for example with our own work in furthering marine research (the so-called FAME project).

I understand the challenges intrinsic to the process, but I am unconvinced that the Government currently has a good enough business plan to get the job done.  The ambition is there but the resources are lacking.  Yes, money is tight, but this is a Government that has committed to delivering a network of marine protected areas and I would expect Mr Benyon to either ask Mr Pickles for some of his loose change (remember Mr Pickles found £250 million to fund weekly bin collections) or have a word with Mr Osborne.

In the meantime, we can, and will, continue to do all we can to support marine research and site designation, but in reality we will never get the evidence we need to support the marine protected network area unless Government steps up and provides resources to support adequate monitoring of our sealife.

The campaign goes on.  Please do step up for seabirds by signing our pledge encouraging the UK Government to protect all the sites of importance for seabirds in our waters.

  • Plainly this is a government that has not given the faintest consideration to the meaning of the word "green". Bin collections up = recycling down; just as people were getting used to less bin collections ! Solar subsidy down ! Budgets for environmental protection down and NH and EA muzzled.

    However my gripe is also with RSPB. I have checked the statements of your scientists working on the "seabird catastrophe" that is happening before our eyes and not one of them mentions climate change. Yet I am under the strong impression that temperature changes in the North Sea are driving changes in sand eel distribution and thereby the collapsing productivity of sea bird colonies; where is the mention of this ?

    As ever there is a legalistic approach rather than a lifestyle approach from RSPB ; perhaps someone would tell me what is the average footprint for an RSPB member ? Where is it on the spectrum ? How many carbon miles off a "twitching ? I will never forget the run up to Copenhagen when not one of the key articles or "personalities" mentioned climate change and the Nov Dec 2009 issue just launched an entirely new campaign without mentioning Copenhagen. Mr Clarke did nt even mention AGW in his inaugural address in BIrds and yet the IEA states we now have only 5 years to act ! Durban is a month away ! Yet the RSPB campaign on Yahoo on this most important issue does nt even mention climate change ! Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

    Let me be provocative; someone living in the most deprived flats in Bristol living without a car; not being able to afford a foreign holiday and not having the slightest involvement in wildlife protection does less damage to the environment ? Never mind of course the poor of the Third World.

    RSPB is a chimera; a window into nature from the lifestyle that destroys it  ?