I am off to my wife's family hut at the weekend for the Bank Holiday.  It's a wonderful location, perched on a (slightly eroding) cliff top looking out over Coquet Island.  I have spent many a happy hour sitting watching the terns and gannets feed wondering whether that great big black cloud will pass by or settle for the night.   

Am sure that, weather permitting, there will be millions of us visiting the UK coastline over the Bank holiday period and throughout the summer.  My guess is that most will have a fantastic time but few will spare a thought for thewildlife to be found just underneath the waves - fewer still will appreciate that our marine environment is in trouble.  Marine conservation has long been the poor sister of terrestrial conservation - partly perhaps as it is out of sight and out of mind.

The RSPB, like other organisations, has been campaigning for over a decade to secure better protection for marine wildlife, including seabirds.  I have been counting the years - my first paid job back in 1996 involved raising awareness of the problems facing the marine environment.

Two years ago we celebrated new laws to establish nationally important marine protected areas in Great Britain (we're still campaigning for equivalent legislation in Northern Ireland).  These new laws sit alongside European legislation designed to protect internationally important sealife.  The UK Government has the means and obligation to offer comprehensive protection to all marine wildlife. What we need now is adequate and effective implementation of these laws, and soon.

It is therefore a little frustrating that treacle has found its way into the designation processes.  Back in 1999, Greenpeace successfully argued that the EU Nature Directives applied to Member State's exclusive economic zone - out to 200 nautical miles.    This was confirmed by the European Court of Justice ruling in 2005.  Since then there has been insufficient effort made by successive governments to collect and assess the data to establish marine protected areas of European importance.

Equally, it took the previous Labour Government 12 years to fulfil their 1997 manifesto commitment to "give better protection to wildlife" at sea.  But, eventually, after much public campaigning and cross-party support, to their credit, the Labour Government landed the Marine and Coastal Access Act in 2007. 

My current worry is that more treacle is being poured into the process and it will be many more years before we have a marine protected area network at sea for seabirds.

This is why, this summer, the RSPB will be gathering (more) public support for establishing Marine Protected Areas for all marine wildlife, including seabirds as a matter of urgency.  If you are interested in supporting our marine campaign, you can sign our pledge and help us send a signal to the UK Government that we are losing patience and want to see marine protected areas established soon.   We are also currently involved in Selfridges’ Project Ocean, an ambitious public awareness campaign created by the department store and the Zoological Society of London, to champion marine conservation globally.

But probably our biggest investment right now is in trying to work out where the important sites for feeding seabirds at sea actually are. While the seas around the UK are probably some of the best understood waters in the world, it is still far more difficult to collect data and information than it is on land. And therefore we can’t employ the same wide-reaching and cost-effective methods as we do on land, for example we can’t get hundreds/thousands of volunteers out surveying the sea for us.

Instead, we, along with partners in Ireland, France, Spain and Portugal, are involved in a European Union-funded project, known as FAME (the Future of the Atlantic Marine Environment) to track the movements of seabirds from the Atlantic coastlines of the UK. The project involves electronic tracking of seabirds, using “seabird sat-nav” to map their movements and pinpoint areas of sea that are important for these ocean travellers. This knowledge should aid the identification of marine protected areas to protect the areas at sea where seabirds find their food. 

But all the knowledge in the world won’t help designate marine protected areas if the political will to do so isn’t there.  I am sure that the ministerial team at Defra want to establish a marine protected area as quickly as possible, but we need to remember the great quote from Franklin D. Roosevelt who said "I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it".

So this summer whether you’re rockpooling in Rhossili, bathing in Bournemouth, snoozing on the veranda of a hut in Northumberland or even shopping in Selfridges, spare a thought for marine wildlife and show your support by ‘stepping up’ to sign our pledge demanding proper protection for all marine wildlife.


  • Me too Kat,good to see you on Martins blog,he has just started and deserves a bit of support taking on this blog.

  • Hi Martin,forgive my punctuation think Mark found it amusing but he was polite.

    Nothing to do with todays blog but perhaps something you are not aware of,we have friends who are really clever and go on cruises lecturing and they have just come back from Med and said 3 Turtle Doves landed on cruise ship.Having thought about it am wondering if they are strong enough to make the journey back to U K.Realise this a small number but there must be literally thousands of ships in Med and so could add up to large numbers of Turtle Doves doing the same thing(just a thought for you).

  • Signed the pledge.  The snails pace at which protection for the marine environment is going is rediculous - it took far too long for the last government to live up to what they said they would do and create the marine bill, leaving the marine environment to rot while they flapped about doing very little despite all the campaigning that had been going on.  In fact, I actually started to lose hope that the marine bill would even come to pass because for years it was the same story - politicians making promises and then when it came to bill time - zilch!

    Now we have the bill, but still the politicians are in stall mode.  Someone needs to give them a jump start and get them to start doing something!