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
Almost a year ago Defra published a list of 37 potential Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) that were in the running for possible designation in 2015. I talked about them here as being ‘the gap fillers’; the sites that would help to ensure we had a more comprehensive network of sites protecting our marine wildlife. We knew that they weren’t all going to go forward but the final list of 23 announced today is a disappointment because of the absence of some really important sites around the Isle of Wight and Studland Bay in Dorset.
Much time and effort has already gone into making sure that these MCZs can meet many different needs and viewpoints; and clearly some disagreement remains about the need for MCZs in some locations. The fact is that our seas need greater protection from human activities. They could be so much more productive and so much richer in life if we are prepared to take difficult decisions now.
Unfortunately, Government have played a straight bat on this round, leaving these difficult decisions for a point in the future when they will designate a third and final tranche.
I am particularly sorry to see that only one of the MCZs on the Isle of Wight going forward, with four being held back. Studland Bay is also notable for its absence; and the reasons are the same in both cases. The Solent (the area of Sea around the Isle of Wight) and Poole Harbour near Studland are both hugely popular for sailing and boating, and there is concern amongst these communities that MCZs could curtail these activities.
The fact is that solutions can be found to make sure that boating and sailing can continue and our wildlife protected. In some cases opposition is founded on fears that simply sailing over the top of an MCZ would be stopped-which it wouldn’t of course. As the Environmental Audit Committee pointed out in June last year, better communication will help to ensure local stakeholders understand the reasons for MCZs and their likely implications to their activities.
The use of permanent mooring buoys could be used to reduce impact to sites which are highly sensitive and heavily used by anchoring day boats. This is a technique that is used in sensitive coral reef sites in places such as the Seychelles, Florida and Australia. I really hope that the boating community can work together with Government agencies to find a solution that can ensure that these sites can be properly protected and continue to be enjoyed and visited at the same time.
On a positive note, it is good to see sites such as Lands End in Cornwall, Hartland Point in North Devon, Cromer in Norfolk and the Farne Islands off Northumberland making the penultimate hurdle towards protection.
We know that there is going to be a third tranche at some point in the future. In my blog last year I called this the one where we ‘mop up’. It’s going to have to be a lot more than that now since many of the most difficult issues have been postponed to be dealt with later.
This ‘mop up’ will now have to include some of the most crucial elements of our network toensure that the network:
Here is the list of sites that are the focus of the consultation over the coming weeks. They will need your support to make sure that they make it home:
Coquet to St Marys
Cromer Shoal Chalk Beds
Dover to Deal
Dover to Folkstone
NW Jones Bank
Greater Haig Fras
Newquay and Gannel
Hartland Point to Tintagel
Bideford to Foreland Point
West of Walney
My colleagues in Northern Ireland this week made a call for the public to be aware of and report any beached seabirds - every bit of information is valuable to better understand the impacts on our breeding and non-breeding populations. Winter is traditionally the season when birds are washed up either by pollution incidents or simply through natural mortality, for example as the result of stormy weather.
Today, I'm pleased to hand over this blog to another colleague, Hayley Webb, who coordinates the annual Beached Bird Survey for the East of England. Hayley explains what this years survey involves and how you can take part as BBS volunteers, wherever you are.
If you want a good physical indicator of the impacts that pollution has on the marine environment, bird mortality is it! Although we have thankfully seen a decline in chronic oil pollution in the North Sea in recent decades, stranded oiled seabirds along the tide lines of the British Isles are a clear signal that we are by no means out of the danger zone when it comes to the marine environment. Oil and other hazardous substances have the effect of waterlogging a bird’s feathers, causing death by cold, drowning or poisoning when a bird swallows the oil when cleaning its plumage – it can even effect embryo or chick development. Sounds horrific, doesn’t it? It is, but there is a way you can help.
Over the last 24 years, there has been an international effort to monitor the effects of oil pollution around the world’s coastlines and each and every stretch of beach monitored counts. The last weekend in February 2015 marks the next Beached Bird Survey where hundreds and hundreds of volunteers will take to the beaches around the UK to join in with this massive survey. Identifying the decline we have seen in North Sea chronic oil pollution has been made possible through surveys like the Beached Bird survey that records vital geographical and temporal patterns in oil pollution. Poorly know distributions and short lifespan of many marine mammals means it is very difficult to record such patterns of pollution accurately. Seabirds, on the other hand, are well monitored in many cases and years of research have meant that we are able to identify changes in population success and then try to find causes for it. It is very likely that without the hard work and dedication of our volunteers, the cost and manpower of a commercially run Beached Bird survey would not be feasible, which means each and every one of our volunteers for this survey count.
Photo: Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
You don’t need to be a birding expert to take part, just the ability to walk your local coastline and basic seabird identification skills. We will ask you to take in some fresh air by walking maximum of 3-4 miles and back along the most recent high tide of your allocated stretch of sandy or pebbled beach and accurately report evidence of pollution and the number and species type of any ‘beached’ seabirds. All of the survey data our volunteers collect is then collated to create a big picture of the current state of the coastlines of the British Isles and can help us assess the impact that local, small scale oil pollution can have on the wider marine environment.
If you would like to be part of the Beached Bird Survey 2015 and help to make a real difference monitoring the health of our seabirds and the marine environment, please visit the volunteering section of our website here to search for Beached Bird Survey vacancies or contact your local regional office here.
Beached Bird Survey Co-ordinator for the East of England