37 potential MCZs for English waters are being put forward by Defra. They are keen to use the next nine months (before the formal consultation starts) to build up a dossier on the ecology and socio-economics of each site. I suspect that this pre-consultation phase is also about a managing our expectations and we should not expect that all of these 37 will make the final cut.
These 37 sites have been designed to fill the big gaps in our MPA network and are a positive step towards our goal of an ecologically coherent network. Broadly this means that they need to be protecting a full range of our marine biodiversity and are spread around our coasts and seas in a sensible distribution.
Which of these MCZs ultimately go through to designation will depend on them having an adequate evidence base and enough conservation benefit to justify the economic costs. We’ll need to keep a careful eye on this. We know that it is much easier for industry and commerce to put forward balance sheets to show what an MCZ might cost them; whereas the enormous benefits provided by the marine environment are much harder to quantify and qualify. It is good to see Defra investing more money in data gathering, but we also don’t want to have disproportionate benchmarks for what should be known about a feature before it is designated.
To help ensure that this pre-consultation process is more informed, Defra will be providing some more clarity on what the management might be. The vacuum of management information for MCZs has been challenging for sensible debate - rather like organising a town-hall meeting for a new development, but not telling the audience whether it is going to be a golf course, housing development, park or pet food factory. In the previous tranche of MCZs some stakeholders opposed sites because they feared that even their more benign activities would be curtailed.
In the meantime, we will also need to keep watch to ensure that effective management is put in place without delay for our sites already designated. Over the next couple of years, enforcement agencies and statutory conservation bodies will be looking at a whole new range of fishing activities and making recommendations on whether restrictions need to be introduced to protect conservation features. Ultimately the test is whether the integrity of the site as a whole is being protected through effective management of the overall combination of features within it.
We will have a final MCZ tranche in 2016. This is likely to be the ‘mopping up’ tranche that will fill any last gaps and gather in any habitats or features that have been missed out. Mobile features could be included where there is ‘good evidence’. We will be trying to establish exactly what this means so that we can ensure that MCZs can be used where appropriate to protect critical feeding or spawning grounds for species such as seabirds, dolphins or fish that otherwise might be wide-ranging.
Here’s the full list of sites for tranche 2:
Guest post by Matt Brierley, a wildlife filmmaker writing about his experience of creating Trouble in Paradise, the story of the Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery Project.
I don't know when you last had your life governed by lunar activity. (I’m presupposing there are no werewolves reading this). For me, however, Spring 2013 was largely determined by the moon.
I needed to film a tidal phenomenon. On a very low tide - when a fat full moon hangs in the night sky like a dripping ball of butter – many of the Isles of Scilly join up.
This English archipelago has more than a hint of truly tropical about it. But for the ground and burrow-nesting seabirds there’s trouble in this island paradise. For a group of dedicated conservationists these tides have fed into a complicated decision-making process, a solution so ambitious it’s a global first.
It’s 4.30 a.m. three hours since I stopped filming the moon, I’m under canvas, and every part of my being is craving sleep. High tide is 5.17. By then I need to be taking one image a minute, and do that for six hours. If things go well, I’ll get nine seconds of footage never seen before.
Mind over matter, I’m up Samson Hill as the sun explodes over the horizon, all very Lion King. Perfect light. Brilliant. Then the batteries die.
If you get chance to sit through a whole tidal cycle, give it a whirl. It’s oddly therapeutic, a reflective pause amongst life’s rush. Especially if you had the foresight to bring extra batteries.
Six hours later, I’ve got mind-boggling shots that have spelt jeopardy for seabirds, explaining some of why it’s the island community of St. Agnes and Gugh, surrounded by deep water, that have united against a dark force.
Across the globe, other island communities are watching. Because if they manage this… well, seabirds could be saved on a global scale.
It’s the new moon, as dark as dark can be, and I’m back on the islands. On a cliff top an eerie call plays out of a battered tape deck to tiny sparrow-sized storm petrels, in the hope they’ll flutter into a near invisible net. Ringing by these local birders answers all sorts of important questions. And a release will enable me to film England’s only breeding storm petrels.
Flying only on the darkest nights, to avoid gull attack, seems smart - but recently the ground hasn’t been the safe haven it used to be either. There’s an ominous scuttle in the bushes.
Then, from the skies, the gentlest of thuds, and we’re in business. A bird few people have ever seen blinks into existence on my monitor. Bingo.
There’s so much more of the story to tell. Inspirational people, jaw-dropping scenery, seabirds shown as never before. The biggest coming together of people to save seabirds and restore an island paradise.
Enjoy the film!
Oh, and watch out for six hours compressed to 9 seconds of magic, and spare a thought for the sleep-deprived man that one May morning remembered his batteries. But, alas, forgot his sunhat.
What’s the value of the marine environment?
Putting a value on something that you can’t directly buy is always going to be tricky. What if i asked you to value your favourite view? Would the retail price of a framed picture to hang on your wall be about the right price? Probably not. The personal value is more likely to be much higher and linked to your memories of the place and how you felt when you visited it.
How about the value of something that helps you to earn your living, and without it you’d have no job and means to support yourself? Pretty high I’d guess.
Both those statements can easily be applied to the marine environment. The vista and wildlife that so many people enjoy has a value beyond the financial. But equally, to those who rely on it for a living through tourism and industries like fishing, its value is the means to provide a living.
It makes sense then, that something so important is protected and managed effectively, and the activities that take place in it are sustainable in the long term. If you don’t look after the environment and its rich wildlife, all the added benefits we rely upon for the economy and recreation will be lost.
With this in mind we looked around Wales for an example of where environmental management of the marine environment actually enhanced the local area. Without being biased, we think that RSPB Ramsey Island fits that description pretty well.
Ramsey is an example of how nature conservation can provide not only a rich and unique environment for wildlife, but also a variety of economic and social benefits. The area’s wildlife is a key part of the wildlife tourism offering of the area and a vital attraction for visitors to wildlife tourism. The St David's area. Ramsey and the surrounding marine area is an excellent example of different stakeholders working together to deliver for the marine environment, which in turn supports sustainable business.
But that’s enough of me talking about how great it is – have a look at this video we made.
So how do we achieve these benefits more widely? Well it really isn’t rocket science. We just need a strong steer from Welsh Government, and a desire to manage our seas in a sustainable way – a way that recognises the role of the ecosystem and protects it. The sea is a vibrant living resource, but needs careful management and protection of sensitive areas.
This doesn’t mean we can’t make a living from the sea or enjoy it – it just means we need to get the balance right. It’s something the RSPB , the Welsh fishing industry and other stakeholders are working hard on, all we need now is for Welsh Government to help deliver it too.
The Welsh Government will be consulting on marine issues in the New Year, so watch this space for more information about how we want your help in the coming weeks and months.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear your memories and stories of your link to the Welsh coast or see photos of your connections with it, please share your comments and images below.
Gareth Cunningham, Wales Marine Policy Officer.