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RSPB concerned over marine wildlife plans

Last modified: 14 December 2012

FAME: Kittiwake in flight

Image: Grahame Madge

The RSPB has expressed concern about proposals for the protection of coasts and seas in England and Scotland.

RSPB conservation director Martin Harper said the announcement this week of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) off England’s shores was ‘hugely disappointing’.

Meanwhile RSPB Scotland welcomed the Scottish Government’s publication of potential Marine Protection Areas north of the border but expressed deep disappointment about a lack of protection for seabirds under the Marine (Scotland) Act.

Martin Harper, Conservation Director, said: “The announcement by environment minister Richard Benyon is hugely disappointing. 

“These proposals risk selling short the huge numbers of people who have shown their support for the creation of a network of marine protected areas around our shores.

“A process intended to protect our seas through the establishment of a coherent network of marine conservation zones has drifted dramatically off course when measured against the scale and urgency of the threats they face. 

“Of 127 sites proposed for protection in England, only ‘up to’ 31 are recommended for designation in 2013, and there appears to be no clear commitment to any further rounds of designation.

“Less than half of the 57 sites identified by the Government’s own advisors as being at high risk are to be progressed, the others in many cases being excluded on the basis that the economic implications of designation are perceived to outweigh the conservation benefits.  Many of these sites may therefore be lost.” 

Stuart Housden, Director of RSPB Scotland said: “This announcement, whilst a step in the right direction, is a massive missed opportunity.

“Despite Scotland being globally important for these species, seabirds have been almost completely marginalised in the identification of Scotland’s new Marine Protected Areas. These proposals offer precious little protection for Scotland’s seabirds – iconic species like the puffin, razorbill and kittiwake.

 “The Government claims seabirds will be adequately protected by Special Protection Areas designated under European legislation. Let there be no confusion – these promised SPAs are essential, but they cannot and will not protect nationally important concentrations of seabirds feeding out at sea.

“We have been pressing for a coherent and meaningful suite of protected areas for marine wildlife since 2002- this is not the end of the process by any means.”

Scotland holds a significant percentage of Europe’s breeding seabird population, but recent figures have indicated alarming declines. Research suggests that changes in the food chain, particularly a lack of sandeels, a vital food source for most species, may be driving these population crashes.

 Mr Housden added: “While it is good to see some “search areas” for sandeels, we are alarmed that one of the most important North Sea sites, the Firth of Forth, may not be formally protected tor this species. This undermines the defining principle of a protected area – ‘protect the best’ – and calls in to question the ambition of the Scottish Government.”

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