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A step in the right direction for our marine wildlife

Last modified: 17 January 2016

Puffin calling, Isle of May National Nature reserve

Image: Andy Hay

The RSPB welcomes today's Defra announcement of the creation of 23 new Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) and the proposal of seven Special Protection Areas (SPAs) around the English and Welsh coast as an important step in protecting our coasts and seas.

However, the job is not yet complete and more needs to be done to protect the UKs seabirds.

Bringing the total number of MCZs to 50, this is an important step towards establishing a functioning network of marine protection for our seas.

The new MCZs will cover areas across the country from as far north as the Farne Islands off the Northumbrian coast down to Land’s End in the South West. Totalling 4,155 square miles of rich marine habitats, these new protected areas bring the entire protected area around our coasts to 7,886 square miles.

Martin Harper said: “To save nature, we need the most important places on both land and at sea to be protected and well managed. This new announcement is an important step towards this goal.

“However, it is disappointing to see that some of the UK’s marine jewels – sites for seabirds – haven’t been used in the designation process. We hope that the third round of marine protected designations, due in 2018 will offer the chance to finally designate sites for that provide protection for our seabirds.”

The UK is home to internationally important populations of seabirds, with 8 million nesting seabirds of 26 species. Yet they are facing significant declines, around 600,000 seabirds were lost between 2000 and 2008.

Despite threats such as marine pollution and the impacts of climate change, charismatic at risk species such as the puffin have not been included in the current designations.  Previous designations have not included seabirds as it was thought too difficult to identify important sites for highly mobile species such as seabirds.

But new data collected by the RSPB and other organisations are making this possible. Through groundbreaking scientific research, the RSPB is now able to track the birds away from their breeding sites.

“Human activities have caused environmental declines along our coasts and across our seas. Marine protected areas offer a tool to help monitor and manage threats, allowing species to recover and giving them room to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Today’s announcement is a positive step in this direction but more is still needed to protect our globally important seabird colonies.”

The RSPB also welcomes the proposal for the designation of seven new or extended Special Protection Areas for seabirds under the European Birds Directive.

These sites will provide much-needed and long overdue protection for a range of seabirds from the wintering grounds of internationally important populations of divers, ducks and grebes to the foraging areas relied upon by breeding tern colonies, and we look forward to seeing the details of what is proposed. However, despite the global importance of the UKs seas for seabirds, 34 years after the European Birds Directive substantially strengthened protection for birds in the UK; the network of SPAs remains substantially incomplete. 

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