Fulmars Fulmarus glacialis, in flight and the rising moon, Ramsey Island RSPB reserve, Wales

Protecting the UK's seas

Protecting England's seas

As part of the Government's aim to create a network of protected areas around the UK coast, a proposal was put forward in September 2011 to create 127 English Marine Conservation Zones.

These sites were agreed upon by a wide variety of stakeholders who all use our seas in different ways, including environmental, renewable energy and fishing interests.

There was further good news in 2012 when the Government's own environmental advisers - Natural England and JNCC - agreed that all 127 sites should be designated areas for protecting our marine wildlife.

However, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) currently only intend to turn 31 of those sites into protected areas. What's more, none of these sites will provide any direct protection for mobile species, including seabirds, harbour porpoises and seals. This is a real blow and we are bitterly disappointed by Defra's unambitious proposals. 

It is a missed opportunity to protect some of the England's most important wildlife. It also marks the continued failing of Government to protect the marine environment, especially those areas of sea vital for seabirds.

The map on this page shows just how far short Defra's proposals fall in protecting our precious marine environment and building a network of protected areas.

We'll keep fighting

In England, we are continuing to call on Government to:

  • Designate and manage the proposed 31 Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) as soon as possible in 2013, reinstating seabirds as protected species for the following MCZs:
    - Cumbria Coast
    - Lundy, in the Bristol Channel
    - Torbay, south Devon
    - Padstow Bay & Surrounds, north Cornwall 

  • Set a clear timetable for the designation and management of further sites that fully represent and protect the range of marine species and habitats found around the UK.
Belfast Lough, Northern Ireland

Protecting Northern Ireland's seas

In Northern Ireland, we're still waiting for our Marine Bill to be passed by the Executive and Assembly.

With similar legislation to protect the marine environment already at a much more advanced stage in England, Scotland and Wales, it's embarrassing to be lagging so far behind.

Without the Marine Bill, we cannot designate Marine Conservation Zones and protect the best areas for our marine wildlife.

In short, until this legislation is passed, our marine environment continues to suffer.

Europe has helped lead the way with new laws and policies, in particular the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

Under this law, we must meet the target of 'Good Environmental Status' in the UK's seas by the year 2020. All the UK's administrations need to pull their weight to meet this target, as our seas are without borders.

'Good Environmental Status' is measured across a variety of different factors, for example the level of noise, litter and invasive species in the sea. It also measures how healthy species, habitats and food webs are.

To help achieve 'Good Environmental Status' we need a network of marine protected areas, and we need to fundamentally change the way that we use the sea through a system of marine planning. This will allow us to balance the economic uses of the sea with environmental needs.

The Northern Ireland Marine Bill is therefore essential to the achievement of 'Good Environmental Status' in Northern Ireland and for the UK as a whole.

Any further delay in getting the Bill passed could have serious implications for both the marine environment and our economy.

What we're calling for

Working alongside seven environmental charities as part of the Northern Ireland Marine Taskforce, and with a combined total of some 100,000 supporters, we're calling for:

  • A well-managed, ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas.
  • A Marine Spatial Plan that is based on an ecosystem approach and sustainable development principles.
  • Integrated and efficient Government decision-making between all government departments with marine responsibilities. This would ideally through one single authority such as a Northern Ireland Marine Management Organisation.
  • Modernisation of fisheries legislation and practice to ensure that our fisheries are sustainable.
Fulmar adult and chick at nest on cliff ledge, Dunnet Head RSPB reserve

Working for Scotland's seabirds

Scotland is home to an amazing variety of seabirds. We have 24 breeding species which swoop and dive into the water and make our coasts their home. 

The seabird cities that surround our coastline are some of the most spectacularly dramatic places in the world to watch wildlife. In fact, Sir David Attenborough once described a Scottish seabird colony as 'one of the 12 wildlife wonders of the world.'

Our seabirds depend on the seas to provide them with food. But sandeels - one of the prey species they rely on most - are being affected by climate change, which means seabirds are going hungry, and breeding colonies are shrinking. 

We're fighting to make sure the Scottish Government gives our marine environment the protection it deserves. Watch this space to find out how you can get involved.

More protection in Scotland’s seas

After intense pressure from RSPB Scotland and its supporters, the Scottish Government has taken the first steps towards protecting Scotland’s incredible marine environment.

14 draft Special Protection Areas (SPAs) have been announced for seabirds, along with the designation of 30 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), including six for black guillemots and three for sandeels. We at RSPB would like to thank everyone who has taken part in our campaign to make this happen.

The 14 draft SPAs announced are an important foundation from which to build a network of protected areas for Scotland’s iconic seabirds. RSPB Scotland will continue to work with parliament and government to help develop the protected areas we have and identify new ones.

Unfortunately, neither the 30 MPAs nor the 14 SPAs are enough to fully protect seabirds. Some species, such as kittiwake and Arctic tern, are in chronic decline in areas such as Shetland, yet none of their important foraging areas are protected. Other areas of sea we already know to be important, such as the Outer Forth Banks, also remain unprotected. RSPB Scotland will continue working to make sure that seabirds and the wider marine environment is properly protected and looked after.

Sea cliffs with nesting sea birds at dusk, Ramsey Island RSPB reserve, Wales

Protecting Wales' seas

As part of the Welsh Government's aim to create a network of protected areas around the UK coast, a proposal was put forward in April 2012 to create only three or four Marine Conservation Zones around the Welsh coast.

These sites would be highly protected - nothing could be added to a proposed site (like dredged materials from harbours) and nothing could be taken from a proposed site (including fishing activities).

We are calling on the Welsh Government to designate sites in the right place and for the right reasons, and to use the Marine Conservation Zones to create additional protection for our marine species and habitats.

We are concerned that this initial proposal appears to penalize sustainable non-damaging activities.

Timeline to protecting the Welsh coastline

Nearly 7,000 people shared their views on protecting our marine environment - the highest level of response ever to a Welsh Government consultation!

In December 2012, two groups were set up by the Environment Minister in response to the June consultation:

  • The Task and Finish Team will develop recommendations on how to develop the Marine Conservation Zone process in Wales.
  • The Stakeholder Focus Group will 'contribute to and provide challenge to the work' of the team. We are part of this group.

Together, these two groups have worked to develop a set of recommendations for the Natural Resources and Food Minister on how best to progress the Welsh Marine Conservation Zone process.

To date the process has achieved several milestones:

  • March 2013- The Task and Finish Team to deliver their recommendations, which will then be agreed by the Stakeholder Focus Group.
  • April 2013- The recommendations will be submitted to the Natural Resources and Food Minister.

We hope that by June 2013 Alun Davies - Natural Resources and Food Minister, will respond to the recommendations and set out a clear timetable for the creation and delivery of Welsh Marine Conservation Zones.