Marine protected zones confirmed

18th January 2016

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Craig Davies

Habitats and species of national importance in more than 20% of English waters will be protected after the second tranche of marine conservation zones (MCZs) were announced by the environment department (Defra).

The twenty-three MCZs designated today include Land’s End in Cornwall and the Cromer Shoal Chalk Beds in the North Sea, thought to be Europe’s largest chalk reef. It is the second of three phases of designation under the Marine and Coastal Access Act. Twenty-seven MCZs were announced in 2013.

MCZs are a type of protected area for habitats and species of national importance, such as seahorses and cold-water coral reefs. Designation does not automatically mean that economic and recreational activities in the area will be restricted. Regulators will review each zone separately and put management plans in place for those activities that damage the conservation aims of the area, said Defra.

The original consultation for the second phase contained suggestions for 37 MCZs, but 14 were removed due to concerns by fishing industry and local sea users, and issues over devolution to Wales.

In their response to the latest consultation, representatives of the renewable energy industry had asked for certainty about the implications of the operation and maintenance of offshore wind farms co-located with MCZs. They said there was concern in the industry over the possible cost implications of having current or potential offshore wind farms in MCZs, and that zones might deter investment.

Defra said in its response that it did not expect wind farms to be unduly affected by the designation of an MCZ, and it had received no new evidence to suggest otherwise. “We cannot provide the absolute certainty on management and licencing implications being sought by the sector as the individual details of proposals will need to be considered at the time they are submitted for licensing.

“We consider that co-location of an MCZ with windfarms offers a mutually-beneficial solution to balancing conservation needs alongside the multiple uses of our marine environment,” it said.

Joan Edwards, head of living seas at the Wildlife Trusts, said: “This second step towards the completion of a ‘blue belt’ in UK seas is crucial in turning the tide on the state of our seas but there’s still work to be done.

“We look forward to working with the government and stakeholders to ensure the 50 MCZs are properly managed and to achieve the much-needed ambitious and comprehensive third and final tranche,” she said.

A consultation on the final tranche of MCZs will be published in 2017, with designation the following year, Defra said.

New consultations on special areas of conservation (SACs) for harbour porpoises and special protection areas (SPAs) to protect feeding and bathing areas used by birds will be published later this month, the department added. There are currently 37 SACs and 43 SPAs designated in English waters.


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