The Government is pressing ahead with its plans to create Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) to protect the UK's rich marine environment, Natural Environment Minister Richard Benyon announced today.
A consultation outlining the proposals for the first set of sites has been launched today, and will give coastal communities and those with an interest in the marine environment, the opportunity to have a say in its future.
The Government is proposing to designate around 10,900 km2 of marine habitat in the first phase next year. The 31 proposed sites provide a home to a variety of animals and plants, such as corals, jellyfish and seahorses. The area, roughly three times the size of Cornwall, will mean these are all given greater protection.
Launching the consultation, Richard Benyon said:
"The UK has one of the world's richest marine environments, and we need to make sure it stays that way. This is why we are creating a network of marine protected areas.The proposed sites will to contribute to a network of marine protected areas and will complement the 8.4% of UK waters and 24% of English inshore waters already within protected areas.
"We have to get this right. Designating the right sites in the right places, so that our seas are sustainable, productive and healthy, and to ensure that the right balance is struck between conservation and industry.
"We have carefully considered the evidence, and these 31 sites are the ones that are suitable to be designated next year."
The consultation will seek views on proposals for the designation of MCZs in English inshore and English and Welsh offshore waters.
It presents an opportunity for those with an interest to make their views known, and to submit any new evidence that should be considered and includes proposals on how the proposed sites will be treated.
The consultation also provides clarification on:
Designating MCZs to contribute to a network of Marine Protected Areas is a Government commitment under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 to ensure that our marine environment is protected for years to come.
- Reference areas. These will not be included in the first phase but will be subject to further review;
- The treatment of MCZs at different stages in the designation process in licensing decisions. To assist developers in the marine area we have clarified how we consider that developments should be treated in or near MCZs so that economic growth is not inhibited unnecessarily.
The consultation will run until 31 March 2013 and can be found here: http://www.defra.gov.uk/consult/2012/12/13/marine-conservation-zones-1212/.
Four stakeholder-led Regional MCZ Projects were established to recommend the possible sites: Irish Seas Conservation Zones (Irish Seas), Finding Sanctuary (South West waters), Balanced Seas (South East waters) and Net Gain (North Sea) managed by the Statutory Nature Conservation Bodies (the SNCBs: Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee). These brought together stakeholders with interests in marine industries, marine ecology and conservation, and the regulators.
The final reports from the Regional MCZ Projects can be viewed here: http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/publication/2080291.
The SNCB advice can be viewed here: http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/ourwork/marine/mpa/mcz/advice.aspx.