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UK proposes measures to protect England’s much loved seabirds

Defra to consult on proposed measures to ban industrial sandeel fishing within UK waters

Kittiwakes, puffins and razorbills are some of England’s most treasured seabirds that could benefit from proposed measures to ban sandeel fishing, Defra has announced today (Tuesday 7 March).

The announcement comes ahead of a new BBC wildlife documentary Wild Isles, presented by Sir David Attenborough, that will explore how ecosystems and habitats support wildlife around the UK, including the importance of sandeels for our puffin population.

Sandeels are small, eel like fish that are a vital food source to vulnerable seabirds, commercially important fish species such as haddock and whiting, and sea mammals including seals and whales.

Yet sandeel numbers are under pressure from industrial fishing in the North Sea. Without effective management measures, this threatens marine ecosystems and poses a risk to the breeding success and population resilience of UK seabirds - most notably, kittiwakes.

According to experts at Natural England, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, seabird abundance could increase within 10 years as a result of the full banning of industrial sandeel fishing in UK waters.

Defra has today launched a consultation on proposed management measures for sandeel fishing within English waters, with the aim to reduce further negative impacts on important marine biodiversity.

Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey said:

Britain’s seabirds are beautiful to observe and a treasured part of our coastal environment and their existence and ways of life are crucial to the wider health of our marine ecosystems.

This consultation is an important step in securing their protection and delivering our commitment in the Environment Improvement Plan to halt the decline of nature and allow wildlife to thrive”.  

Katie-jo Luxton, Director for Conservation at the RSPB said:

This is huge news for the UK’s efforts to save our iconic seabirds. Decades of increasing ‘human-induced’ pressures in our busy seas have left our seabirds in a precarious state, and a ban on industrial trawling for sandeels would throw our most threatened seabirds a lifeline in the face of mounting pressures in our seas.

This is a crucial moment; after last year’s devastating outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Flu and with major new offshore energy developments planned, there is an urgent need to build the resilience of our seabird colonies as well as helping to rebuild the overall health of the North Sea for all marine wildlife. Defra are to be congratulated in coming forward with this consultation, which is a vital first step in securing the UK-wide ban our seabirds need.

The consultation, which will run for 12 weeks until 29 May, builds on the government’s commitments as part of the Environmental Improvement Planto bring a halt to the decline in our biodiversity and allow wildlife to thrive. Under the plan the government will protect 30% of our land and sea for nature and will launch a new multi-million pound Species Survival Fund targeted at protecting our rarest species, from red squirrels to grey seals.

This follows the historic agreement of a global deal for nature reached by the UK and nearly 200 countries at the UN Biodiversity summit last year.

It builds on the work the government is already doing to provide enhanced protections for our marine environment, including the designation of the first three Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) in English waters by July this year.

Highly Protected Marine Areas will complement the existing network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) already covering 40% of English waters. The Environmental Improvement Plan also sets targets to drive the recovery of our marine protected areas and the species and habitats within them.

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