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Once in a lifetime opportunity to save our seas
Natural England Chief Executive calls for Parliament to deliver “Marine Act with teeth”
With the Marine and Coastal Access Bill expected to be included in tomorrow’s Queen’s Speech, Helen Phillips, Chief Executive of Natural England, called on Parliament to seize the “once in a lifetime opportunity” that was being provided to protect England’s marine environment.
Helen Phillips said, “Environmental protection has existed on land for nearly 60 years, but England’s seas have been left almost completely undefended. The result has been a severe loss of marine life and extensive damage to marine ecosystems. Parliament has a once in a lifetime opportunity to put this right, and to deliver a Marine Act with teeth that can secure a better future for England’s seas.”
The Marine & Coastal Access Bill contains provisions to look after England’s marine environment by introducing a network of protected areas – Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) – whose use would be regulated by a new marine management organisation and other marine regulators. Up to now, Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have covered only 2.2% of UK waters and there is an urgent need for a more extensive and robust MCZ network to be put in place.
But for the Bill to be effective, there needs to be a statutory duty to designate a network of MCZs and to do so within an agreed timescale. Without this sort of binding commitment, there are no guarantees that a network would ever be put in place, leaving the Bill exposed to the type of drift that has resulted in only one statutory Marine Nature Reserve – around Lundy Island – ever being designated in England. Parliament also needs to ensure that the Bill has teeth in the ways it classifies damage to an MCZ as an offence, and the ways in which damaging operations are monitored.
Helen Phillips, added, “Safeguarding the future of our seas is one of the most important environmental challenges we face – in the coming weeks, we will know if Parliament is up to the challenge of delivering a Marine Act strong enough to reverse the devastation we have inflicted on our marine environment in recent decades.”
Beside its provisions for the marine environment, the Marine & Coastal Access Bill also promises to transform access around England’s coastline, by empowering Natural England to secure, for the first time, a walking route around the whole coast – at least 30% of which is closed to the public at present.
Commenting on the coastal access proposals, Sir Martin Doughty, Chair of Natural England, said, “There are enormous social, health and environmental benefits in enabling the public to access more of England’s coastline. It is important that the Bill gives Natural England flexible powers to deliver new coastal routes while respecting others’ use of the same land. The Bill presents a real opportunity to take a historic step forward in the way people are able to enjoy England’s wonderful countryside and coastline”.
Notes to editors:
For further information contact: The National Press Office on 0845 603 9953;
Julian Lloyd 07500 992116 or Michelle Hawkins (07775 585935)
For out of hours call 07970 098005
To be effective, Natural England believes Parliament will need to ensure that the marine provisions of the Bill address the following:
- To ensure that the MCZ network becomes a reality there needs to be a duty placed on an appropriate body to designate it. Without this, there are insufficient guarantees that any sites will be put in place. With its longstanding experience of designating terrestrial protected areas, Natural England is very well placed to fulfil this designation role.
- The Bill also needs a defined timescale in which the MCZ network should be put in place. There should be a duty on the body responsible for designating MCZs to carry out the statutory consultation within a defined time period and the Bill should contain a timescale (to 2012) for putting the network in place. Without this binding timescale, the Bill would be exposed to the type of drift that has resulted in only one statutory Marine Nature Reserve – around Lundy Island – ever being designated in England.
- The offence of damaging or destroying the designated features of a MCZ should be strengthened and properly enforced. Protected areas on land continued to be damaged for many years until appropriate measures were put in place and it is important that the same mistakes are not made with the marine environment.
Natural England also believes that:
- The Bill needs to place a duty on the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) and Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs) to further the conservation of marine and coastal flora and fauna and to discharge their functions in a way that contributes to the achievement of sustainable development. Where these duties conflict, the Act should establish that the needs of the environment should be prioritised.
- Natural England should be a statutory consultee across the Bill’s proposals, with public bodies required to have regard to its advice.
- The Bill needs to place a duty on Planning Authorities to undertake planning for all UK marine waters covered by the Bill.
- Natural England’s duty to monitor and report on the condition of MCZs and their contribution to the coherence of the network should be extended to include reporting on the state of the marine environment.
- Natural England should remain solely responsible for the notification and confirmation of SSSIs and the declarations of NNRs whether on land or where they extend below mean low water.
Other Notes To Editors
1. Natural England is the Government’s advisor on nature conservation, access, recreation and landscape in England and in the marine environment out to the 12 nautical mile limit, a total of over 5.5 million hectares in English seas. It conserves and enhances the natural environment for its intrinsic value, the wellbeing and enjoyment of people, and the economic prosperity it brings.
2. To find out more about Marine Protected Areas.
3. Lundy Island is England’s only Marine Nature Reserve and covers 3.3 square kilometres, the equivalent of 0.0002% of UK seas. For photos of marine wildlife found around Lundy, contact Natural England’s Press Office.
4. Natural England’s new version of the Coastal Access Scheme will be available on its website from 4 December.
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