Some waters off England for full protection End-shutdown

Three stretches of water off the English coast will receive the strictest possible environmental protections as part of new measures to restore the health of the seas.

Fishing and all activities that damage the seabed, such as mining and cable laying, will be prohibited.

Proposals to incorporate Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMA) at two other sites have been dropped.

Critics say the plans lack ambition and progress too slow.

Professor Callum Roberts of the University of Exeter said the areas would make a big difference to the marine life within them, but they covered only 0.5% of English seas.

“At this rate of progress, it will take 260 years to get to the level of protection that science says is needed, which is 30% of highly protected seas,” he said.

Three coastal areas will become HPMA

The Wildlife Trusts said they would ask the government to designate more protected marine areas as soon as possible.

“I am totally appalled that the government has only decided to designate three of the five proposed HPMAs,” said head of marine conservation Dr. Lissa Batey,

“They’re a good first step, but we really need to do more if we want to turn the tide on nature recovery and bring wildlife back.”

Richard Hill of the Marine Conservation Society echoed his words. “It’s a step forward, but a baby step,” he said. “It’s a shame the government isn’t being a bit more ambitious in protecting our seas.”

The areas that will be given full protection are:

  • Allonby Bay in Cumbria – coastal waters supporting a wealth of marine life including sponges, soft corals, algae, sea squirts, anemones and living reefs built by the honeycomb worm.

  • Dolphin Head – A stretch of water off the Sussex coast that is home to dolphins, porpoises, seabirds and fish.

  • North East Farnes Deep, 35 miles (55 km) off the Northumberland coast. The seafloor is rich with strange and rare life forms, including long-lived molluscs and stubby lobsters. The waters teem with seabirds and marine mammals, including the white-beaked dolphin.

Proposals on Northumberland’s Holy Island were abandoned after fears were raised that the fishing ban could devastate the local economy.

A similar plan for the Trevelyan Inner Silver Pit South, 16 miles (26 km) off the Lincolnshire coast, was also abandoned. The area is a fishing ground for cod, plaice, herring and sole.

The new scheme gives three areas off England full protection against damage from fishing, mining and development as part of a target to protect 30% of marine waters by 2030.

A Defra spokesperson said: “Marine Highly Protected Areas will offer the highest levels of protection in our seas, helping a wide range of marine habitats and species to fully recover.”

The seas are under pressure from decades of overexploitation, pollution and climate change. While 38% of the seas around the British Isles are designated as marine reserves, many are still subject to harmful fishing practices such as bottom trawling, where fishing gear is dragged across the seabed.

Follow Helen on Twitter @hbriggs.

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