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Those objectives are implemented through a combination of management plans for the Tamar estuaries complex, the Wembury voluntary marine conservation area and the Yealm estuary, which together cover the geographical extent of the European marine site. The Devon Wildlife Trust sits on the advisory groups for the management of the Tamar and Yealm estuaries, and manages the Wembury voluntary marine conservation area.
Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon): My hon. Friend the Member for NorthWest Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) made an important point about wildfowl. It would be helpful if you could explain to the House which wildfowl you are talking about and how you feel
Linda Gilroy: As I said, these points were made to me by the Devon Wildlife Trust. My key interest in this subject arises from my close association with the National Marine Aquarium. I am more familiar with the flora and fauna in the sound, but I trust that through my developing association with the Devon Wildlife Trust I will learn a great deal more about the birdlife in both estuaries that surround my constituency.
The Bill establishes a framework for the notification of sites of importance for marine biodiversity, geology or physiography, and for the setting of conservation objectives for those sites. The Bill is unlikely to have any effect on the management of those areas of Plymouth sound already designated as European marine sites. The initial designation excluded some important habitat features, but a recent review has addressed that problem, so current conservation objectives cover all key marine habitats in the area.
However, the Bill would allow the notification of some important areas of rocky reef habitat in the approaches to Plymouth sound that fall outside the current boundaries of the European marine site. The reef habitats support some unique seabed communities, and include dense beds of pink sea fan, which is a species protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. As a result, the wildlife trusts have suggested an extension of the proposed boundaries in our response to the original Government consultation on the designation of coastal and marine sites in 1995.
The Bill would enable English Nature to notify and set conservation objectives for those sites that remain outside the current boundaries of the European marine site. In the wider context, the Bill would enable the notification of new marine sites of importance for biodiversity, and as such would add to the effectiveness of site-based conservation in the marine environment. However, there are limits to what could be achieved by this site-based approach alone, and a wider approach to marine management is required. In addition, we have seen in Devon that the emphasis on specific sites has tended to divert resources from other areas that are just as important for biodiversity, but which fall outside the network of protected sites.
The trusts see the Bill, which aims to protect wildlife and habitats within territorial waters, as one step towards achieving the wide range of improvements that are needed if our seas are to receive the protection and management they deserve. I look forward to discussing with them the outcome of today's debate.
I hope, too, that the trusts will confirm that there could be some benefit in protecting seahorses, which I am keen to see. The National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth is home to the largest collection of seahorse species in the world. Working in collaboration with the university of Plymouth, the NMA carries out research into the diets and consequent growth of seahorses with a view to captive breeding and rearing as a means of eventually minimising the pressure on wild specimens that results from the oriental medicine trade and other forms of exploitation.
Seahorses are particularly susceptible to disturbance of coastal habitats, as they are generally regarded as shallow water species with restricted habitat preferences, such as sea grass beds. The status of the two UK seahorse species is largely unknown, although it is generally felt that they are threatened by a variety of human actions that affect coastal waters. The two species are Hippocampus hippocampus, the short-snouted seahorse, and Hippocampus guttulatus, the long-snouted seahorse.
The south-west region is geographically one of the UK's largest and most sparse. It contains 60 per cent. of England's heritage coastline. It is one of the most rapidly growing regions, due largely to inward migration arising from its attractive environment. We have two national parks on land and parts or all of 12 areas of outstanding natural beauty. Almost a quarter of England's listed buildings are there, as well as more than 1,200 conservation areas. Parts of the region have been designated as special protection areas because of the wildlife and wetlands found there.
Developing the infrastructure for marine conservation can only further enhance the environmental attractions of our region. Indeed, the environment has been identified as one of the key drivers of the regional economy from a number of perspectives. Undoubtedly, a strength of the region is the attraction that a good-quality environment generates, both in its direct impact on tourism and as an attractive location for business.
Linda Gilroy: The flatlands around Torbay. I have forgotten their exact name at the moment, but, as I have said, the marine environment represents the main thrust of the Bill and my interest. I am also representing the views that the Devon Wildlife Trust has expressed to me, and I look forward to developing with the trust a greater knowledge of those wetlands and the birdlife in my area. I have been birdwatching only once in Devon, when I visited the birdwatching area at Dawlish warren, with which the hon. Gentleman may be familiar.
Linda Gilroy: I have almost reached a conclusion. I have been representing very significant interests, as the right hon. Lady will understand, and trying to outline the Bill's impact on my constituency. I will come to my position on the Bill in my concluding remarks, which will be heard very shortly.
Some assessments rate the environmental protection industry as second in potential only to the information and communications technology industry. Ensuring and contributing to sustainable development is a key role for all of us, and I welcome the opportunity that debating the Bill offers to explore how we can make progress on issues of exceptional interest and importance to my constituency. I am sure that the Bill's promoter and, indeed, the Minister will be welcomed if they visit my constituency to find out more about why many people now regard Plymouth as the United Kingdom and European centre for marine science and technology.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge is to be congratulated on his choice of Bill. I am sorry not to see him in his place. [Hon. Members: "He is here."] I beg his pardon. I am particularly pleased that he chose the Bill. He may remember the number that he selected in the ballot. He selected the number that I try to obtain in each ballotusually successfullybut he just pipped me to the post this year. It was the number that secured me a place in the ballot during the first Session of the first Parliament in which I served. That, of course, involved me in the ill-fated Fireworks Bill, which has the doubtful privilege of holding the record for being the Bill that most nearly reached the statute book without actually doing so, as the last two technical amendments were being debated on its Report stage from the House of Lords when it was talked out. I wish the hon. Gentleman's Bill a better fate.
Virginia Bottomley: I, too, warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) on his success in the ballot and, indeed, on his selection of subject. It is a matter of very great importance. I do not wish him to misunderstand my supportI am not demonstrating such abject support simply because he is my Whip. I wondered whether the Whips had anything to do with speech made by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy), because we have read much in the newspapers this week about the activities of Whips in political parties, but my support for the Bill is heartfelt and sincere.
I am pleased that the hon. Lady mentioned the Eden project, because one of the key aims of many of those Millennium Commission projects was, in fact, to promote sustainability and the environment. I include not only the Eden project, but many of the new forests and cycleways, and even the ill-fated dome, before it was given a dose of new Labour rhetoric, was actually a regeneration project. But the message of regeneration and protecting the environment for the new millennium echoes widely in the wider community.
The primary reason why I am so energetic about such issues is that I have the privilege to have in my constituency the United Kingdom headquarters of the World Wildlife Fund. It has made a very important contribution in raising the priority given to this subject. Robert Napier, its chief executive, leads an excellent team. I particularly mention its communications director, Perdita Hunt, an extremely good lobbyist who ensures that this subject and others are given the priority that they deserve in the House.
The WWF has been calling for some time for a significant improvement in the management of the marine environment and for the delivery of an ecosystem-wide approach. It believes that an aspect of that approach is strong legislation to protect our marine wildlife and the habitats on which it is dependent. In its view, it is also important to integrate that protection with improved legislation for the management of the wider marine environment, as that will ensure that the seas are healthy and clean.
In the WWF's judgment, the Bill provides an opportunity to stimulate parliamentary debate on the need for greater protection and management of the marine environment. It thinks that the protection that the Bill would enforce would be important to species and habitats in the territorial waters of England and Wales. Like others, it thinks that the Bill represents a first step in forging a new approach to the management of our marine environment and the economic and social resources that we gain from it. The idea that the Bill represents a first step is widely echoed.
The Surrey Wildlife Trust argues that this country's system of marine conservation is extraordinarily inadequate. The Bill would provide much-needed protection to the special diversity interest of marine sites. The trust wants the Government to go further to ensure sustainability throughout the United Kingdom's marine environment and to introduce additional measures that meet those wider needs. However, it believes that the Bill should be viewed as a useful stepping-stone towards a much broader range of measures that will be required to achieve the sustainable use of marine resources.
I hope that the Minister will recognise that it is now widely appreciated that the British isles comprise island nations with a maritime heritage of which they can be proud. They also possess one of the highest diversities of marine habitats and species in any European country. It is time for the legislation that protects the marine environment to catch up with some of the interesting and important improvements in land protection.
The Minister will be well aware that, in my earlier days as a junior Environment Minister, I had some involvement in the SSSI programme. My primary concern on SSSIs now is that the A3 improvement at Hindhead should continue to ensure that that SSSI gets the protection that it needs.
Before I am called to order for straying from the subject, let me wish my hon. Friend's Bill well. I know he will be disappointed that I did not mention Worthing lumps, but I suspect that others can refer to them with more knowledge than I can.
At a time when there is often cynicism about what we debate in Parliament, and a lack of interest, many of our priorities do not seem to reflect the priorities of our generation. I think that the Bill has an important future in terms of the stewardship of our planet and the sustainability of our marine areas, and I hope that all Members will support it.