Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 21

Submission from the Wildlife and Countryside Link


    (i)  Wildlife and Countryside Link is campaigning for comprehensive marine legislation, to provide better protection for marine wildlife and effective management of our seas. One of Link's key priorities for the forthcoming Marine Bill is that it should provide for the designation of a representative network of Nationally Important Marine Sites, including some that would be afforded the highest level of protection, for biodiversity conservation and recovery.

    (ii)  In submitting this brief response Link wishes to highlight that there is currently no adequate system in place for the designation of nationally important marine wildlife sites. Besides their primary purpose—biodiversity conservation and recovery—we believe such sites have an important role to play in improving our understanding of our marine environment. We also briefly outline the need for improved survey and data management to support the development of a protected area network.


  1.  Wildlife and Countryside Link (Link) brings together the UK's leading voluntary organisations united by their common interest in the conservation and enjoyment of the natural and historic environment. This submission is supported by the following Link members: Marine Conservation Society, RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), The Wildlife Trusts, WWF-UK, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, Buglife—the Invertebrate Conservation Trust, the Herpetological Conservation Trust, and Marine Connection.

  2.  Link has been campaigning for many years for comprehensive legislation to achieve better protection for marine wildlife and effective management of our seas. We were therefore delighted at the Government's commitment, in May 2004, to develop a draft Marine Bill. We have engaged closely with the development of the Bill so far, and await the Government's detailed proposals in the promised White Paper, due in March 2007. Link's key priority for the Bill is that it should provide new legislation for protection of marine wildlife, primarily through the designation of a representative network of Nationally Important Marine Sites (NIMS), including some that would be given the highest degree of protection, excluding all damaging human activities to ensure biodiversity conservation and recovery.

  3.  In submitting this brief response, we wish to address the final bullet point in the Committee's call for evidence, "use of marine sites of special scientific interest". In particular, we wish to highlight that Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) are a terrestrially-based designation, generally extending to the limit of local authority planning jurisdiction (which is usually Mean Low Water Mark), although a few existing sites extend beyond this limit. Adequate legislation to protect nationally important nature conservation areas (equivalent to SSSIs) at sea does not currently exist. We believe that NIMS and, in particular, highly protected sites, also have an important role beyond their primary purpose—that of biodiversity conservation and recovery—in enhancing our understanding of marine ecosystems and the pressures acting on them.

  4.  Link is calling for a comprehensive Marine Bill which provides a new framework for the sustainable management of human activities in the marine area in addition to specific provisions for nature conservation. We were pleased that Defra's consultation document on a Marine Bill (March-June 2006) touched upon all the key elements that Link has been campaigning for: managing marine fisheries, licensing marine activities, planning in the marine area, and improving marine nature conservation.

  5. A number of terms (and associated acronyms) are used in this response, in reference to different categories of marine protected area. "Marine Protected Area" or "MPA" is used as a generic term.


  6.  In the UK there are currently two types of MPA designation: national Marine Nature Reserves (MNRs) under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981), and European Marine Sites (EMSs)—the latter covers marine Special Areas of Conservation (mSACs) and marine Special Protection Areas (mSPAs), designated under the EU Habitats and Birds Directives respectively. Unfortunately, experience has shown that these tools alone cannot ensure the conservation of biodiversity and sustainable management of our seas.

  7.  Only three MNRs have been designated throughout UK waters in the last 25 years, in large part due to shortcomings in the relevant legislation and associated guidance (Link Marine Bill Bulletin 9—Marine Nature Reserves: Lessons we must learn). The Government recognised that this approach has not been successful in a 1998 Consultation (SSSI—Better Protection and Management. A DETR consultation).

  8.  EMSs can be designated to protect specified marine nature conservation features of European importance, but do not cover the full range of important marine features found throughout the UK and European seas. Link also has concerns about the level of protection afforded to EMSs in practice. In addition, the designation of EMSs in UK waters has not yet been completed. At present there is limited funding for marine biological surveys to be undertaken to inform the designation process, and legislation is still not in place to provide for designation of EMSs beyond territorial waters (12 nautical miles), in spite of EU member states' commitment to complete the marine Natura 2000 network by 2008.

  9.  As a Contracting Party to the OSPAR Convention for the protection of the marine environment of the North East Atlantic, the UK has committed to designate an ecologically coherent network of well-managed MPAs by 2010. Representative examples of all the broad marine habitat types should be included, as well as areas with exceptional biodiversity, rare, threatened or declining species, and aggregations of mobile species, otherwise "important" species, areas of ecological significance, and particularly sensitive and/or natural areas. The Government has recognised that new legislation is needed to enable it to fulfil this commitment.

  10.  Work was undertaken through the Irish Sea Pilot study conducted as part of the Government's Review of Marine Nature Conservation, and is ongoing through OSPAR on how to design an "ecologically coherent network" of MPAs. Within such networks MPAs should be mutually supporting, ie populations of species in one area should be capable of supporting, and be supported by, populations in other areas, and all features should be represented at a number of sites. A particular challenge will be designing both individual MPAs and networks that can be responsive to the changes that are brought by climate change. This would mean, for example, protecting site features that move inshore or north as sea levels rise and temperatures increase.


  11.  Through the recent Consultation on a Marine Bill (March-June 2006) and subsequently, Defra has set out its commitment to developing legislation for a new system of MPAs to protect nationally important marine biodiversity and to allow the Government to meet its commitment under OSPAR. Link supported the list of functions of these MPAs set out in the Marine Bill Consultation (Defra 2006):

    (a)  protecting areas of threatened species and habitats to help ensure that biodiversity is not lost as a result of widespread damaging activities;

    (b)  protecting areas of representative species and habitats to help ensure that they do not become threatened as a result of human activities; and

    (c)  providing some relatively unaffected areas of high biodiversity value to support the structure and functioning of the wider marine ecosystem.

  12.  We are anxious that this new legislation should avoid shortcomings apparent in the protection of both MNRs and EMSs and will continue to engage with Defra as further detail of their proposals emerges through the proposed White Paper. In particular, we believe that the new MPA legislation must allow some sites to be designated as highly protected—that is, areas where all damaging activities are excluded.

  13.  These highly protected marine areas would essentially provide breathing space for marine habitats and wildlife to exist in conditions that are as near to the unexploited state as possible, helping to maintain biodiversity-rich areas, or allowing biodiversity to recover at previously impacted sites. Zones given this high degree of protection within NIMS, for example, could be an important tool in the achievement of conservation objectives. As part of a coherent network of MPAs, highly protected zones or sites will help to support the wider marine ecosystem, buffering or moderating the effects of human activities outside the network and increasing the resilience of marine ecosystems, for example in the face of climate change. They have been recommended as a means of underpinning conservation and protection of marine ecosystems, for example by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution.

  14.  Highly protected sites have been proven to aid recovery of threatened biodiversity and biomass in tropical and temperate marine habitats, and have also proved important as areas of scientific study (eg Scientific consensus statement on marine reserves and protected areas, NCEAS, 2001). The only currently highly protected area in English waters—the Lundy Island Fisheries No Take Zone—was set up in 2003. After only 18 months, three times more lobsters of landable size were found in the No Take Zone compared to fished areas. This difference was highly significant and was repeated the following year (

  15.  Monitoring and scientific study of marine protected areas, particularly highly protected areas, would enable us to improve our understanding of marine biodiversity and ecosystems. Further, these highly protected sites could be used as reference (or control) areas for study of how various pressures impact on marine biodiversity, and thus help to inform regulatory decisions in the longer term. They would also allow information to be gathered about environmental changes, such as those linked to climate change, identified by the UK administrations' Charting Progress report as one of the two greatest threats to the marine environment, the other being fisheries (Defra 2005). However, it would be important to ensure that any scientific research beyond monitoring of the status of an MPA was agreed as part of the MPA designation and management process, and did not impact negatively on the site.


  16.  The UKSeaMap project ( undertook broad scale habitat mapping for the whole of the UK marine area based on the concept of using seabed geology and sediment types to determine marine landscapes, and as such provides an important information source to help guide the identification of important seabed habitat types that may qualify as MPAs. However, precise knowledge of the distribution of marine habitats and species at the finer scale is much less comprehensive. In many cases, the provision of new or up to date scientific information has depended to a large extent on the data collection exercises undertaken for the Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) prepared on behalf of developers, or Strategic Environmental Assessments undertaken on behalf of government departments. For example, investigations linked to proposals for development of wind farms have discovered internationally important aggregations of seabirds, with significant implications for the licensing process. MPAs should provide the backbone of a marine spatial planning system, representing important information about the environment for marine industries targeting locations for development.

  17.  Resources are needed for a much more systematic survey approach, to build on the broad scale data already available, gathering the full range of necessary data and information about seabed habitats and associated species as well as aggregations of species such as fish and marine mammals and those species that depend on the sea for survival such as seabirds. The Marine Nature Conservation Review finished prematurely in 1998 and initiating new surveys to continue this work would enable gaps in marine wildlife data to be filled. We are pleased that government has committed to filling in marine biological data gaps in the establishment of the Data Archive for Seabed Species and Habitats ( There is a need to ensure that all relevant scientific data is made available to support the development of MPA networks and Marine Spatial Plans, and regulatory decisions taken within the context of these plans. A new "Marine Management Organisation", expected to be introduced through the Marine Bill, could have a leading role in data collation and management, and advising on science requirements to underpin policy and management.

  18.  Link is happy to provide further information on any of the points highlighted above, and has a range of Marine Bill Bulletins that cover specific issues regarding our views on the need and benefits of site protection in the marine area.

January 2007

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