Science and Technology Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 727

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Science and Technology Committee

on Wednesday 28 November 2012

Members present:

Andrew Miller (Chair)

Jim Dowd

Stephen Metcalfe

Stephen Mosley

Pamela Nash

Sarah Newton

Graham Stringer

Hywel Williams

Roger Williams


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Joan Edwards, Head of Living Seas, Wildlife Trusts, Alec Taylor, Marine Policy Officer, RSPB, and Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, Senior Policy Officer, Marine Conservation Society, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: Good morning. Can I welcome you to our session this morning? It would be helpful, just for the record, if you would be kind enough to introduce yourselves.

Joan Edwards: I am Joan Edwards from the Wildlife Trusts.

Alec Taylor: I am Alec Taylor from the RSPB.

Dr Solandt: I am JeanLuc Solandt from the Marine Conservation Society.

Q2 Chair: Thank you very much. The recommendations for marine conservation sites, we are told, are based on scientific evidence. Are you satisfied that that evidence is strong enough?

Joan Edwards: Perhaps we ought to take a step back from getting into the detail of the science. The Marine and Coastal Access Act set about the creation of an ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas, including marine conservation zones, based on best available information. One of the issues we have always been concerned about is that, with the marine environment, you can’t always know exactly what is there in exactly the right place. The level of information is always lower than perhaps you have on land, but we know that the marine environment is deteriorating. On an annual basis there are reports saying that there is more damage happening. Generally, we feel that there is enough evidence of damage. We have international requirements to set up a coherent network of marine protected areas and we have to do it now based on what we know. We could spend another 20 years gathering information. The point is, as we said, that the Act said, "Establish a network but establish it on best available information."

Alec Taylor: Yes. I think "best available" is exactly what the MCZ process was set out to use. It is a very different process from that which is used for designating European marine sites, which is very much a topdown, scienceled process. The marine conservation zone process is a stakeholderled, consensusbased project using a vast range of both ecological and socioeconomic evidence. It could only reasonably expect to be able to use the best available evidence at the time in order to select its sites. Natural England and JNCC both agree that that is what happened, that the regional projects did use the best available evidence and there is no reason now to delay the designation of the network.

Dr Solandt: To add to that, in 2009 we sat in a similar situation asking ourselves as a society whether we wanted to have more healthy and more productive seas. The Government’s advice from their own scientific studies, through the "Charting Progress" reports, shows evidence as to decline, particularly from habitats that are affected by bottomtrawl fisheries in the wider seas. We have come through an incredibly indepth process involving possibly 6,000 indepth interviews with stakeholders, which has used the scientific information that is currently available to designate sites. This is as much scienceled as it is stakeholderled to achieve consensus and good management. The European marine sites process is top-down and, by European decree, has to protect the best features, but this was allowing stakeholders to a large degree to look at where sites might be set up. So we are in a process that is very different from a purely scientific process here.

Q3 Chair: Is there not a danger that people who are not so convinced of the argument are going to say to you, "Hang on a minute, there is only a high level of confidence in the Natural England report for 41% of the features"? There must be gaps in the evidence base. How do we fill those and ensure that there is widespread acceptance of the quality of the data?

Joan Edwards: Perhaps I can answer two things there. First, we work with a lot of sea users. In fact, we have just agreed a statement with the sea users development group where they say they would like all 127 marine conservation zones designated as soon as possible because they want certainty. Industry doesn’t like this ongoing consultation. I remember giving evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee-possibly 11 years ago-when I sat with the sea users group and we talked about having marine protected areas. They took part in the whole of the regional network projects for about four years, and then we had another delay from November last year when the Minister said that we must gather more information. So it has been another year.

Industry is saying, "We want to know where the 127 are and we want to know how they are going to be managed. Therefore we can get on with our jobs." That is a very strong message. It is not just the conservationists who are saying, "Get on with the job"; industry is saying that as well because it wants certainty.

Q4 Chair: You are saying it is not important that the gaps are filled in the evidence.

Joan Edwards: No. We should always collect data on the marine environment, but it should not stop us designating marine protected areas.

Dr Solandt: Can I add a bit of qualification to that? Where you are seeing the evidence of high to moderate confidence is for the features that are much more widespread, such as the sedimentary habitats. Where the evidence is possibly lacking, in some of the more offshore rocky habitats, there is still, on an area basis, a large degree of confidence that those sites have mostly a sedimentary habitat base. Even though there might be some discretion between the high, moderate and low confidence, we can be certain that a lot of the sites will be known in terms of their habitat composition in the majority of their area.

Q5 Chair: In the written evidence of both the RSPB and the Marine Conservation Society, you talked about a lack of investment in marine science and data collection. How much further investment is needed and where do you think this should come from?

Alec Taylor: We have made the call consistently, even before the marine conservation zone process started, that there has been a significant underinvestment in marine data collection. That has caused delays not just in selecting marine protected areas but also in getting appropriate developments in the marine environment.

Q6 Chair: Is it the lack of data being collected or the lack of availability of data?

Alec Taylor: I think both are reasonable issues. We have to address both issues. In my opinion there are three stages to this process of acquiring better quality information. First of all, we have to make the best use of what we have at the moment. We have to better integrate the information that is collected in order to identify where the gaps are.

Q7 Chair: As an example, I have had a complaint about data not being made available from some wind farms on the grounds that it is "commercial in confidence". Given that we have licensed the wind farms and the direction of the wind is not exactly a secret, the idea that that is "commercial in confidence" seems a bit crass, doesn’t it?

Alec Taylor: I would have to agree with you. The work that developers are doing in collecting vast amounts of very important data inside their zones, both pre and post-construction monitoring, is highly relevant to much more than just the developments themselves. It can be used for a whole range of different applications.

Dr Solandt: The difference between September 2011-when we had the Science Advisory Panel’s report saying there is further evidence out there-and, hopefully, the time the consultation is released is that there has a datamining exercise that pulls some of these databases together. At every single conference I go to on data in the marine environment people say, "Can’t we publicly access data even with commercial contracts after a given period, after publication?" It would be good for the future of governance of the UK marine environment if we had policies based on the public availability of data that were commercially of interest at the time of development. That may be something at which we should look at a higher Government level.

Joan Edwards: We have recently taken part in the habitats regulations review, which started at the beginning of this year. The marine evidence group of that review has made a recommendation to DEFRA that, in future, data should be made publicly available when public money is paid for licensing. I understand the Crown Estate is now going to make that a condition of licence. In future, if a wind farm does gather data, those data will have to be made public.

Q8 Stephen Metcalfe: Good morning. There is no doubt that the designation of marine conservation zones has the potential to have a huge impact on the access and use of our coastal waters. Why do you think the Minister moved away from saying that he just wanted the best available evidence to more robust scientific evidence? Could you define what the difference is between those two technically?

Dr Solandt: We started the stakeholder process with "best available information", which means the information that is to hand that is being mapped. I was involved in all 12 meetings in the "Balanced Seas" process where we were offered that data on a screen to show the layers of habitats on the seabed, and then we could find out by drawing polygons around the sites how much we were achieving of our targets to protect a representative portion of the UK seas. That used the REC data that was available to the project at the time, which was Government policy, which we all understood was not necessarily the most robust data set. Halfway through the period of the project there was a challenge to the designation of some European marine sites, particularly in the south-west, which resulted in a Government review of the scientific process and evidence required to set up European marine sites. That process, we feel, has affected the policy of how marine conservation zones are designated and set up, which is a much more stakeholder and bottomup-driven process.

We feel that Government policy has moved away from one process, and we are potentially going to lose sites-though I hope not-that have a lot more stakeholder involvement and buyin but which might lack a bit more of the scientific rigour, because of a change in policy based on a completely different process. European marine sites have a much more stringent scientific process. We are concerned about that and hope we will still see a significant network.

Joan Edwards: I totally agree with J-L. We were very concerned that basically the goalposts were changed just as the regional stakeholder projects were about to complete. We had gone through three years of consultation with over 1 million stakeholders using "best available information", then suddenly, out of the blue, a document was published that basically said, "We need better evidence". But we have had better evidence since then, because last November the Minister made a statement that he felt there was some evidence lacking and the Government were able to spend £5.5 million on extra surveys and extra desk studies. All of that work, we believe, has now reported into DEFRA and hopefully will be part of the consultation. In terms of marine science, £5.5 million is a lot of money.

Q9 Stephen Metcalfe: You think that has improved the evidence base considerably, or has the potential to.

Joan Edwards: We have not seen the reports or the data, but we have spoken first-hand to some of the people who took part in the surveys and we do know that they were able to find significant evidence of the features that they were looking for.

Q10 Stephen Metcalfe: What is the role of the Science Advisory Panel in this new work that is being done?

Joan Edwards: The Science Advisory Panel stopped meeting and working at the end of the regional stakeholder projects. They were independent, very influential and very experienced marine scientists, and they were set up to ensure that the Ecological Network Guidance that was published at the beginning of the projects was adhered to and implemented. At the end of the regional projects they looked at the regional project recommendations and made comments on that as part of the process. The most important conclusion that they came to was that, to reach ecological coherence, all 127 marine conservation zones should be designated.

Q11 Stephen Metcalfe: You said, I think, in your opening answer to the Chairman that there is increased evidence of damage. Is that evidence that is based on best available data or is it based on robust science? Or is it one of each?

Joan Edwards: It is probably one of each. When Natural England and JNCC made their recommendations in July this year, they suggested that 59 of the 127 marine conservation zones were at risk. We do actually have evidence of one of those sites being damaged last winter by scallop dredging in the North sea. We had actual evidence for one site. That is from the Wildlife Trusts, but obviously the statutory nature conservation body is suggesting that, of the 127, 59 are at risk at the moment.

Q12 Hywel Williams: Can I first declare an interest in that I am a member of Ymddiriedolaeth Ynys Enlli, which is the Bardsey Island Trust and is outside the subject of our discussion today because it is Wales and MCZs are subject to the Welsh Assembly?

Can I ask you about the scrutiny of the socioeconomic evidence for and against selecting the sites during the regional projects? Was the scrutiny sufficient or could it have been done differently?

Alec Taylor: In our view, there were certainly cases where the socioeconomic evidence was not given the same level of scrutiny or did not require the same burden of proof as the ecological evidence. There was also the issue of how the socioeconomic evidence was used in the selection of the sites themselves.

Throughout the progress of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill, the principle of using socioeconomic evidence was that it should be used to distinguish between sites of equal ecological importance and only when ecological network requirements had been met. We feel that in some cases the socioeconomic evidence, which we fully support being used as part of the process, was given a high level of influence in the selection of the boundaries themselves. As a result, we have some sites that are either not in the most ecologically important areas or have been reduced, clipped or changed as a result of the socioeconomic considerations. In terms of the scrutiny of that evidence in relation to the ecological evidence, we would only ask that the two are consistent. In some cases we would probably say that the socioeconomic evidence was largely taken without the same level of rigour as the environmental evidence.

Dr Solandt: For example, if I could follow on with that, with some of the sites I know of, I spoke to fishing interest groups. I spoke to Nick Prust in the south-west and discussed some of the sites in the nearshore waters of Cornwall. North Cornwall was not acceptable to his interest group, nor was south of Falmouth. Those were reduced hugely in size and scale because of his interest. We tried to get a site, because of a reef chalk feature, just south-east of Brighton and lobbied long and hard because we had a huge amount of diving data from our diving projects, but that did not get through the process, even though there was very good ecological knowledge. There were other sites in the North sea that were broken up because of cable laying and other commercial interests.

This is not necessarily a criticism of the process. This is the strength of the process in many ways. We had the opportunity to allow these stakeholders to say, "This will really affect our livelihoods." We can still use this flexible mechanism, this Ecological Network Guidance, to achieve our coherency, which is Government policy. We really hope that these sites go forward, because they have had this very strong process of acceptance.

Q13 Hywel Williams: In my own local experience, an area that has been hugely damaged by scallop fishing was excluded because of that commercial interest, and an area where there is sustainable lobster potting-entirely sustainable, and it has been so for many hundreds of years-is actually in. It seems crazy as far as I am concerned.

Alec Taylor: It is fair to say that a lot of the burden has fallen on more sustainable local industries at the expense of potentially more damaging commercial activities.

Q14 Hywel Williams: If the burden of proof had been higher, would that have affected stakeholder involvement, do you think? Would people have been more wary of involvement?

Dr Solandt: I think so; I think they might well have. If they were asked to come to the table with much more stringent data sets, perhaps they would have, and it would have been more difficult to acquire those data sets. Of course, it is of commercial interest for those individuals not to reveal publicly where they might fish, because they know the best grounds, but it could be done through a third party. There was an attempt by one or two of the projects to try and get a very good secure database on fishing activities, particularly in Cornwall, but that evidence was withheld from the project at the last minute because of the fear that it might be used against the fishing industry in that area, which is a shame. But, in saying that, I was impressed-given the difficulties with the process-that people remained around the table. That was to the credit of the staff running this process. They were extraordinary. The amount of work they put in and how they attempted to resolve differences was incredibly professional and a difficult jump.

Q15 Hywel Williams: Should the socioeconomic evidence have been scrutinised by the Science Advisory Panel?

Joan Edwards: That would be difficult because the members of the SAP were marine scientists. Perhaps another panel of a different group of people should have scrutinised it. One of the problems is particularly with, say, "Finding Sanctuary", which was a project around the south-west area. Four people were employed to go and interview fishermen to produce a thing called "the fish map". If you go to a fisherman and you say, "Where do you fish?", and you say, "By the way, we are going to decide where marine protected areas are", then of course they are going to say, "I fish everywhere." They spent a lot of money trying to gather information, but the fishermen were worried, and I am not surprised. Fishermen are up against the wall with all the different restrictions and the fact that they are overfishing. That should have been scrutinised by somebody who understood that industry. I don’t think the SAP would be the right people to do that.

Q16 Hywel Williams: Can I make one more comment, Chair? It is a tiny example, but the conservation interest is not always monolithic. For example, with the island that I am interested in, the boatman for the trust is also the local fisherman. If he can’t fish, it is not economically sustainable for him to be the boatman as well, so the conservation interests on land might be threatened by conservation interests in the sea. I don’t know if you want to comment on that, or I will leave that hanging before you, if you like.

Joan Edwards: The Welsh issue has been very sensitive. I hope the Welsh NGOs have now come to some agreement that perhaps the process that was established in Wales was not the right one. We are definitely not about putting small local potters out of business. Our whole role is to try and get a healthy marine environment, which means stopping the most damaging activities, which is not dog walking, building sandcastles or potting.

Dr Solandt: And that is from the conservation sector, remember.

Q17 Graham Stringer: You have answered a lot of my questions. You gave three examples of sites that had been screened out because of socioeconomic interest. How many others were there? Is there a comprehensive list? Can you give us some?

Dr Solandt: I thought I had given enough examples to illustrate the point. However-

Q18 Graham Stringer: You did. I am just interested in magnitude.

Joan Edwards: It is quite difficult. What happened with the projects was that they started with a map of very broadscale habitats and went through four iterations. They went through four mapping exercises. At each exercise they involved the stakeholders and looked at the science, and the areas got smaller and smaller until the point where we agreed that they fit with implementing the Ecological Network Guidance but they also fit with keeping all the stakeholders at the table and keeping them happy. It is very difficult to say what we started with and what we ended up with because it was a very iterative process. There were one or two sites we lost that we might feel should be brought back, but, to be honest, as Jean-Luc was saying earlier, the most important thing is that we believe we have an ecological coherent network with our marine conservation zones and European marine sites. What is most important is that 1 million people want those 127 sites. They took part in the process. That is unique. I don’t think that sort of project has been carried out anywhere else in the world.

Q19 Graham Stringer: I am still slightly puzzled that these sites were screened out early on and that they have ecological value, and yet you are saying that there is coherence in the totality of the schemes being put forward. Has not the extraction of these different sites damaged the overall projects?

Dr Solandt: For example, our organisations would come to the table with sites that we knew about. We run diving projects, which gather and provide it to Government advisers. We also viewed the data, as every other stakeholder did, and saw information on, perhaps where there were more data points per unit area. That doesn’t negate the importance of the other sites that have been set up. They are maybe in the position of having slightly lesser information, but they are of a similar habitat type. That is the key. The key to this guidance was ensuring that there was a part of every sort of habitat protected, much as we do on land where we protect meadow, woodland, upland and hinterland. Those sorts of measures have been adopted in this process. Ensuring that we have something of everything protected is the key to success of this network.

Joan Edwards: Another way of looking at it is that at iteration 1 you might have had three areas of pebbly sand. By iteration 4 you had one area of pebbly sand, which meant that you met ecological coherence, but as to that bit of pebbly sand everybody agreed, "We are happy for that to be a marine conservation zone", whereas perhaps with the other two somebody wanted to do something else there, such as lay a cable or go potting or suchlike.

Q20 Graham Stringer: Were there any safeguards in place to ensure that extractive stakeholders did not over-influence the process?

Dr Solandt: No, not to my knowledge.

Q21 Graham Stringer: Does that mean they did over-influence it?

Dr Solandt: One of the key statements of the Science Advisory Panel was that they were seeing measures where some sites that they thought were nobrainers didn’t go into the network, but in many cases we did get some sites that were acceptable to both parties. There were key difficult discussions over some sites where the conservation sector and the Government advisers might have had better information, but they tended to be in the minority. We got through this process incredibly well, given the fact that we had to achieve it on a very large area of the UK seas. Again, this is different from what I was saying earlier about the European marine sites process, which is a scienceled process where we really are using scientific information for the designation. This is much broader than that and has allowed for an acceptance by stakeholders. Moving forward, we should get better-managed marine protected areas out of this.

Q22 Chair: Are there any areas, following on from that, where there still remains controversy between members of the SAP and the extraction industry?

Dr Solandt: I don’t know off-hand, I am afraid.

Q23 Chair: Were these disagreements documented?

Dr Solandt: Yes. There was always a public record of every single meeting.

Q24 Chair: It would be helpful if you could direct us to those.

Dr Solandt: Yes. It might take you quite a long time to go through the documents because there were perhaps 6,000 interviews. It depends on how far you want to go into it. The decision makers in the process were 160 people, even though those 160 were informed by local groups. This is why the figure of 1 million has been espoused, and obviously we are representing others. There were 160 people divided into four-so four groups of about 40 individuals-who were meeting 12 times to give information on what they were happy or not happy with. It is a difficult process to think of doing for every site, but I think you could probably get information on which sites were more contentious than others.

Q25 Pamela Nash: I am sure the clerks will be delighted that you have given them that level of homework to do this weekend.

I want to move on to stakeholder engagement. In your experience, what is your perception of communities that are local to the conservation zones? How happy are they with the fact that they are living near them?

Joan Edwards: It differs, to be honest, around the country. The 40 people whom JeanLuc was talking about were 40 representatives of large groups of people. For example, if a Wildlife Trusts person was at one of those meetings, they were representing 800,000 people. I am sure for the RSPB it is about 1 million.

Alec Taylor: Yes.

Joan Edwards: Through our own channels we were engaging with the local communities. The fishermen were there on behalf of their local communities. A lot of local communities were represented on the groups. I think we have seen reactions to some of the marine conservation zones, but, to be honest, it is normally based on misinformation. Quite often you get one individual who is not very happy about a site that might be close to where they live or work, and the next minute it becomes national news. That is what we found. Often, when you dig down to try and find out what the problem is, they will say, "We won’t be able to walk our dogs, walk along the coast or be able to sail. We won’t be able to do that." We have to say, "That is not what this process is all about. It is not about stopping people doing things. It is about stopping damaging activities." Often, there is a technical way of getting round issues, something simple like a mooring buoy in yachting races in a marine conservation zone, which is quite normal anywhere else in the world. It is just that we don’t do it here.

Alec Taylor: I would echo what Joan has said. We had some very good relationships with a range of different stakeholders through the MCZ process, from boat operators to surfers and all sorts of people. I think the way that the MCZ process was communicated could have been improved, for instance in Wales. It has led to some strong backlash in certain areas, which has overshadowed the wider public support for marine protection that is evident and has been evident for years. We know that a large percentage of the public recognise that our seas are in a very perilous state and that marine protection is needed. We managed, as the RSPB, to work very closely with boat operators down in the south-west, for example, to get an MCZ in the Torbay area, and that was led by them. We supported that process. It is very much a consensual thing. It is something that I think the stakeholder process can be quite proud of.

Dr Solandt: I don’t have much further to add other than the fact that, having sat through those meetings, when you get them together, the majority of people are reasonable in life, aren’t they? That was the strength of that process because it allowed 40 individuals who might have been talking to each other through their various communication channels-which might be Fishing News or Marine Conservation magazine-to come together all of a sudden. The majority of individuals are reasonable and want to find a consensus and a middle ground from which they can operate, but also understand that the implications of some of their activities are damaging to some of these seabed features. That is what we achieved more than any other process, possibly internationally. It is an excellent process. I do not think more could be done on a reasonable basis by Government in this process to deliver something that is accepted by stakeholders.

Q26 Pamela Nash: That is quite different from what your colleagues are saying. The issue that you both raise is more about perception rather than the actual effect on people’s lives in the zones. In that case, do either of you think that more could have been done to communicate the objectives of the zones or indeed the evidence for the zones to be there in the first place?

Joan Edwards: A lot more could have been done. Even now, if you go on to the DEFRA website, it is very difficult to find out where and what marine conservation zones are and what they are trying to achieve. There has not been enough information put out. You are right in that what is interesting is that those people whose livelihoods were going to be affected were at the table and it wasn’t comfortable. We did come to agreement at the end, but at the very beginning some of those meetings were quite difficult because there were boat operators, fishermen, the Crown Estate, offshore wind, aggregates and the oil industry and a couple of conservationists. The first couple of meetings were very difficult, but we all knew we wanted to get something out of this process. They didn’t want to lose their livelihoods or not be able to access certain parts of the sea, and we wanted conservation areas. The people who seem to be objecting now are those who weren’t at the table, and it wasn’t because they couldn’t be at the table. Some sectors chose not to be at the table. They are the ones that have been quite noisy about it. You sort of feel, "You didn’t want to be part of the process. You don’t want it and you are just shouting about it now." We can’t work like that. That is not how this country works. We have to find a compromise.

Q27 Chair: When you say "some sectors", is this generally across the country or in particular geographical areas?

Joan Edwards: Some of them are very geographical, so small communities of, say, boat operators and some of the ports didn’t engage as well.

Q28 Chair: Some ports. Can you give an example?

Joan Edwards: One very close to here.

Q29 Chair: So the port of London didn’t engage.

Joan Edwards: No. We tried to engage with them throughout the process and we had several meetings with them to try and explain to them that we weren’t going to shut the Thames down to shipping, but they objected all the way along.

Q30 Chair: Your position would be that it’s tough if they don’t like the outcome.

Joan Edwards: Yes.

Q31 Pamela Nash: As politicians, we all have experience of either planning applications or a variety of different public consultations. It is a constant difficulty to get everyone involved who should be involved, and there is always someone who is very loud after the event. Do any of you have any ideas on how we can fix this and how we can reach out more to the communities that will be affected by the zones? Also, Joan, you mentioned DEFRA. Is it a responsibility of DEFRA in this case or is there any other stakeholder that should be taking responsibility?

Joan Edwards: It would be very easy to turn round and say, "DEFRA do the job", but DEFRA is based here and in Bristol. They don’t work out there on the ground. Once we know where the marine conservation zones are, so we have some certainty, then all of us will have a role to play. We are based locally and so are other conservation organisations. We and Natural England, the Environment Agency and the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities. We all have a role to play, and it is important that we work together and make people aware that these are not bad things; they are good things because we all need a healthy marine environment.

Alec Taylor: I absolutely agree. We have done some work. The Wildlife Trusts has done a considerable amount of work in its "Friends of MCZs" campaign, which highlights the reasons why we need these sites. The communication of quite technical detail and language into important messages for local communities is absolutely essential and something that does not quite come across so easily in the technical nature of the MCZ consultation process. It needs an extra layer of translation, if you will, to push the case for these protected areas or why we are fighting for them in the first place.

Dr Solandt: Clarity in the measures that will be implemented is needed. People will see lines on maps but want to know what happens in them. When we get clarity in the measures, then we can have a really decent conversation with stakeholders at the local level. Some sites are going to be difficult to anchor in, perhaps on very vulnerable habitat, but there might be adjacent sites where you can have anchoring, which will appease a stakeholder who says, "I can’t anchor anywhere", and we can say, "Hold on a minute. We can have that conversation." These conversations are very difficult when you put the lines on the map, so having the people there in the room who are going to be living with that line on that map is what you want, but you can’t do that with 40 people. You can do it as best you can to communicate that through the process.

Going forward, the best way of dealing with it, when the lines are on the maps and the managed measures are starting to be implemented, is to create groups in the regions as much as we can sensibly arrange those groups to take place. They already do in some European marine sites and they are very effective. There are advisory committees and statutory committees that meet in some, such as the Falmouth one. Those are excellent forums for getting those concerns voiced. Hopefully, there will be similar arrangements after these MCZs are set up.

Q32 Pamela Nash: To be clear, are those arranged and organised by the Government, the public sector, or are they civil society organisations?

Dr Solandt: I think it is a variety.

Q33 Hywel Williams: At the other end of the scale from the port of London, the boatman I referred to earlier on-Colin Evans-is a boatman and fisherman, but he is a determined conservationist as well. When we looked at the consultation documents there was quite a lot of information about muds, sands, clams and seaweeds, but on the socioeconomic data it was "To be consulted on", essentially; there were lots of blanks. It is instructive to mine into the process of consultation to this level because that is how it was perceived by very local people. It is not 40 people representing 1 million fishermen, or whatever, but individual people who are going out with their pots in the morning. That is just a comment and I don’t know if you want to respond to it.

Joan Edwards: You have to imagine with this process that it is very different from Wales. It is not top-down; this is bottom-up. Fishermen had the opportunity to say which areas were important to them, so a lot of those data were collected.

One of the things that didn’t quite work with our process was the impact assessment. As part of the legislation, an impact assessment has to be carried out. The impact assessment that has been carried out for marine conservation zones-it has not been published but we have seen several drafts, unfortunately they-only looked at the impacts on people and industry. It does not look at the benefits of marine protected areas. We think that is ludicrous because we are establishing these MPAs for a really good reason. We believe this will help bring back our marine environment into a healthy state, and that should be good for fishermen and other people. But, at the moment, the impact assessment does not seem to be looking at the benefits. We have done some work with Plymouth university; we have looked at four individual marine conservation zones and tried to calculate the actual benefit to the local people in terms of tourism, spawning, potters and so on, to try and show the other side-that this is a good thing; it is not just bad.

Q34 Sarah Newton: Before I ask my question-which is really for the RSPB-I want to pick up on the communication point, because we have not mentioned media. I representing an area that my family have been in for generations, the media were one of the contentious issues about the reference site. Most people care deeply about the natural environment; I don’t know anybody in the estuary who doesn’t. But, of course, once you start communicating, you run into the media. What do the media love? They love to frame this as "industry and the economy versus conservation". Nobody-myself included-would see it like that. Try as you might to speak to the media, everybody will be very moderate, but it will definitely come out as somebody with an extreme view about, "Shoot every seagull." There might be one person who thinks that, and they will be the one quoted. Then there will be the one at the other end of the spectrum saying, "Every piece of economic activity should stop in the port of Falmouth because our habitats are important." That is how the debate is framed. I do not think any of us have the answer as to how to control the media so that they report these types of issues in a sensible way. That was just a comment.

My question really is as to mobile species like birds, because we have talked very much about the seabed features so far. Do you think that their protection and concerns for them have been taken enough into consideration in the designation of the zones?

Alec Taylor: My answer, in an honest capacity, would be no. We do not think that mobile species-that is to say, groups such as sea birds and marine mammals, which are keystone parts of the food web and indicators of healthy marine environments in general- have been adequately considered in the MCZ process. That stems right back to the start of the process with the Government policy, which was carried through to the Ecological Network Guidance, that mobile species should not be considered in the MCZ process unless there were exceptional circumstances.

We would take issue with that as the RSPB, and I am sure others would feel the same way about other mobile species. The fact that we have six sites included with sea birds as features in the context of that guidance is a tribute to the hard work of our regional staff and also other stakeholders. But, in my opinion, if you ask me as a member and employee of the RSPB whether I am satisfied with national designation processes around the UK, which pretty much ignore sea birds, in combination with the delays in designating a coherent network of European marine sites for mobile species, I would have to say no. However, that does not in any way undermine the fact that we have a network of sites that does meet the other requirements of the Ecological Network Guidance and has used the best available evidence. My comment is not designed to undermine the need to designate what the regional projects have put forward, but it is a start. More work is needed to ensure that mobile species are better represented by a coherent network of marine protected areas in general.

Q35 Sarah Newton: So you are helping me answer the next question, which is whether you believe that additional requirements will be needed above and beyond the EU habitats and birds directives to look again at mobile species all around the UK.

Alec Taylor: Yes. To take an example, the EU birds directive would not cover marine areas adjacent to terrestrial sites of special scientific interest. There are breeding colonies of sea birds that are protected by SSSIs, the adjacent waters to which would not be covered by the birds directive. There are also some species, in particular the black guillemot, which are not covered by the birds directive and which we do have an MCZ for on the Cumbria coast. So it is a tiered process. In the same way that SSSIs complement the network of European sites on land, we need that same level of buffered approach in the marine environment.

Q36 Roger Williams: I think we could all agree that a bottomup approach is better than a top-down approach, but, talking about the top, could you tell us what the Marine Management Organisation’s involvement has been in this process and how successful you think that has been?

Joan Edwards: The MMO is obviously a very new body. It is a regulatory body, so although it took part in the regional projects, it did not have a legal role. It basically took part as an observer so that it had in mind what the process had been. The MMO will only be able to get involved in marine conservation zones once they are put forward as recommended marine conservation zones by Government. Once we get a consultation at the middle of next month, then, if the Secretary of State is minded to say that a number of marine conservation zones are preferred as possible for designation, they will become real. At that point the MMO will be responsible and if damage is occurring to any of those recommended marine conservation zones, the MMO can bring in emergency byelaws. Obviously, once they have been designated, the MMO is then in a position to regulate them and will have to bring in management plans that fit with the conservation objectives.

Q37 Roger Williams: Do you think that not involving it at all until the designation has been completed is the best way of involving the MMO?

Alec Taylor: The MMO was part of the projects. It came along to the meetings. We had, generally, quite a positive relationship with it and it was mindful of its responsibilities in relation to marine spatial planning, for instance. It obviously has a huge responsibility going forward in the management of these marine conservation zones. That is not to say that it was not involved in the process, but, yes, it was almost a "getting to know you" phase as it was so new off the back of the Marine and Coastal Access Act. It was one stakeholder in the process. We had a generally positive relationship with the MMO.

Q38 Roger Williams: Have you had any discussions with it about possible management schemes for the designated areas?

Alec Taylor: Not directly. Those discussions have tended to be with the MMO and the statutory nature conservation bodies, so we-

Q39 Roger Williams: We are talking about the MMO here.

Alec Taylor: As the RSPB, no, not directly.

Dr Solandt: We have had good discussions with them on how European marine sites will be regulated and managed in terms of division of responsibilities between the MMO, their jurisdictions and the inshore fisheries and conservation authorities; and outside 12 nautical miles as well. We have had very good discussions with them about understanding who is going to be responsible for what.

Q40 Roger Williams: It has been suggested to me that these designations could be compared to the creation of marine national parks in the same way that terrestrial national parks have been designated. Do you agree with that or is there a better comparison?

Joan Edwards: I don’t think you could compare them to national parks. You could possibly compare them to SSSIs at sea. National parks are more about access as well as landscape-scale-type conservation. Marine conservation zones are very small. They are not large areas. We need to establish the conservation objectives and that will be the next stage. We need to get the number of marine conservation zones that are going to go forward. We then need to look at their features, look at what conservation objectives are required, and then, probably site by site, we need to work with the regulator-which, beyond 12 miles, will probably be with the European Commission as well as the MMO-and look at what management measures need to be taken or put into place to ensure that we actually get recovery.

Q41 Stephen Mosley: Following on from that, as to what happens going forward, there seem to be quite a number of things that still need to be done. Do you think that the proposals that we have outlined at the moment for the 127 sites would provide an ecologically coherent network of conservation areas around the seas?

Dr Solandt: The network that has been established says 127 on the box but it could say another number. What we were offered at the beginning of the process was guidance on how we would achieve a coherent network. It could have been perhaps many fewer but larger sites or it could have been many more but smaller sites set up. The number is almost arbitrary. It is the result of achieving protection for all those different sorts of seabed habitat I talked about earlier but also the rare, threatened and declining species of both national and European importance.

The Science Advisory Panel, which reviewed this network in its entirety, said that it meets the rules to achieve issues such as viability. Are the sites big enough and the boundaries wide enough to protect the features and allow them to grow and replenish? Are there sites of a similar nature close enough to ensure that there is larval and adult supply and exchange of material between those sites? Is there enough replication of a similar habitat in a biogeographical zone? These sorts of rules allow us to sense that a network and ecological coherency are being achieved. We are very confident, as are the Science Advisory Panel, that this exciting opportunity will deliver that Government policy, which will result in a more productive and healthier marine environment.

Q42 Stephen Mosley: Within the Wildlife Trusts’ evidence you talk about the process being delayed. From what you have just said to the previous question, there is still quite a bit that needs to be done. Could you give some reasons for this delay and your thoughts on it?

Joan Edwards: Basically, we expected the network of marine conservation zones to be designated in July 2012. The delay was announced by the Minister, Richard Benyon, in November 2011. He said that they were concerned about the lack of evidence and we were told that the consultation would be delayed until December 2012, which we are waiting for now. At the time it seemed a shame because we had been waiting for so long, but, with hindsight, we have had another year of gathering information and we were very fortunate that the Government were able to find £5.5 million to pay for extra survey work.

I think now we have reached the point where we have been talking about this for an awfully long time. There is report after report saying that our marine environment is being degraded. We need a healthy marine environment for our own health, for climate change and for food. All these things are very important to society. Our feeling now is that we need to get on with the job, and, as I mentioned before, other people want the job to be completed because industry is saying that it needs certainty. In terms of development and growth, they need to know where these sites are so that they can get on with their jobs. What we would ask for is, please, is let’s hope that all 127 sites are designated as soon as possible and management measures are also brought in as soon as possible. But that might be quite difficult and could take time.

Dr Solandt: As a sense of urgency, 59 sites have been identified by the conservation planners-you might have heard this just recently-as being high risk. So we might be further degrading those very sites that we want to protect. By delaying this process, we are not only disfranchising potential investment in business in these marine areas but potentially degrading our environment that we are meant to protect. Delays are understandable perhaps, but, in the face of what we know damages the marine seabed, which is clear, it is time to act.

Q43 Stephen Mosley: From your groups, do you have any indication of when this will now happen?

Joan Edwards: We understand that a number of the marine conservation zones will be designated next summer. The number is what we are worried about. We are worried that only a few sites will be designated. Our message to Government is that we have been talking about it long enough. We need to act now. We want all 127 marine conservation zones designated as soon as possible.

Q44 Chair: Is that the position of all three of you?

Dr Solandt: Yes.

Alec Taylor: Yes, and we want firm timetables from this consultation about when that is going to happen.

Q45 Chair: Presumably-particularly you, Mr Taylor-you will be sending messages to Her Majesty’s Government saying that you represent considerably more people than all of the political parties represented round this table and, therefore, someone ought to listen to you.

Alec Taylor: Yes, absolutely. We have a powerful and interested membership looking out for the marine environment at the RSPB in combination with our colleagues. That is essentially what we will say.

Q46 Chair: My final question, following on from the questions you were asked about the socioeconomic side, is this. Are you confident that you can present that case to the Government in a way that does not damage those sensitive economic areas such as the tiny detail that Mr Williams touched on?

Alec Taylor: Yes. I am confident that we can make both the finescale case and the wider case for the need for these protected areas.

Chair: Thank you very much for your attendance. It has been an extremely interesting morning.

Prepared 9th April 2013