Science and Technology Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 727

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Science and Technology Committee

on Wednesday 9 January 2013

Members present:

Andrew Miller (Chair)

Jim Dowd

Stephen Metcalfe

David Morris

Stephen Mosley

Pamela Nash

Sarah Newton

Graham Stringer

Hywel Williams

Roger Williams


Examination of Witness

Witness: Charles Clover, Columnist, The Sunday Times.

Q242 Chair: Good morning, Mr Clover. Welcome to the session. Just for the record, would you be kind enough to introduce yourself?

Charles Clover: My name is Charles Clover. I am the chairman of the Blue Marine Foundation charity. I am the author of "The End of the Line", which is not an irrelevant book because it is about over-fishing, and I am a columnist on The Sunday Times.

Q243 Chair: Thank you very much for coming in to see us. The members of the Committee decided that we should invite you in, having read some of your work. In particular, in your article on marine conservation zones, you effectively say that some of the stakeholder groups have picked up some unimaginative habits and features because they are the only ones that could be agreed on. Should there have been a stronger top-down approach, or is there a better way of running the stakeholder process? We have been down to Cornwall and had discussions with the people in the stakeholder group on the Fal estuary, and we have also had discussions with people in the north-west. There does seem to be a bit of a patchwork of different things emerging. What should have happened, in your view?

Charles Clover: If I may say so, you have opened a can of worms because that begs so many questions. How this whole process began, how you started off with what was, essentially, a three-party consensus that there should be an ecologically representative network of marine reserves, and how you get to a point where you haven’t really got very many and they don’t really do any conserving, is an extraordinary process. It is one that can only be transformed or saved by looking at some international comparisons. I have only done the skimpiest of this myself, but I note that other people seem to have done even less.

I notice that, in France, there is a much more top-down approach to precisely this kind of activity. I would be most interested if the Committee was able to look at that. I notice that, in New Zealand, where I have been and where I talked to people some years ago, there is a much more top-down approach about what the basic, broad habitat types were that people wanted to conserve. Whether it was a seamount, a reef or whatever it was, they felt that they should protect a representative selection of these things. So people went out, found them and protected them quite rapidly-not without controversy, but they just decided that they had a mandate to do it and they did it. This is not what we have done.

Q244 Chair: But that would run counter to the localism agenda, wouldn’t it?

Charles Clover: It begs the question that, if you are going to involve the stakeholders, when do you involve the stakeholders? Perhaps you should get a representative local opinion on it. You do also have to have some clear national vision and guidance, which is probably what is lacking here.

Q245 Chair: Originally, there was quite a high degree of cross-party buy-in to the idea. Do you detect any diminution of that cross-party consensus?

Charles Clover: To be honest, I don’t know of any evidence that there has been any diminution of it at all. There is a much stronger mandate than timid DEFRA officials seem to believe there is. My fundamental point, which I thought I might come to a bit later but I might as well say it at the off, is that DEFRA officials turn to jelly at the sight of the two letters "JR"-judicial review-and this jelly is unnecessary. It is a matter of somebody issuing some guidance as to what the Marine Act actually means.

Q246 Chair: Is that what you were getting at when you referred to concessions being made to vested interests? You felt that the system was too afraid of review.

Charles Clover: Yes. There are examples-I have brought some with me today-of where areas might be top of your list, if you started afresh to try and conserve the places that are most important in the inshore English marine environment, and, strangely, are not on the MCZ list at all.

Chair: We will come to those shortly.

Q247 Hywel Williams: Mr Clover, are you familiar at all with the designation process in Wales and what has happened as far as that is concerned?

Charles Clover: Wales is extremely different. As you may know, we have a little project in Lyme Bay and it has got a lot of interest among fishermen. We have had a lot of dialogue with Wales, but I have lost touch as to exactly where we are with the Wales process.

Q248 Hywel Williams: It is interesting, comparing what you said earlier on about France and New Zealand, that it has been widely seen by stakeholders as being very top-down and, in fact, has been abandoned and re-started in a different way specifically because of this. This refers only to inshore waters around Wales. The point I would like to make is that it was seen by stakeholders as being very top-down and pushed by the science rather than the stakeholders. The consequence of that is abandonment and re-starting in a different sort of way.

Charles Clover: That is a statement and not a question.

Hywel Williams: Yes; exactly. That is what I said. I was just explaining myself.

Charles Clover: Fair enough.

Q249 Graham Stringer: You have argued that the lack of consideration of the management of these areas in the designation process has been a fatal flaw. How should consideration of the management issues have been part of the designation process?

Charles Clover: We have to start with very fundamental things. As a writer and journalist and not a professional conservationist until quite recently, my strengths are with the long view and the wide view, and perhaps not the minutiae of how other countries have achieved it. I will try and answer your question in this way.

You have to realise, and the people who are setting up your network of marine conservation areas, whatever you choose to call them, afresh need to realise, that there is a background in the terrestrial environment to all the decisions they are making. In my view, this was ignored. I take you back to the 1970s when the Duke of Edinburgh, oddly enough, was international vice president of WWF, then called the World Wildlife Fund. The other day I was reading a quote from him as I was writing the proposal for Lyme Bay. It seemed to me to be the nugget of what has been ignored here. He said, and I wrote it down: "No conservation measure works unless the local people support it." That works, I think he said, whether you are in the Maasai Mara or in Scotland.

No consideration has been given with regard to these marine conservation zones- which are terminologically difficult for me, anyway, because they are not marine protected areas, they are not marine reserves and they are not highly protected marine reserves; therefore, they are deliberately not engaging with international best practice-as to what these things are for, how they are going to be implemented and how they are going to get support. These do not seem to have been the considerations. The considerations seem to have been, "We’ve got to have some of these things. So where are we going to have them and what is the evidence?"

That seems to me to be not what society should be asking of them. Society should be asking, "Why are these areas of value? How can we get the maximum value out of them for everyone while protecting the biodiversity that we know exists and is of importance?" The fundamental questions were not asked. The process seems to have been put together by people who did not have experience of setting up national parks or protected areas afresh in what you might call wilderness situations. I am only calling it a wilderness situation because it is more analogous than a ploughed field or a grassland SSSI.

Q250 Graham Stringer: I think I now understand what you mean by management of the areas. What effect has not considering these issues had? Do you think that it has fatally damaged the projects, or, if they can be put back on track, how can they be put back on track?

Charles Clover: I do not think that anything fatally damages the project. The whole thing is a learning experience and you are best to realise that even the most highly qualified people who you have had before you are, essentially, winging it because this has never been done before in the world. We are all learning. It is just that there were some lessons from the terrestrial environment that were never applied. The history of attempts to integrate marine protected areas, going back to Loch Sween and the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act, were not applied. I am amazed, but those lessons were not applied.

You may think that the stakeholder process was supposed to engender support for these marine conservation zones, but that is a complete misunderstanding, it seems to me. I am not suggesting that you were making it, but it was a complete misunderstanding by the people who engendered the process. What you need to do is to create a vision that people will align behind, not create a forum in which they will all disagree and never agree at all on the areas that should be most protected.

In terms of the management, I find it easier to talk about the place I know, if you don’t mind. What happened, as we discovered, in Lyme Bay was that, under the usual and quite acceptable pressure from the Wildlife Trust, initially, and Natural England eventually, it was perceived that there was a threat to the Lyme Bay reefs. It led to a statutory instrument, to closure, and to the largest closed area to trawlers and dredgers in the UK, as far as I am aware. At that point, DEFRA seems to have decided to stop. There was no vision as to what was happening. It was just, "Stop the threat. Stop this field-stop this SSSI-from being ploughed up." It was not, "What are we doing?" It was not a matter of, "What have we created?" It was not, "What is this thing that we have just done? We have stopped one form of activity but we haven’t stopped lots of other forms of activity. What will happen now?" They did not ask that.

What happened, because we went out and found out what had happened, was that into this area, which was banned to trawl gears and scallop dredges because it was then a vacuum, came lots more static gear-pots and nets-than ever was used there before, because it would get trawled over. It was seen as a refuge for static gear. It built up and built up to the extent that the people who were at the westernmost side and most affected by the larger vessels- because there is this historic oddity that the vessel size in Dorset is different from the vessel size in Devon and the site is bisected by the county boundary-were finding that their catches had halved. That would not surprise you because the amount of gear had doubled. This was not very good for them, so the idea that a reserve was a good idea at all was not saleable to them-that the closure had been a good thing.

If you had dealt with that in the round, that would have brought those people on board, as indeed they were in the first instance because they thought there would be an advantage from the closure, which is why they backed it. They were then horrified to discover that it was not managed; there was no management.

My point is that you cannot do what the processors decided to do, which is to manage features. You have to manage ecosystems, because, if you manage features, your management of the features will affect the ecosystem. So you might as well start off by managing ecosystems, which is what the New Zealanders, the French and the Australians have done.

Q251 Graham Stringer: Is it fair to summarise what you are saying in this way? You believe that there should be more leadership and vision and less of the lowest common denominator process. Finally, you have talked about the banning of dredging. Do you accept that in some of these areas certain activities will have to be banned, and what would you expect those to be?

Charles Clover: It would look pretty odd if the European sites were managed differently from our national sites. There is now an understanding or ruling, which has been accepted by DEFRA, that article 6 of the Habitats Directive means that damaging operations will have to be removed from SACs and SPAs. That is an absolutely historic legal finding because it means that much more management will have to take place in about a quarter of English inshore waters. There is already an example of the kind of thing that you would have to do, if you are going to have to manage an area well, so there would have to be management. It will be shaming if we don’t have management that protects the features that we are trying to protect in these areas. I am afraid that is going to have to be the heavier gear.

Q252 Stephen Metcalfe: I want to pick up, if I may, on a couple of points. A lot of the objection to the designation of zones has been the conflict between conservation and the socio-economic activity in the areas. A lot of the resistance has been because we do not know in advance what the impact would be on the various interested parties. When you were answering some of the questions it was not quite clear what the impact would be, because I presume it would change from zone to zone. In fundamental terms, how do you balance that and reassure those interested parties that the measures that may well be put in place are not so draconian that it would change the very nature of a community that is based around a particular area that is designated? It seems that a lot of people have been resistant to the whole process because they don’t know what this means for them. How do you balance that? Can you put in, in advance, the measures, the management programme, before you start the stakeholder discussions, or is that just an impractical proposition?

Charles Clover: I don’t think it is impractical. There are a number of questions there, aren’t there? Could I just deal with the socio-economic impacts aspect of it? There are impacts, but there are also socio-economic benefits. In inshore waters, I would expect that the benefits would outweigh the impacts. I live in the Dedham Vale area of outstanding natural beauty; I live in Constable country. That designation brings money into my village and keeps shops and pubs alive that would not be alive otherwise. As I drive to the station, they are not alive in villages that are outside that designation. It seems inherently absurd to me that DEFRA has accepted that there will be socio-economic impacts without looking at what the socio-economic benefits might be.

This is based on no evidence that we have yet because we are at a very early stage in the project, and everybody involved in this project at Lyme Bay thinks so too, but I think that we will end up with socio-economic benefits. Undoubtedly, there will be impacts for people who are displaced, and the aspect of displacement is a real one and I have great sympathy for the heavy gear guys who will all be displaced by some of these inshore activities. Nevertheless, I think they should be displaced. There should be zones where they can practise their trade and zones where they can’t. That is what, it seems to me, this cross-party consensus agreed a long time ago, but it is currently being watered down by DEFRA officials, who are just too close to it and haven’t got the big picture.

Q253 Stephen Metcalfe: Can I just follow up on that? It struck me from our recent visit to Falmouth that there was not enough understanding, in advance of discussing the zones, about what the potential impact and/or the benefits might be. There did not seem to be enough understanding one way or the other. So the best approach is to say, "No, I’m objecting to this because I don’t know what it means for me", whereas, if you had had more information in advance before starting to describe the zones about what the impact might be for all concerned, including some of the benefits, perhaps it would have been easier to engage with some of those stakeholders.

Charles Clover: It is all about what stakeholder engagement means. If it means telling people a lot of information, they will remain sceptical at the end of it. If, as we have done in Lyme, almost uniquely, you go in and you say, "What would you like? The Government say that we have to achieve these objectives. We have these objectives of achieving a win for fish stocks, a win for fishing communities and a win for biodiversity in the round. How do you think we should best achieve that?", then all the problems melt away. They say, "Oh, we will do a bit of this. If that doesn’t work, we’ll do a bit of that. Yes, we could do this."

We have achieved more in six months than IFCA’s predecessors, the Sea Fisheries Committees, achieved in 20 years just by saying, "Look, this is what the country wants of you." Nobody is doing any management. Nobody is telling them what this means. So why don’t we take hold of the controls and tell them what we think it means and how we might achieve it. Suddenly we are off, and we are in third or fourth gear. Telling people information is not going to get you anywhere at all because they won’t believe it. You have to give them the power to alter the outcomes themselves and trust them. That is real localism, but they have to have a vision, which is not present.

Q254 Roger Williams: Mr Clover, at one stage in your presentation and answering questions, you tried to say that it would have been better if lessons had been learned from terrestrial designations of SSSIs and national parks. Just to go back a little bit, I was on the Committee stage of the Marine Bill and there was a huge euphoria because this was a very long-waited-for piece of legislation. The Minister, who is now responsible for designation, was actually leading for the Opposition at the time the Bill was going through, but there was a collegiate effect.

The real difference between the terrestrial and marine designations, as far as SSSIs and mostly as far as national parks were concerned, was that there was no consideration of socio-economic factors at all. The designation is made and then the management is brought in afterwards. The socio-economic factors were brought into legislation for very good reasons and it was thought that it would encourage people to work together. In retrospect, do you think it would have been better to make the designation and then work on management structures that could mitigate any socio-economic problems that might arise?

Charles Clover: Yes is the short answer to that. There are several questions there. I don’t agree with your analysis of the history of nature conservation in Britain basically since the 1949 Act. All these Acts have contained failed measures to deal with socio-economic effects. They contain compensation clauses that Governments could never afford, or, when they could afford them, they became such scandals, because people said they were going to designate a forest with various SSSIs and they got paid X. It was seen as so scandalous that they could not be done again, and quite rightly. Attempts to deal with the socio-economic aspects of these things are necessary. You are displacing people-it is their living-but it is also a different kind of environment that you are seeking to protect from the terrestrial one. The terrestrial one has been altered by man out of recognition for tens of thousands of years. The marine one, though altered by man for tens of thousands of years, is more dynamic. It is less farmed. Some fishermen would disagree with that. If you take away the damaging or the fishing effects, you get more dynamic activity than you would on land. It is more three-dimensional, it is more dynamic, there are more migratory species, and, honestly, you don’t know what is going to happen.

The great wisdom, it seems to me, is twofold. It is international and it is not this reductive process that we have called the various post-war Acts. Other people had national parks that were real national parks. I am going back to 1928 or 1929, or whenever the first consideration was given as to where we should have some national parks, which was in response to Yellowstone and the creation of these South African great parks, the Serengeti and so on. It is the wisdom there that we don’t seem to have tapped into because those, to this day, increasingly need to engage with the people outside them. They need to provide benefits to people outside them. They have buffer zones. They have places where you can do some wood extraction, where you can do this and you can’t do that, but you can do something. That wisdom, which exists about the Great Barrier Reef, seems to have not been taken on board to the full extent that I think it should have been.

Q255 Stephen Mosley: On the employment side of things you focused very much on fishing previously, but, when we went to Falmouth, we saw a harbour that was much more than fishing. There was a shipbuilding industry. There were literally thousands of jobs that were dependent upon the harbour, the sea and the various industries surrounding it there. There was a huge concern because they have seen in the past what happened when the conservation zone was added in the harbour. They were told at the time, "It doesn’t affect what you are doing now. It only affects new things." But, of course, within a couple of years, the maerl industry was effectively closed down because of it.

Also, because Falmouth is the first harbour coming in from the Atlantic, there is a buoy in the middle of the area that they have designated as the reference zone. This buoy is only used if there is an emergency out in the Atlantic when they bring a ship in and they need to bring it in safely. It is in the middle of the reference zone, so there is huge concern that, if the marine conservation zone is brought in, with the reference zone in the middle of the harbour, it would have a much wider impact than just on fishing. You have concentrated on fishing, but what about all the other ancillary industries that are reliant upon the sea for jobs in the local economy?

Charles Clover: One of the largest industries on the south coast is the leisure industry-the boat owners-and probably Falmouth harbour would be the same.

Stephen Mosley: Yes, it is.

Charles Clover: There is an inherent value-a socio-economic benefit-in having places that people will want to go and see in their boats because they are inherently interesting, where they want to sail these things to. It is a balanced answer to that question.

I do take the force of your point about references. This whole reference zone issue has been poorly thought out. It should have been considered as part of a wider management system. The imposition of these in this place rather than that place looks very draconian. It has been ill thought through by the conservation lobby. Personally, I have an instinct about what is going to survive but not what will necessarily happen, because what has happened is not what I would have wished to have happened. I confess that I did not concentrate on the Marine Act because I was in the process of making our film "The End of the Line". It took me three years, which is roughly the same time that the Marine Act was going through, so I did not look at any of this. When I did look at it, I was horrified because I thought, "This isn’t how you do it. This is an incredibly reductive British way of doing it." It is not the way that my heroes in the conservation movement would have done it, like Bill Ballantine in New Zealand. There is a whole chapter on him in my book.

It is a roundabout way of answering your question. What I am trying to say is that it would help if people started putting in reference areas where they were aligned with other interests. For example, there are places-spawning aggregations, nests of fish, bream and so on-that everyone accepts would enhance fish stocks if you protected them. They might be candidates for reference areas, but those benefits have to be demonstrated.

My feeling is that, in time, that is what will have to be done and a process of negotiation over what is beneficial will occur. If that does not occur, then somebody will be done down and disadvantaged. The force of your question is right-or the suspicion behind it is right; that is what I mean.

Chair: You have referred extensively to Lyme Bay. We have a series of questions specifically on that.

Q256 David Morris: On the subject of Lyme Bay, Mr Clover, what benefits does ecosystem management offer that protection of features does not, and what should the current marine conservation zone process be doing? Do you see the benefits of this ecosystem management in Lyme Bay coming to fruition?

Charles Clover: I think I understand your question. It is separate from the marine conservation zone process. What we are trying to do is look beyond that process and through the eyes of the private sector. One of the more visionary companies in the private sector-Marks & Spencer-has provided our seedcorn funding for this and a substantial percentage of our ongoing funding for this three-year project. The kind of thinking that you get from the private sector and small NGOs is different from the other players. It is not better; it is just different. I would not claim that we are doing anything that the regulators and other people have not thought of already; they just haven’t been able to do it. "Wouldn’t it be nice if?"

What we set out to do was to create a model of conservation providing benefits to people because we believe that it would. We believe that every other example of it in the terrestrial and marine environment elsewhere showed that it would, unless there was some big problem that we would either have to flag up or resolve. So it has proved. It is not intended to interfere with the marine conservation zone process. It is intended to make it work. I don’t see anything that is going to make it work otherwise. This is why we wanted to set an example where people could look beyond this current mess and see something working. It may be that some of the things that we get right and some of the things that we get wrong could be replicated or avoided around the coast if we succeed.

Q257 David Morris: Do you find from this project the benefits of scientific evidence in the Blue Marine Foundation’s work in Lyme Bay?

Charles Clover: I am sorry. The benefits of marine-

David Morris: How was scientific evidence used in the Blue Marine Foundation’s work in Lyme Bay?

Charles Clover: I still don’t quite get the question. The science is several things. Perhaps I could take you through what we feel the science is. With science, everybody sets it up as one thing when it is actually several things. It depends who is paying for it. It makes all the difference who is paying for it.

In this particular working group, which includes regulators, and which is dominated by fishermen but with a conservation remit-it is very important to stress that-with these three wins as its memorandum of understanding, as its working rules, we went out and commissioned some science. That is a different kind of science from government science or anybody else’s science. By talking to people, we found that the science that the fishermen wanted was science that guaranteed them access to the resource. As far as we could see, there was no chance of anybody making the whole of Lyme Bay into a reference area, a marine national park or anything else any time soon, though that, effectively, is what it is. We thought that we would have to live with what the regulators were prepared to give us and try to make it work.

For that to happen, the fishermen have to have confidence that they will have access to that resource, so we decided to give them, before anybody else had this idea, environmental assessments of what they were doing, which would be, initially, private to them, so they knew what they were doing, so they could think about what they were doing and modify it if necessary. In that way, they could go back to the people who they were most afraid of-the Wildlife Trust and Natural England-and say, "Here is the evidence that what we are doing is not damaging. We are having a benign, non-damaging, acceptable"-whatever the word is-"effect upon the resource and we are actually your managers. We are the only users of the sea who you can engage in this process and we are managing it for you. You can’t afford to pay people to manage these places so you are going to have to work with the users of the sea."

The next thing we did was to say, "Oh dear, the Government do not seem to have done the science on all the things that these people catch." We’ve got ICES telling us whether or not we can catch cod, which have no value to us at all because there isn’t any cod in economic quantities. What these people are catching are whelks, and it appears to me that they are wiping them out, which turned out to be true. Within this protected area, they took 600 tonnes of whelks in one year, and, of course, there are now no whelks. All this happened under the eyes of IFCA and DEFRA, but nobody has local, on-the-ground knowledge; so nobody knows what is going on, but you have to have that knowledge if you are going to manage any of these areas.

We said that prime species would be one of our environmental assessments. We also need to know what potting, which is what most of these guys do, and set netting actually does to the resource so that we can see whether it is sustainable or not, because all these small boat owners like to tell you that what they do is better and more environmentally friendly than what the big boat owners do. Logically, that is not necessarily the case, and there are an awful lot of them. We need to prove this. We also need, by proving it, to establish what a sustainable level of potting is. That will then enable these people to push other people out of their areas, because there are too many. We have our boats from our four ports. We are doing a sustainable thing. If you come in, you might be told, "I’m sorry but that is not sustainable." They can say that to regulators and to Government and get something done about it, but they can’t do it if they haven’t got the evidence. So that is the evidence we have.

The third and really fascinating aspect of the evidence is this. As relatively naive or less naive than some-the Greens, you might say-in the first instance we went along and said, "Look, Lyme Bay is ahead of the game. It is a big protected area. It is not going to be an MCZ but it is an SAC, but it is not being managed. What would we do to create the maximum amount of international best practice in this area to give it conservation top status?" It needs some areas where there is no fishing because that is what people seem to have decided internationally is what you need. We went along to tell the fishermen that twice in the caff in West Bay and we nearly got thrown into West Bay twice. We licked our wounds and went back and said, "They are not going to buy these MCZs", which Mr Mosley is so worried about, and possibly rightly, "unless we prove benefit. If there is benefit, then we can have more of them." So we have been barking up the wrong tree.

What we have to do is to go to these people and debate about the world as they understand it and find out what they need. We said, "To get access to this area on a long-term basis, you need to prove that they are not having the impact as our study is doing." Why not, if these studies were also designed to look at whether there were any spill-over effects from the control areas that we had set up? The four ports have four study areas being monitored by Plymouth university, one of which, for each port, has no fishing. It is not a no-take zone but it is a control area for science. You can’t do science without control areas. Fishermen are perfectly happy with that. These are quite small areas, but, funnily enough, they add up to the same acreage as we originally wanted for a no-take zone. They are temporary and the debate will rage within our working group, when we get some results, as to whether there are any spill-over effects or not. That is the best we can do with consent as the private sector, without a hammer or a statutory instrument behind this. That is an incredibly important debate. Whether our areas are large enough to show those effects is another question, but that is our science.

Chair: I would like to continue the theme of local engagement.

Q258 Sarah Newton: You have answered most of the questions that I had about Lyme Bay. What you are doing there is very important so that we can maximise our understanding of that so that we can learn other lessons more broadly for marine conservation zones. So that I have really understood, from what you are saying, it seems that you have used the power of persuasion through the foundation to bring together all the people who have an interest in that environment to pay for and provide an evidence base to influence existing regulatory bodies. Is that right? How did you build up the credibility to influence those existing bodies to get the permission to set off this whole process in the first place?

Charles Clover: I don’t really know. We just listened to people. I don’t think they were used to being listened to. We went there. We said, "What would you like?" We said, "This is what we would like. What would you like?" We deleted everything we would like and decided to do it their way, but the objectives are pretty much the same. I have to give enormous credit to this bunch of fishermen, who are a visionary and clever bunch, who understand that the inshore fisherman is a potential manager of the sea and a conservationist. These fishermen think they are conservationists. If we can get some more evidence to prove that they are conservationists, they will be even more of a force in the land than, in my opinion, they are already.

Q259 Sarah Newton: That is helpful. Going back to what my colleague Stephen Mosley was saying, that makes absolute sense when you are dealing with fishermen in a marine environment, but there will be-and there are-areas designated as marine conservation zones that have a lot of other activities happening in the marine environment, especially port activities as well as the sailing activities that you talked about. What lessons could we learn from your experience in this area for working when you have those economic and social stakeholders in the marine environment in addition to fishermen?

Charles Clover: You need to do something like we have done, but I would say that, wouldn’t I? You need to go and listen to people. You need to go into the area and set up a group that is vaguely representative, which may or may not succeed. You may take the view that it has the wrong people on it, and, therefore, you must allow these things to fail and start again. You need a forum in which you give the vision that you want. The problem is that the marine conservation zone story is one lacking in vision. Nobody knows what the bloody things are for and no Minister has ever said. While we are in this position, we will go on failing.

What we need to do is to set up a committee of interests and give it the remit that the public has effectively given it through the Marine Act, which was done with great celebration that we were doing the right thing. It is just that some of the clauses have been used by lawyers, and not scientists of opposing factions, to disaggregate it, atomise it, and that is the process we are all staring at and scratching our heads about now. We need to put it back together by giving the vision to groups and saying, "We’ve got to do this, but it is up to you how you achieve it", and not, "We’re going to put this in", or, "The boundary is going to be there", but, "We are going to manage this area for these objectives. How are we going to do it?"

Q260 Sarah Newton: In some of these areas there have already been significant designations. For example, the Fal estuary, which the Committee visited, is an SAC, an SSSI and has protected EU habitats within it. The original vision of the Bill was that there would be a patchwork-a network, as it was described-of marine conservation that included existing designations and then areas with the new conservation zones. Do you think that some of those existing management structures, like the advisory boards that go with the SACs, could be morphed or changed into the type of co-ordinating forums that you are describing, or is it a wholly separate type of management that is required?

Charles Clover: You just have a representative from any of the necessary legal structures on your working group. You don’t call it a management board until such time as it earns the right to be called one by popular assent. You will never get 100%, by the way. We have got 50 or 60 fishermen, some of whom drop in and out all the time, but we have four ports. Nobody else has four ports. We have some fishermen who, defiantly, continue to practise their trade outside the area because they don’t see why they should be bound by these rules and they are going to go and do something else. You are always going to have the big boat fishermen.

I do not know whether this is the right moment to say it, but the displacement of the big boat fishermen, who I think have a perfect right to ply their trade, as long as they do it sustainably-sometimes they don’t-is an important problem, because the effort is displaced, and I do not think that enough is done about that. We are trying to do something about that in Lyme Bay, but we may never do it. We have spent a lot of time trying to get these people to come to our meetings, but inshore fishermen, who are a quite different breed, don’t like them there. So it is quite difficult getting them in, but we do want to try and create some value for them in any kind of added value schemes, because some of them are fishing with iVMS and things like that in the area under the MMO’s jurisdiction. They are fishing very carefully and responsibly as they see it, and as other people see it, in the gravelly, sandy areas around the reefs. Whether or not they should be allowed into this area, into this designation, is an interesting question. I don’t have a view on that. It is for regulators to have a view on that. Nevertheless, these people deserve some recompense for displacement and fishing very responsibly. They are quite different from the people who come in at night and dredge up the scallops. We had three vessels doing that last year and they were all seen off by other fishermen. So our buy-in has had that effect. All these guys were sent down the Devon coast with fleas very much in their ear.

I am trying to answer your regulatory question by saying that you need all these people on board, but that is not enough. You must have local people with vision, which is what you need. The tools are the regulations. The regulations are not your master. It is the vision that should be your master.

Q261 Sarah Newton: You mentioned earlier in your presentation that you were surprised about the list of potential marine conservation zones. There were places that you thought would be ideal candidates but were not on the list. Would you share that with us?

Charles Clover: I made a few calls yesterday. This came from talking to the people who were putting together the four stakeholder groups during their process. They were saying that there are things there that people might not think would be there and there are reference areas of 30 hectares designed to protect two worms, which you might think might be protecting a representative ecosystem, but they are that small because nobody could agree. I said, "Are there any that aren’t there at all?" I have got this list, which I can annotate and give to you, if you like. It has big things on it like Flamborough Head in Yorkshire. This was put forward as a reference area, for example. I don’t really want to make a judgment on whether or not it should be a reference area, because we should be talking about a much more negotiated process in terms of management than we are. We have had a lot of negotiation. Then we are going to stamp these designations on people who were not expecting them. That is a different thing.

Flamborough Head is an SAC but it ain’t on the MCZ list, which does not enable you, on my understanding of the law, to maintain or restore it. It is an incredibly important place for cetaceans, seabirds and fish. Cetaceans and seabirds, incidentally, are largely ignored by these MCZ designations, and, because you haven’t got any flagship species, you haven’t got any public interest. That also seems to me to be completely daft. That is a digression, but, nevertheless, it is quite an important one.

Flamborough Head is one. The Farne Islands, which are an SAC, would have benefited from being an MCZ too. There is a large chunk to the right of Beachy Head, which did not get into the list of 31 MCZs declared, although the bit to the left, which is within 250 metres of the cliff, did, but you can’t fish there, so it was uncontroversial. However, in the bit to the right you could fish, so it was controversial.

Q262 Chair: Just for clarity, are you looking from north or south?

Charles Clover: I am looking south.

Q263 Chair: So you are standing on the cliff.

Charles Clover: Hang on. Have I got this right? The east got designated but the west did not. I think that is right. I will check that-forgive me-about my left and right hand. The surprising thing there is that there was in the stakeholder groups a complete consensus that there should be an MCZ there, and there is not one, because of subsequent lobbying by towed gear people. That seems to be changing the rules after the football game has been played.

There are examples of this that would be worth looking at. Apparently, there is an area to the south of Falmouth-I can look this up further-where the proposed size of the site has been drastically reduced because the tow guys complained. There is another site north-east of Padstow in Cornwall where the tow guys complained again. I am sorry to say it, but, largely, we will need to manage our inshore waters by means other than towed gear in future. It is more sustainable and gives more income for all, but towed gears are destructive to the features that the spirit of the Act wants to protect, whether or not they are managing it very well at the moment.

So I don’t think it is a particularly good idea to favour one destructive interest over all the other interests. That is madness, really. I would commend these examples to your attention because they are ones where that interest overruled the public interest, and that is not what you are trying to do.

Chair: We would welcome your list when completed.

Charles Clover: I will annotate it and get it to you.

Chair: We will now move on to the broader public interest issues.

Q264 Pamela Nash: Mr Clover, I know we have already taken up more of your time than we intended, so I will be as brief as possible. Present company excluded, of course, how well do you think that the media has performed in communicating information about marine conservation zones to the public? I guess I am thinking both of local media, where we have heard evidence that there have been scare stories in the local media about the management of conservation zones, and also nationally. Do you think that the general public even know that these marine conservation zones exist, and, if they do, are they supportive of them?

Charles Clover: There are polls. The conservation movement has run polls to see whether the public thinks the sea is protected, and the public thinks that vastly more of the sea is protected than it actually is. If they were told that these MCZs were going to cover 25% of English waters-I don’t know if it is the right figure but it is something like that for inshore waters-they would think that that was, kind of, low. There are polls that you can look at.

How has the media dealt with this? That is an interesting question for the media. There was a time when people like me, who used to be full-time specialist correspondents who knew the people, who knew the issues, kept grinding on for those things that we felt were public wrongs that needed to be righted by the likes of yourselves. They have disappeared because of the depredations of the internet upon the newspaper industry and other media. You have lost a whole section of informed people engaging with the public over the past five years or more that this has been a matter of public interest.

You have to engage with the public in different ways. I know that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is making a three-parter on marine protected areas, which is coming out, I believe, at the end of this month. Whether we will be having this conversation about the public not cottoning on to these things after that programme has been screened, I don’t know, but it wouldn’t take much for one of these areas that is under threat, if it is genuinely under threat and it is not just the conservation lobby that is saying it is under threat and get it designated, to start getting trashed. I remember writing successions of stories about forests, moors, meadows and hedgerows. For over 30 years I have written those stories; I have never seen anybody write those about the sea, but one day somebody will. Then the public will say, "Hey", as they did with Lyme Bay, "you should not be allowing this to be trashed. Do something about it." By then, this process will be over, and, if we have not made the right decisions and you have not recommended the right results, we will not have the mechanisms to do anything about it. That is my real worry here.

Q265 Pamela Nash: Why do you think that there haven’t been those stories written about the sea?

Charles Clover: They have been written. The Sunday Times had the sea rescue campaign. I have been amazed by the public response, I should say, to "The End of the Line". We were overwhelmed by the response to that from around the world. We had a huge and unmanageable mailbag and unmanageable Facebook followers. That was a film that we made six years ago, and it has led on to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s programme. When the public can get something in their busy lives that is simple enough and is wrong enough that needs righting, it gets righted pretty quickly. In this particular instance, it is very difficult to persuade people that you should have a protected area for two worms. With none of the flagship species left in-no birds, no mammals, no predators and no migrants-it is very difficult to get the public to engage. Quite rightly, these things are not interesting and it is very difficult to see whether they are a threat, but, if there are some things that are under threat, there is a job for the media to explain what is happening and how it might be destroyed because they are up with the over-fishing story now, I am pleased to say.

Chair: The last question from Stephen.

Q266 Stephen Mosley: I am going to ask you questions on the next steps, and I think you have been quite clear as to what you think about the fact that 31 are going forward. We have had some evidence from the Marine Conversation Society that suggested they think that all 127 should go forward straight away. Would you agree with that?

Charles Clover: I have read the Marine Conservation Society’s evidence given to you, and I would not disagree with a word of it, particularly in terms of their comments on evidence. The "best available evidence" is not the same thing as "best evidence". The "best available evidence" is what the Act says. The "best evidence" is what the lawyers have required us, apparently, to require, and that is completely wrong. It breaks the circle of trust that the public had at the time of the Marine Act, it seems to me. To slightly get round your question, but to answer it in a way that I would want to, what needs to happen is a resolution of this evidence issue at a higher level.

This business of judicial review has really been made too much of, to be honest. If you look at what the courts do and how they rule on judicial reviews, when a Minister has given clear enough guidance in planning law or in ordinary law, when a clear vision is set as to what the Government want to do, why they want to do it, why they have a political mandate for doing it and how they expect the courts to interpret the Act, I do not think you will get a judge going against that. I think that is the kind of vision and clarity that needs to be set at the highest level within DEFRA so that we can go forward without this silly argument about evidence. Broad habitat types are obvious to everyone. Why we should be worrying about whether or not it has 912 or 817 of the designated species within those habitats is a nonsense that DEFRA has got itself into, which no other country in the world has got itself into, and which we should get out of quickly.

Q267 Stephen Mosley: We are the Science and Technology Select Committee, though. One thing that we always say, whenever we have Ministers before us, is that they should be looking at the scientific evidence.

Charles Clover: Science is several things. Science is an argument. Science involves different values held by different scientists. You can’t get out of it by looking at the science. You have to look at the law and at the values behind the law. What we are seeing here is a scientific argument that has been hijacked by people who want to interpret it in a particular way. The country has said that it wants to interpret it in another way. The country has said the "best available evidence". The people who have to apply the law are frightened of the possibility of being taken to judicial review. That is an issue outside science, but science can be subverted to whichever argument you want, so you as legislators have to decide what the country wants. You use science as your tool. Science is not an absolute thing. It is an argument.

Q268 Stephen Mosley: But the best available evidence, if there is no evidence, is not reliable evidence at all, is it? The Government’s argument that they are proceeding with 31 and that they are looking-

Charles Clover: You never get 100% scientific evidence for anything.

Q269 Stephen Mosley: But you can get more than zero, can’t you?

Charles Clover: You will find that there is more than zero for the broad habitat types in these 127 sites and they should be designated.

Q270 Stephen Mosley: Do you think that, if there was more scientific evidence, you would be more likely to be able to get local support for some of these schemes that have attracted-

Charles Clover: No. I think you are barking up the wrong tree. The country has given its view that we should select sites on the best available evidence, not the best evidence, and that we should manage them with the objectives of the Marine Act, and we should go out and do that. It is the process of doing that that will solve your problems. It is by giving people the power to decide how those things are managed at local level that will remove the anxieties rather than some arcane argument, which most people won’t understand, about whether it is 817 or 997 species that are in these 127 marine conservation zones.

Q271 Chair: That is a good point on which to finish. Thank you very much, indeed, for your time this morning.

Charles Clover: Could I say one thing, which I meant to say at the beginning?

Chair: Indeed.

Charles Clover: It is on another subject altogether. On your previous report on the British Antarctic Survey and the National Oceanographic Centre merger, I have admired what the Committee did and what you did, Chairman, very much indeed, because you stopped that merger. I don’t think that anyone at NERC understood how vital it was to keep the British Antarctic Survey in existence to help to research the evidence for large marine reserves around Antarctica. This was never mentioned in any of the deliberations, yet this is a major, major job for the British Antarctic Survey. It is the only way, incidentally, legally, that any large marine reserves will come about under the CCAMLR treaty. A science-based, evidence-based marine reserve creation is the only thing you can do.

I have one request. I am concerned that the responses to that consultation have not been published. I have sent you the Blue Marine Foundation’s response, because I think it is important. If you care to look further on a subsequent occasion into why a research council with "Environment" in its title seems to act as an interest group for various academic factions and not in the interests of the environment at all, and has a long history of doing so, in my experience, I would be absolutely delighted.

Chair: We are currently awaiting the Government’s response to our report but thank you for your comments. Thank you very much indeed for your attendance this morning.

Prepared 9th April 2013