19.Whilst designating MPAs is important, their benefits will only be realised if these areas are also effectively managed. Since 2013, the IFCAs and the MMO have been working to implement over 30 existing bye-laws that apply between 0 and 12 nautical miles. The IFCAs have also put in place 27 new by-laws and 13 voluntary measures. However, our witnesses expressed concern about the adequacy of current management arrangements. Professor Roberts argued:
We are building a world-class network of paper parks. There is virtually no management in them and there is very low ambition for management. The most damaging activities continue in most marine conservation zones.
We heard that sites designated as MPAs were still at threat from development and that protection of sites had been “watered down” to allow development projects to go ahead. The Wildlife Trusts argued:
If a site is designated then its standing as a MPA should be the primary consideration in management and decision-making. At present we don’t believe that this is how Government currently views sites … .We believe there are already a number of MCZs currently at risk from development including Goodwin Sands (aggregate dredging); Cromer Shoal (cable installation); the Manacles and Cumbria Coast (breakwater construction); and Allonby Bay (tidal lagoon).
However, John Tuckett Chief Executive of the MMO, defended the marine licencing process stating:
There will be a rigorous assessment of the impact and discussions between the applicant who has applied for the licence, NGOs and statutory advisers. We will do all we can to find a way through to grant a licence with conditions that protect the environmental features of the MPA and allow the activity to go ahead.
20.To deter illegal activity, it is essential that once licensed, activities are monitored and licencing conditions enforced. However, we heard that the Government’s current monitoring and surveillance regime created a “veneer of marine protection while not actually delivering any”. John Tuckett of the MMO argued that MPA enforcement was ‘intelligence-led’ and claimed that “we are not getting a huge lot of intelligence that suggests there is non-compliance”. However, between 2010 and 2013 at sea inspections fell from 1415 to 633 and we were told that management organisations had become too reliant on the “actions of concerned citizens”. For example, it was local people in Whitsand Bay who discovered licence breaches by a dredging company.
21.There has also been slow progress in approving an inshore vessel monitoring system (VMS) that would be suitable for tracking smaller inshore vessels. All vessels above 12 metres in length are statutorily obliged to have operational VMS on board as part of the Common Fisheries Policy Control Regulations. Smaller vessels below 12 metres in length are not currently required to have VMS on board, but the MMO have recently completed a project to identify suitable inshore vessel monitoring systems. Witnesses argued that implementing VMS on smaller vessels would “aid compliance” and “support the identification of important fishing areas which may have relevance to marine spatial planning”, providing a means of “high frequency, low cost reporting”.
22.Whilst designating MPAs is important, their benefits will only be realised if they are effectively managed. Once a site is designated as an MPA, the MMO and the IFCAs should make this the primary consideration in management and decision-making. It is essential that the Government put in place strong monitoring and surveillance regimes to deter illegal activity. The Government must establish a fully integrated monitoring and surveillance regime. To achieve this, the management organisations should approve an inshore vessel monitoring system suitable for tracking smaller vessels. The Government should also consider investing in aerial and seaborne drones. The Government should integrate intelligence from inshore VMS into the current VMS hub, so that all information can be viewed centrally.
23.Some of our witnesses raised concerns that the ability of the MMO and the IFCAs effectively to manage and enforce MPAs would further deteriorate due to increasingly constrained budgets. The MMO’s budget has been cut from £32.0 million in 2010/11 to £17.0 million in 2015/16 (a cut of 46%), whilst its regulatory role is increasing as additional MCZs are designated. The third and final tranche of MCZs is expected to be the largest and to include sites with more complex management requirements. This will put more pressure on the already constrained budgets of the management organisations. The Association of IFCAs argued that “The number and complexity of the network will inevitably place great strain on the resources available to the IFCAs”. They emphasised the importance of securing ‘sustainable’ funding streams to establish a meaningful network of sites.
24.Two-thirds of IFCA funding comes from local government and one-third comes from Defra. The Marine and Coastal Access Act requires local Authorities to cover the costs of the IFCAs. Local authorities were given additional funding to cover the extra costs associated with the creation of the IFCAs. The total cost to the funding authorities was just over £8.7m in the 2014/15 financial year. This funding is distributed unequally across the 10 IFCAs according to a funding formula. There is no obligation on local authorities to allocate all or any of the New Burdens Funding to the IFCAs. Although most local authorities have allocated the full sum, some have not. Dr Bolt explained that:
There are three IFCAs that have not received the full amount of the New Burdens Funding, which is not ring-fenced. Two of them are relatively minor amounts, almost certainly withheld for administration purposes. The bone of contention is in Devon and Severn.
The five northern local authorities in the Devon & Severn IFCA have withheld a total of £455,200, including the proposed budgets for 2017. This equates to an average of 9.3% of the IFCA’s total budget being withheld annually. We heard that this:
Represents a significant challenge to the IFCA. For instance, £65k would fund two additional FTEs [full time equivalent staff], which would significantly increase the capability of the IFCA to both implement and enforce the coherent network of MPAs within their region.
25.The MMO receives key funding from the European Union. The MMO told us that “we have improved our understanding of European funding streams to ensure we can make best use of available funding”. Over the last three years, the MMO has received £2,191,000 from the European Union: £995,000 for fisheries enforcement, £422,000 for data collection and at least £774,000 from the European Fisheries Fund, which is now the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF). Leaving the EU means this funding is now at risk. The Treasury has only guaranteed EU funding for EMFF-funded projects signed after Autumn Statement 2016 which are “good value for money” and “in line with domestic strategic priorities”, but has not given any more detail about what those criteria mean.
26.We questioned John Tuckett of the MMO about the MCZ budgets. He told us that the vast majority of cuts have been to the MMO’s surveillance contract with the Royal Navy, which is principally used to ensure that fisherman are in compliance with the Common Fisheries Policy. He argued that MPAs on the other hand were mainly monitored by vessel monitoring systems and local intelligence and felt that this meant:
The effort that we are putting into marine protected areas monitoring and surveillance has not been affected by those budget cuts and, if anything, it has gone slightly up rather than gone down.
27.We are very concerned that funding cuts to the MMO and the IFCAs will place great strain on their ability effectively to manage and enforce the MPA network. The designation of the largest and most complex tranche of MCZs in 2018/19 will put further pressure on them.
28.In response to this report, the Government should provide its assessment of any additional budget and resources that will be provided to the MMO and the IFCAs to enable them effectively to manage the third tranche of MCZs and designated MPAs. The Government should look at using revenues raised by the aggregates levy to fund marine protection. If the Government is not prepared to provide extra resources, it should set out what consultation it has had with these bodies and provide evidence which shows that the considerable additional responsibilities can be met within existing budgets. The Government should also ensure all IFCAs receive the full funding they are entitled to and that the MMO’s budget is not cut further. The Government should commit to make up any loss of EU funding to the MMO as a result of Britain’s exit from the European Union.
29.Some witnesses said that the MPA network would only be complete if it included reference areas (otherwise known as Highly Protected Marine Areas), where no extractive, depositional or human-derived disturbing or damaging activities were allowed to take place. Professor Wynn stated that “genuine reference areas are absolutely essential, not just from a scientific point of view but from a conservation point of view”. Removing these impacts could restore a MPA to its ‘reference condition’—the non-impacted state that would arise without human intervention. Of the 127 originally proposed MCZs, 65 contained reference areas, although this represented less than 2% of the area of the recommended MCZs. Defra noted that reference areas were one of the “most controversial” aspects of the MCZ recommendations. It committed to taking “a fresh look at requirements for reference areas”. Due to this, none of the MCZs designated to date contain any reference areas. This stands in stark contrast to the UKOTs, where extensive Highly Protected Marine Areas are being established - albeit in very different marine and socio-economic conditions.
30.Defra have commissioned an evaluation from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) on these ‘Highly Protected Marine Areas’. The Government stated that the outcomes of this study would be used to select sites and features for future designation. However, the Government now maintain that they will not include reference areas within the third tranche of MCZs—regardless of the conclusions of the CEFAS report. Dr Coffey told us that “previous Ministers made that decision and I saw no reason to change it for tranche 3”. This is concerning, given that the Government maintains the final tranche will complete its contribution to the ecologically coherent network in the North East Atlantic.
31.The statutory nature conservation bodies recognised ‘reference conditions’ as an important benchmark to help us understand the impact of human activities. Many of our witnesses agreed, arguing that reference areas are needed to demonstrate “what marine protected areas can do” and “what the ecosystem can regenerate towards”. The RSPB argued that:
If we do not have any, then we cannot truly assess how the network is performing, because all we are doing is comparing sites that are degraded to different degrees.
The knowledge gained from reference areas can be utilised to help inform management decisions in the rest of the network. We heard that these areas could “provide all the management targets, because they will tell us what a non-impacted area looks like”. This could in turn help improve the Government’s communication strategy, as these areas would showcase the potential benefits of MPAs. Dr Peter Jones, reader in Environmental Governance at University College London, suggested that communication could be further improved by moving away “from the title ‘reference areas’, call them something a bit more inspiring like restoration areas or recovery areas”.
32.Recent studies have highlighted the conservation benefits of these Highly Protected Marine Areas. One such study found increases in; the body size of animals, the amount of offspring and species diversity. The same study found an average growth of 446% in the biomass of fish, invertebrates and seaweeds. These benefits were also shown to “‘spill over’ into the areas beyond MPAs”. Professor Wynn also emphasised that recovery areas would have practical advantages as they would be much easier to manage:
Trying to work out what gear is being used by an individual vessel, on an individual site… is very labour intensive. If it is a very clear-cut, no take zone, it means that the management in the longer term is much easier to implement and it is potentially much cheaper.
33.Other witnesses argued that reference areas were contentious “Given the potentially significant impacts on socioeconomic activities”. The Royal Yachting Association expressed concern at the idea that reference areas may be included within the third tranche. Witnesses argued that the original 65 recommended reference areas were “not practical”, “poorly designed” and based on insufficient research. This reflected the concerns of the statutory nature conservation bodies who noted that there was a “shortfall on the overall composition, design and viability of the recommended reference areas”. Many of the originally recommended sites were also in areas of intense inshore use. We heard that this poor choice of original sites may have generated unnecessary opposition. To overcome this opposition, the Marine Conservation Society suggested selecting larger, “less contentious”, offshore sites. We were also told that the proposals for the initial reference areas were “very rushed” and came “very much at the end” of the regional process. Dale Rodmell, of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations argued that at the time of the original consultation the evidence base “was very limited. A lot of the information we had on habitats was just model data. That situation is changing now”. He suggested that any future plans for reference areas be developed “in collaboration with the stakeholders who are affected in the particular sites concerned”.
34.Witnesses also proposed selecting a smaller number of sites, but undertaking “very detailed monitoring” in them. These sentiments were echoed by industry representatives, including Peter Barham of the Seabed User and Developer Group who noted that any reference areas “need selecting carefully … . on the basis of good science”. He argued that they must be “studied properly so we can see what happens in the seabed if you do nothing with it at all”.
35.We are shocked and disappointed by the Government’s decision to exclude reference areas from the third tranche of MCZs. Despite commissioning a study from the CEFAS on ‘Highly Protected Marine Areas’, it appears that the Government has already made up its mind not to include reference areas within the MPA network. The Government seem content to compare sites which are degraded to different degrees, failing to understand what the ecosystem can regenerate towards. Without reference areas the Government will be unable to establish an effective and coherent MPA network, as they will have no benchmark against which to assess the effectiveness of management measures. Whilst we recognise the initial concerns of various industry representatives, we believe that these could be alleviated with proper consultation and selection of a smaller number of carefully chosen sites.
36.The Government should recognise that reference areas are an essential component of any ecologically coherent and well-managed network of MPAs. Therefore, to complete the network, the Government must commit to establishing reference areas within MPAs in each biogeographic region, using best available evidence assessed against the Ecological Network Guidance criteria. The Government must consult those likely to have an interest in the sites selected.
37.Reference areas provide the Government with a means to assess how well the MPA network is performing and help them to understand the potential for recovery in the absence of human activities. This data should then be utilised to provide management targets for other sites. Given the problems with the current MPA communications strategy, reference areas must be utilised to showcase the potential benefits of MPAs. We believe that these areas should be called ‘recovery areas’ rather than ‘reference areas’ to more accurately reflect the conservation objectives of these sites.
38.The Government must publish the outcomes of the CEFAS study and, if it chooses not to proceed with reference areas, it must outline what other forms of data will be used to assess progress against conservation objectives.
39.Our 2014 report concluded that “The Government should identify a clear lead agency to drive effective co-ordination of protected areas”. The Government response claimed that Defra is leading on strategy and co-ordination. However, current management structures for MPAs are still complex, due to the number of organisations and bodies involved and their interlocking responsibilities. For example, whilst fishing activities within 6 nautical miles are managed by the IFCAs, licensing of other marine activities within this zone is undertaken by the MMO. The MMO also have responsibility for fisheries management and marine licensing beyond 6 nautical miles.
40.Stakeholders perceived this system to be cumbersome and lacking clarity. John Tuckett of the MMO agreed that the system was complex, stating “If you were starting again from a blank sheet of paper, would you end up where we are now? The answer is probably not”. He further argued that:
looking ahead to the future and what comes after Brexit, when we are out of the EU there could be an opportunity for looking at a lot of this again in terms of how to set up a system within a UK-only legislative framework that could get rid of some of the complexities.
However, Dr Stephen Bolt of the Association of IFCAs argued that if the system was to be simplified:
I would not want to see the IFCA model, which is quite unique in its engagement with the local communities and so on, lost in the simplification.
41.Many UK MPAs, such as Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation (known together as European Marine Sites, of which there are over 200), have been designated under the EU Birds and Habitats Directives. Dr Coffey explained that these sites would be transferred into English law via the Great Repeal Bill. She told us the Government did not intend to remove any “designations or any protections”, but emphasised that no final decisions had been made as to how this process would be carried out. European Marine Sites (EMS) and MCZs are currently selected under different criteria. Wildlife and Countryside Link explained:
The legislation underpinning MCZs requires the network of MCZs to represent the range of marine flora and fauna in UK waters, while the location of EMS must be chosen solely on scientific grounds relating to the presence of relevant habitats or species. Another difference is that EMS selection is not affected by the existing or potential socioeconomic uses of an area.
42.Some respondents suggested that exiting the EU provides an opportunity to create a clearer and easier to manage system, for example by merging EMS and MCZs. However, other respondents including the Marine Conservation Society advised against amending the Habitats Regulations “under the guise of ‘improving’ it”. They believed that “this may result in watering down key objectives, in particular Article 6 which is critical to their conservation”. Article 6 of the Habitats Directive requires plans or projects to be subject to Habitats Risk Assessments. Wildlife and Countryside Link also argued that it was important for the UK to continue to have sites which protect habitats and species of both European and national importance as this would help “improve the health of the marine environment as a whole… and build resilience against current and future pressures”.
43.Other witnesses were concerned that accountability mechanisms may be lost upon leaving the EU. The current EU governance structure allows successive governments to be held to account for environmental actions, and provides a backstop against the shifting priorities of different national Governments. This is because citizens are able to challenge Government policies in the European Court of Justice. Dr Frost cited the example of Greenpeace’s court case against the UK Government:
When the European legislation was originally transposed into UK law, the UK Government argued that it only applied out to 12 nautical miles. Greenpeace were able to take the UK Government to court and argue that it was applicable out to 200 miles, and indeed it was the European Court that found against the Government and said that the habitats directive applied to the UK continental shelf up to a limit of 200 nautical miles.
And under the Habitats Directive the Government is required to report to the European Commission on the condition of all EMS every six years. The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust argued:
In the past, infringement proceedings have been an important way to ensure proper implementation of EU protection in the UK … .once the authority of the European Courts is revoked, the Government should implement a new monitoring, reporting and enforcement strategy to ensure that the law is properly upheld.
44.However, as Dr Harper noted, even after leaving the EU the UK is bound by international commitments relating to MPAs. For example, the UK is required under the Marine and Coastal Access Act and the OSPAR convention to report on MPAs and to provide assessment of the UK’s progress towards an ecologically coherent network. However, the enforcement mechanisms for these obligations were considered to be weaker. Peter Jones explained that this relied on “political pressure” as it is “almost impossible—to end up in the UN court for breaching a convention”. Dr Frost said “I do have some concern over the oversight of these things. Who is going to be managing them? Who is going to be holding people to account if we do not meet the objectives that we have said we will meet?”
45.Leaving the EU may also make it easier to for the Government to make unilateral decisions about management measures for MPAs beyond six nautical miles, as they would no longer need to seek permission from other European States via the Common Fisheries Policy. Peter Jones argued that Europe had become “littered with paper MPAs simply because [of] the Common Fisheries Policy”. He explained that:
We have thousands of marine protected areas in waters that are subject to the Common Fisheries Policy, but we still have less than 10 restrictions under the Common Fisheries Policy specifically focused on marine protected areas.
This has resulted in some sites beyond 6 nautical miles being designated, but lacking any management measures. However, these purported advantages may be limited by historic fishing rights and any renegotiation of quota shares negotiated as part of the exit arrangements.
46.As the negotiation processes could take two years or more, we heard that it was important “to prevent a paralysis in effective action” whilst the Government was negotiating the terms of exit. Defra told us that “for existing sites the negotiations with other Member States on these management recommendations will be completed in advance of the UK’s exit from the EU”, and Dr Coffey further explained that the Fisheries Minister, George Eustice, was developing a Green Paper which may elaborate on these plans.
47.The Government should ensure that all European Marine Sites are transferred into English law via the Great Repeal Bill and that reporting, monitoring, evaluation and enforcement structures are preserved and set out in a new Environmental Protection Act, or Fisheries Act. To contribute to the health of the marine environment as a whole, the Government must continue to designate sites to protect habitats and species of both European and national importance. Designation does not guarantee protection so the Government should ensure that this is carried out in such a way that retains or improves upon the level of environmental protection and enforcement currently provided in the EU. The Government must work with other member states to ensure that management recommendations are in place for all designated MPAs before the UK leaves the EU. It must ensure that the process of exiting the EU does not create paralysis in establishing effective management measures in MPAs beyond 6 nautical miles. If the Government withdraws from the Common Fisheries Policy, it should recognise that there are likely to be significant changes to the management of offshore MPAs. In light of this, it should undertake a review of current management arrangements, with a view to creating a less complex management system.