48.Over one million interested parties participated in the regional projects that recommended sites for designation. Witnesses argued that, after involving the public in the MCZ selection process, it was important that “the Government continues to engage closely with them throughout the remainder of the process”. However, our 2014 report concluded that the Government had “not yet got its communications right”. We argued that insufficient communication about the MPA network and its associated benefits created a risk of unnecessary stakeholder resistance. DEFRA told us that since our report the consultation process had improved:
Since the first tranche there has been continued stakeholder engagement on prospective sites to improve understanding of the potential social and economic implications and how any negative impacts might be minimised. For the second tranche, potential sites were discussed with stakeholders at a number of events and meetings before the consultation.
Despite this, witnesses to our inquiry repeatedly emphasised that the Government’s approach to communication was still inadequate. The North Sea Marine Cluster argued that:
We are missing a trick. This is the biggest marine experiment we have ever conducted. It is huge and very exciting but it is not really being conveyed as such to the public at large. There is room for … broader engagement.
49.There was a widespread view that information was both fragmented and overly complicated, making it “still too difficult for people, other than specialists, to navigate the various information sources about MPAs”. This situation was perceived to have “deteriorated since the last inquiry”. Information about MPAs is now split across various locations, with separate information contained on the websites of the JNCC, Natural England, DEFRA, the MMO and individual IFCAs - who have no common approach to publishing information. The North Sea Marine Cluster argued that even within these different websites information could be difficult to locate:
On the MMO site there are three or four different parts you have to navigate. There are two interactive maps that do not seem to speak to each other. There is information on one site about the spatial location of an MPA and on another site you find some information about what is being protected.
Some witnesses criticised available information for being overly complicated and “couched in highly technical terms”. The Wildlife Trusts believed that:
We have to do more to make it more accessible, because at the moment the consultations around the tranches has been near-enough impossible to take part in, because it is complicated, it is full of science and it is just difficult.
50.Witnesses emphasised that there was potential to be more imaginative in terms of how the Government communicate the benefits of MPAs to the general public. The Marine Conservation Society stated:
They are perhaps rather traditional in the way they have communicated about those sites. “Here is a list of species. Here is a list of habitats. We are protecting them”. Maybe more video would be useful, and more interviews with stakeholders would be useful.
In Scotland for example, they have already produced two short films about their MPA network and the features it is protecting. Dr Harper told us that progress was being made on this issue and that:
Natural England and JNCC [are] working hard to translate that technical scientific advice into something that is much more user-friendly, testing that out with web platforms infographics and videos.
Some progress has also been made by individual IFCAs, for example the Devon & Severn IFCA have been coordinating with Natural England to provide MPA information on signage along the newly opened Coastal Path section near Minehead.
51.MPAs should be the jewels in Britain’s crown and seen as national parks of the sea. Raising awareness of MPAs amongst the general public should be an important part of the programme’s implementation both in the UK and in the Overseas Territories. The Government needs to do a better job of promoting the benefits of marine protection. Despite this Committee having identified this as a concern in 2014, the Government’s communications strategy is still unsatisfactory. Information is both fragmented and overly technical and the Government has made little progress in using innovative methods to communicate the benefits of MPAs. An improved communications strategy is vital given that the third tranche of MCZs is likely to contain some of the most controversial sites.
52.To gain support from stakeholders, the Government needs to implement a robust communications strategy that aims to raise awareness of the MPA network amongst businesses and the general public. This improved communications strategy should be implemented alongside consultations for the third tranche of MCZs. The Government must develop a consolidated central source of MPA information and be more creative in the ways that it communicates information about the network. The Government should ensure that its plans for marine protection are fully set out in its forthcoming 25 year plan for the environment. The IFCAs and the MMO should work together with Natural England to provide information about MPAs along the entire length of the Coastal Path. The Government must ensure it consults with stakeholders at a local level to secure widespread support for designations.