72.To tackle the risks from over-exploitation, pollution and climate change, areas of the sea are designated and protected both nationally and under international treaties. Marine protected areas (MPAs) are clearly defined geographical spaces, identified through legal or other effective means, and are dedicated to achieving the long-term conservation of nature.229 MPAs can be created for a number of reasons including economic resources, biodiversity conservation and species protection.230 For the purposes of this report, MPAs are the generic term that incorporates a number of different designations which are considered to contribute to the MPA network (see Annex C for a list of designations).
73.The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) is the global arbiter of MPAs, recognised by national governments and the UN as the global leader in protected area policy, science and management practice.231 It has defined categories for MPAs on a continuum from fully protected areas with no take, through to multiple use areas.232 The IUCN defines the essential characteristics that MPAs must have:
a)conservation focused with nature as the priority;
b)defined goals and objectives which reflect these conservation values;
c)suitable size, location, and design that deliver the conservation values;
d)defined and fairly agreed boundary;
e)management plan or equivalent, which addresses the needs for conservation of the MPA’s major values, and achievement of its social and economic goals and objectives; and
f)resources and capacity to effectively implement.233
74.Networks of MPAs have been shown to be effective at protecting marine species, leading to “higher densities, biomass and species richness of marine biota” within and around the area due to species’ ability to move.234 The UK has signed up to establish an ecologically coherent network of well-managed MPAs under the Aichi targets of the Convention on Biodiversity and the OSPAR Convention (see Annex B for further information). Defra told us that the UK had “exceeded” its target to protect ten per cent of coastal and marine areas and is at the forefront of marine protection.235 The UK has currently identified 283 OSPAR MPAs,236 and as of March 2018, approximately 24 per cent of UK waters are currently within MPAs.237 This is over the ten per cent required by the Aichi targets. However witnesses such as WWF claim that whilst the UK meets the ten per cent target in terms of area, it would not meet the element of ten per cent being “well-managed”.238
75.Dr McQuatters Gollop from the University of Plymouth argued that “there is no point putting in place an MPA that does not have a management strategy with effective measures of management”.239 We heard that many MPAs are missing key components to meet protected area classification, including adequate management plans and monitoring against them.240 In its evidence, the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) states that current MPAs, including currently designated MCZs, still allow fishing activity to take place, including the most damaging of fishing practices- scallop dredging. It notes that its members see first-hand the destruction caused by these activities, describing a “barren wasteland of silt and sand that is devoid of life”.241 The Marine Conservation Society highlights that whilst we have achieved more than 20 per cent coverage in UK seas, “we only have bottom trawling restrictions in 1.7 per cent of our seas” and none of our offshore water MPAs are protected (beyond 12 nautical miles).242
76.Throughout our inquiry we heard that marine species are facing multiple stressors—warming, acidification, oxygen depletion, chemicals and plastics—which will affect the productivity and health of the oceans.243 Professor Boyd, Chief Scientific Adviser to Defra, recommended that to combat these different threats, an adaptive management approach should be used where stressors are taken out of the system; for example, if cod are affected by acidification then the action should be to catch fewer cod.244 Changes in temperature and ocean circulation highlight the need for flexible management of MPAs, as the best locations for the protection of certain species are likely to change in the future, for both shallow and deep-water species.245 To do this would require monitoring of existing MPAs to be able to inform future management decisions, which Professor Boyd thought was lacking:
What I would say we should do a lot better is getting out and looking at the areas we have already protected to understand whether they are really having the effects that we hope they will have. At the moment I am not sure that we have that information. In fact, I know we do not have that information.246
77.The Devon and Severn Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority, whose role is to seek to ensure that the exploitation of sea fisheries resources is carried out in a sustainable way, told us that its funding has been withheld by local authorities and it would not be able to fulfil its statutory duties if funding to the Authority was further reduced.247
78.Witnesses also described “fisheries law trumping environmental law”, such as pulse fishing being allowed on the Dogger Bank, the largest MPA in Europe; that there are few goals for restoration of the environment; and that competent authorities are not receiving enough funding for policing protected areas.248 Almost all MPAs allow industrial fishing and bottom trawling which conservationists describe as “tragically unambitious”.249 A report for Defra found that trawling is ubiquitous across the UK shelf seas.250 It suggests that since most impacts on seafloor life and processes seem to occur the first time an area is trawled, “it would seem better to have high fishing effort in some areas and none in others, rather than equally spreading the seafloor disturbance”.251 The Wildlife Trusts agreed with this assessment, describing that marine plans do not adequately incorporate all the activities in the sea, most notably fishing.252 Environment Links UK told us there is a “significant opportunity” for improving the planning process in the marine environment, particularly through the forthcoming update to the UK Marine Strategy, which could guide the future implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, international obligations and the 25 Year Plan for the Environment.253
79.Defra told us the UK’s current legal and regulatory framework is adequate to protect biodiversity even given the growing demands which are likely to be placed on marine resources:
The UK Marine Policy Statement and the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010, the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 and the Marine Act (Northern Ireland) 2013 provide the framework for improving and managing the UK’s marine environment including protection of marine biodiversity. This framework is supported by the UK Marine Strategy which sets out our vision for the marine environment, the monitoring programmes we have in place to assess the state of our seas and the policies, regulations and actions we are taking to protect marine biodiversity and sustainably manage the marine environment. The UK Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan reinforces this commitment under the twin objectives of achieving good environmental status of our seas and implementing a sustainable fisheries policy.254
The 25 Year Plan for the Environment states that Defra is completing a “major assessment” of how far our seas have moved towards good environmental status since 2012 and will put in place an updated strategy that will be regularly updated.255 It will review all marine targets and indicators and complete the full series of England Marine Plans by 2021.
80.The Government claims to have met its targets for marine conservation in the UK, but its approach to marine protection is not working, with too many harmful activities such as bottom trawling occurring across too wide an area. Fisheries are not adequately incorporated into marine planning and few Marine Protected Areas have management plans in place. Monitoring of the success of protected areas is also inadequate. The Government is complacent: its goal should not only be to designate protected areas, but to ensure they are achieving the desired effect to improve ecological status. We heard that an adaptive management approach could tackle the multiple stressors which threaten the marine system. We welcome Defra’s review of ecological status of UK seas and recommend that in response to this report, it sets out how its new strategy will deliver more integrated marine planning, restoration and adaptive management to achieve ecologically diverse, healthy and productive seas. It should also set out its timetable for when all marine protected areas will have management plans and monitoring in place.
81.The UK has constitutional and legal responsibility for 14 Overseas Territories (OTs). Except for Antarctica, they are all islands or groups of islands (see Figure 2).256 The OTs are home to over 90 per cent of the UK’s marine biodiversity and they are fundamental to regional and international marine conservation.257 Some of their species and habitats are found nowhere else on earth. 94 per cent of British endemic species are found within the OTs and 85 per cent of the Critically Endangered species that the Government is responsible for are found within the Territories.258
82.The Government’s Blue Belt Programme aims to establish protection for over four million square kilometres of marine environment.259 It is delivered by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) and the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), however the MPAs are designated in accordance with domestic legislation.260 The programme is initially focused on seven territories and archipelagos (Figure 2). Lord Ahmad told us that over three million square kilometres have now been protected.261
Figure 2. UK Overseas Territories engaged in the Blue Belt Programme.262
83.The South Georgia shelf has been identified as the most biodiverse region of the Southern Ocean.263 Charles Clover, from the Great British Oceans coalition told us about the campaign to create a fully protected MPA in the South Sandwich Islands (see box). He considered the main barrier to its designation was resistance in the Foreign Office.264 We put this concern to Lord Ahmad and he responded that the MPA is currently under consideration by the Foreign Secretary who “hopes to make a decision on that MPA very shortly”.265
South Sandwich Islands MPA
We heard from the Great British Oceans coalition,266 that the pledge to fully protect the South Sandwich Islands MPA (over 1 million square kilometres) has not materialised. In 2012, the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands declared all 1.04 million km2 of its exclusive economic zone a Category VI IUCN Marine Protected Area.267 The IUCN delivered the opinion that the MPA only qualifies according to internationally agreed standards in two per cent of its area because of a lack of dedication to nature conservation and because it allows industrial fishing.268
The Great British Oceans coalition is calling for the full protection of 500,000 square kilometres around the South Sandwich Islands. It says that the UK Government can fully protect this “biodiversity hotspot” within existing domestic legislation and this could be achieved “without the displacement of any current fishing activity or resulting loss of Government revenues, and within existing legislation and budgets”.269 The IUCN are shortly to publish a guidance document, clarifying what it advises to be permissible actions within the varying categories of MPAs.270
84.The Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (SGSSI) subsequently announced on 12 December 2018 that a set of additional measures to enhance the MPA would be implemented.271 The measures, which draw on recommendations arising from the recent five yearly review of the SGSSI MPA (conducted by a panel comprising scientists, as well as representatives from the fishing and tourism industries, and environmental groups), include:
85.Research has shown that MPAs are effective if they are properly managed: Large, long-term, ‘no-take’ reserves that are isolated by deep water or sand and backed up with strong enforcement have five times more large-fish biomass than unprotected areas.272 Will McCallum, Head of Oceans at Greenpeace said that there are “plenty of examples” in the Blue Belt where adequate enforcement is lacking, yet remote technology such as satellite tracking is available which could be used alongside increased naval capacity for policing.273 He went on to say that the issue was a lack of management plans:
… many of the protected areas or so-called protected areas around our coast just do not have a management plan, and at the very least we cannot claim these areas are protected if we are not properly managing them. Otherwise they are just lines on a map.274
86.Charles Clover told us that the British Indian Ocean Territory does not have a management plan and we heard that UK Government enforcement and management is almost completely absent from Caribbean OT seas beyond 12 nautical miles.275 Professor Boyd told us that it is not the size of the protected areas around the OTs that is important, but whether they are having the desired effect. He considered more monitoring and evaluation was necessary.276 Funding for the Blue Belt Programme will cease from 2020.277 We heard from witnesses that the programme will still need monitoring, management and enforcement after this time which the Government acknowledges is expensive.278 The Marine Conservation Society note that other sources of funding are not enough to support the programme:
… the scale of funding available through Darwin Plus (available to all UKOTs)279 is utterly insufficient with respect to the scale of the problems facing Caribbean UKOTs alone, and access to BEST [Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in Territories] funds is likely to cease post-Brexit.280
87.We put the concern that there were inadequate management plans and policing of protected areas to Lord Ahmad. In response he said that support is being provided for management plans and indicated that satellite technology is being used for enforcement in some of the OTs:281
… we are fully conscious of the fact that protecting them is about unreported and unregulated fishing. With designated and enhanced surveillance from satellites, we can now see, through our National Maritime Information Centre for example, designated boats in particular areas. The key territories covered through such satellite technology include the Ascension Islands, St Helena, Tristan de Cunha and [British Indian Ocean Territory], and assessments of each territory’s marine habitats are also made. We are using technology to assess that.282
Lord Ahmad later added that satellite coverage is being tasked on a “risk and intelligence-led basis” across the programme to target the times and areas that represent the highest risk for each of the OTs.283 He confirmed that the Blue Belt programme would continue but that funding beyond 2020 could not be guaranteed:
We are looking very closely at specific areas of funding beyond 2020. We are cognisant that we need to see a continuation of ensuring sustainability of our MPAs and that is an area we continue to look at. At the moment, there is a £20 million allocation until 2020. Beyond that I cannot confirm what that level of funding will be.284
88.Not all Marine Protected Areas established by the Blue Belt programme are meeting international best practice guidelines by the IUCN. We are concerned that the UK’s MPAs are missing key components to meet protected area demarcation, and that the UK missed its OSPAR commitment to establish a network of well-established MPAs by 2016. Whilst designating Marine Protected Areas is important, their benefits will only be realised if they are effectively managed. They must be monitored to deter illegal activity and to establish if species and habitats are recovering, to inform future designations and adaptive management decisions. The Government must, as a matter of urgency, guarantee sustainable levels of funding for the Blue Belt Programme post 2020, to ensure monitoring, management and enforcement of marine protected areas. We recommend the Government should work in collaboration with all Overseas Territories with MPAs to set up a fully integrated monitoring and surveillance regime for satellite tracking of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. In particular, the UK Government should support the Ascension Island Government in designating 100 per cent of its Exclusive Economic Zone as an MPA as the Secretary of State for DEFRA told us he is considering.
89.The South Sandwich Islands present an opportunity to protect one of the most biodiverse areas in the UK’s jurisdiction. Adding this area as a ‘no take’ designation would add half a million square kilometres to the Blue Belt. We welcome the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Government’s announcement on 12 December 2018 to extend the ‘no-take zones’ to cover 23 per cent of the MPA, while also implementing additional measures to enhance marine protection around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. This will extend the MPA and close around 170,000 square kilometres to commercial fishing. The Government should continue to work with the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Government to work towards designating 100 per cent of the South Sandwich Islands MPA as a ‘no take’ area for commercial fishing while recognising the need to licence very limited fishing for scientific purposes. This would help to realise the Government’s ambitions to protect four million square kilometres of ocean.
229 Marine Conservation Zones in England, Commons Library Briefing SN06129, 17 July 2015; Selection of Marine Conservation Zones, POST Note, 6 June 2013; Biodiversity in UK overseas territories, POST note, 18 January 2013; and Selection of Marine Conservation Zones, POST Note, 6 June 2013
230 IUCN. Marine Protected Areas [Accessed 12/09/2018]
232 The seven categories range from ‘strict nature reserve’ (Ia) through to ‘protected areas with sustainable use of natural resources’ (VI). The category should be based around the primary management objective(s), which should apply to at least three-quarters of the protected area. IUCN. Guidelines for Applying Protected Area Management Categories
233 IUCN WCPA. 2018. Applying IUCN’s Global Conservation Standards to Marine Protected Areas (MPA). Delivering effective conservation action through MPAs, to secure ocean health and sustainable development.
234 Marine Conservation Zones in England, Commons Library Briefing SN06129, 17 July 2015; see also Q33;
236 JNCC. 2018. OSPAR Marine Protected Areas. [Accessed 21/11/2018]
237 JNCC. Contributing to a marine protected area network. [Accessed 21/08/2018] and Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (SSI0125)
240 Q242; Q259; WWF-UK (SSI0101); RSPB (SSI0063); Plymouth Marine Laboratory (SSI0048)
For example, the RSPB told us that in 2013 only 28 out of 115 of the “most important” MPAs (Special Areas of Conservation with a marine component) had comprehensive management plans in place and more recent assessments indicate that most habitats are in unfavourable condition. The UK is next due to report on progress in 2019.
247 Devon & Severn Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (SSI00147). IFCAs aim to lead, champion and manage a sustainable marine environment and inshore fisheries, by successfully securing the right balance between social, environmental and economic benefits to ensure healthy seas, sustainable fisheries and a viable industry. Two-thirds of IFCA funding comes from local government and one-third comes from Defra.
249 92% of MPAs in England’s EEZ are open to bottom-trawled or bottom-dredged gears, mobile gears. Q240; Q244
250 Kröger S, Parker R, Cripps G and Williamson P (Eds.) 2018. Shelf Seas: The Engine of Productivity, Policy Report on NERC-Defra Shelf Sea Biogeochemistry programme. Cefas, Lowestoft
255 HM Government. 2018. A Green Future: The Government’s 25 year plan to improve the environment, p108. The main goal of the Marine Directive is to achieve Good Environmental Status of EU marine waters by 2020. The Directive defines Good Environmental Status (GES) as: “The environmental status of marine waters where these provide ecologically diverse and dynamic oceans and seas which are clean, healthy and productive”
256 The OTs are Anguilla (Caribbean), Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, Cayman Islands (Caribbean), Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat (Caribbean), Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha (south Atlantic), Pitcairn Islands (southern Pacific), South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (far south Atlantic), Sovereign Base areas of Aktotiri and Dhekelia on Cyprus, Turks and Caicos Islands (Caribbean).
257 MMO and CEFAS. Blue Belt Programme annual update 2017/18
258 A critically endangered (CR) species is one which has been categorised by the IUCN as facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild. MMO and Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science. Introducing the Blue Belt Programme. 2017
259 Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Marine Management Organisation and Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science The Blue Belt programme. [Accessed 24/10/2018]
260 MMO and CEFAS. Blue Belt Programme annual update 2017/18
262 Adapted from MMO and CEFAS. 2017. Introducing the Blue Belt Programme
263 JNCC. 2011. South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies: 2011 Biodiversity snapshot
266 A coalition of the Blue Marine Foundation, Greenpeace, Marine Conservation Society, The Pew Trusts, RSPB and Zoological Society of London
267 Category VI is a protected area with sustainable use of natural resources, the least stringent of its protected categories. IUCN categories
271 Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. Press release: South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands MPA Enhancements, 12 December 2018
272 Edgar, G. J. et al. Protect the neglected half of our blue planet. 2014. Nature 506, 216–220
277 Q365; MMO and Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science. Blue Belt Programme annual update 2017/18.
278 Q264; MMO and Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science. Blue Belt Programme annual update 2017/18.
279 The OT Environment and Climate Fund, also known as Darwin Plus, provides funding for environmental projects in UK Overseas Territories.
282 Q382; see also Letter from Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon to Mary Creagh, 11 November 2018
283 Letter from Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon to Mary Creagh, 11 November 2018
Published: 17 January 2019