Draft Marine Bill promises much - Veterinary Practice
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Draft Marine Bill promises much

ANDREW COE believes the legislation could have far-reaching consequences

APRIL saw the publication of the British Government’s draft Marine Bill, a long-awaited move to give added protection to British marine life and to designate a new network of marine nature reserves.

One of the functions of the Bill will be to create a new agency known as the Marine Management Organisation, which will enforce the relevant environmental legislation and regulate developments such as offshore wind farms.

The RSPB has given a cautious welcome to the Bill’s publication in the hope that robust environmental protection laws will follow. However, it has some concerns that the Bill will simply involve “a rehash of the current, ineffective legislation”.

Why do we need to give our coastline and territorial waters more protection than they currently receive? Well, consider that at present only 0.001% of UK seas have high levels of protection from damaging activities. And that Sally Bailey of the conservation group WWF UK reckons: “There is a considerable body of work suggesting that a network of marine protected areas should cover from 20-30% of waters, with some work even suggesting as much as 40%.”

So there is obviously huge scope for the Bill with currently just three highly-protected marine reserves in UK waters: Lundy Island off the north Devon coast; Strangford Lough in Northern Island; and Skomer in Pembrokeshire. And whilst all seabirds in the UK are protected when they are on land, there is no protection extended (other than in the three reserves mentioned), to those areas of sea next to where they breed and in which they need to fish.

Conservation zones

Bearing this is mind the RSPB has just published a report, Safeguarding our Seabirds, in which it identifies 70 nearshore sites that are of national importance for breeding seabirds and worthy of protection as Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs).

If the new Bill, once enacted, enables a network of MCZs to be established then it could have farreaching consequences for the longterm future of not just seabirds but of all forms of marine life.

Another function of the Bill is to declare a “right to roam” around the whole of the English coastline with the exception of some railway lines and MOD sites. The National Trust has welcomed this as a means of improving access by all to what is a “highly prized Public asset”. Private individuals who own parts of the coastline, and the likes of golf course committees, are likely to be less enthusiastic, with talk of big drops in the retail value of some properties should the idea go ahead.

My own feeling on the matter is that it could be a wonderful opportunity to see parts of our country that have previously been off limits but I worry that us humans are just too irresponsible to be trusted with the privilege. Think litter, erosion, malicious damage to fences and styles, noise pollution, gates left open, and you might be able to imagine my concerns.

The saving grace I suppose is that many of the newly opened up areas will be relatively remote and thus sufficiently far away from the car parks and ice cream vans such that only the most dedicated of ramblers will want to access them.

One hopes that the more intrepid will be all too aware of the need to conserve what they see and not despoil it.

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