A damp, salty squib

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I’ve been the RSPB’s Conservation Director since May 2011. As I settle into the job, I’ll be blogging on all the big conservation topics and providing an inside view of our conservation projects. I hope you enjoy reading it and feel inspired to join in t

A damp, salty squib

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I hate to end the week on a sour note, but yesterday's announcement about Marine Conservation Zones was hugely disappointing. 

For over a decade, many NGOs and hundreds of thousands of people supported the campaign to get comprehensive legislation for the marine environment.  This ultimately received cross-party support and led to the passing of the Marine and Coastal Access Act (2009). 

Our expectation was that this would lead to the establishment of an ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas.  Yet, of 127 sites proposed for protection, only ‘up to’ 31 are recommended for designation in 2013, and there appears to be no clear commitment to any further rounds of designation. 

Less than half of the 57 sites identified by the Government’s own advisors as being at high risk are to be progressed, the others in many cases being excluded on the basis that the economic implications of designation are perceived to outweigh the conservation benefits.  Many of these sites may therefore be lost.  This news needs to be looked at alongside our inability to establish a network of marine protected areas of European importance (under the Birds and Habitats Directives).

We, and no doubt those that supported the marine campaign, feel let down by yesterday's announcement.

I understand Mr Benyon's desire to get this right, but seabirds and other marine wildlife are in trouble.  As I have written previously here, here and here, they need something more than is currently being offered. And arugably, developers at sea need these sites identified fast to help provide provide certainty about the most appropriate sites for development. 

The coalition Government’s commitment to achieve a ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas now looks undeliverable. We will examine the consultation in detail, including the lamentable attention given to the protection of seabirds and other ‘mobile species’. 

What do you think of government's announcement about marine conservation zones?

It would be great to hear your views.

Comments
  • Its not so much the economy as politics - as things stand its a double whammy - fish, fishermen and wildlife are all going down together so there's no profit there - but to reverse iot means putting fishermen out of a job and like farmers they have an iconic status quite out of proportion to the economic importance of what they do - which is getting less as the fish get scarcer.

    We still mine the seas - like logging a tropical rainforest, we take what we can get and soon it'll be gone. Forestry, in contrast, works on a basis of sustained yield - aiming to grow and cut the same amount of timber each year. I just wonder what sustained yield would look like around our coasts if ever we could get back to it ? We would be able to harvest massively more fish - and our wildlife could thrive. Marine reserves are a first step in the right direction.

    However, foresters also know that if you overcut you spiral down very quickly - each year the trees are smaller and younger and you have to cut more. That's where we are on fisheries except that if you look at the age of Cod in the North Sea we're actually catching them almost before they are hatched from the egg !

  • Its the short term - and even more so politics - rather than the economy that is the problem: to reduce pressure you have to reduce fishing effort and everything is against that - technology means that fewer fisherman already produce more effort, if not more fish because fish numbers continue to plummet. The end game at the moment is no fish, no fishermen and no wildlife. On its record to date its not surprising this Government have neither the will nor the courage to break the cycle of decline.

    The underlying problem is we still mine rather than steward our fish stocks - on land its logging versus forestry. Thinking in the language of forestry, which centres around sustained yield -  making sure you don't cut more than is growing up - I wonder what the sustained yield of our fisheries would be ? It would certainly be spectacularly higher than it is today - and on a worldwide scale would be part of the answer to food security. However, what foresters are all too well aware of is that if you start over-cutting you very quickly sink into a downward spiral - the trees you are cutting are smaller so you have to cut more and soon the age and size spirals downward and the only way out is a drastic cut in output. We are way, way down the scale for fish and the full suite of marine reserves is an absolute minimum if there is any chance of even partial recovery.

  • All politicians, of every party are the same despite how they dress things up pre-election.  Green policies are just a facade to make people think they are doing something.  In reality, all the political parties capable of winning an election have capitalistic values and ideaology and thus will put the interests of business ( decribed by them as the economy) before nature, the envornment and ordinary people.  Don't hold your breath for 2015.  Rachel Carson wrote the truth in her book Silent Spring  published in the 1950's.  Can't recommend this high enough.  She was right, was recognised for it.. successive governments have known the issues and for the next 60 years have continued with destructive policies.  Where money is a factor, the environment will suffer.

  • Sad that the economy trumps the environment time and time again. This Government yet again nails their 'Greenest Government Ever' pledge into their economic coffin of doom. It is up to us as brilliant conservation organisations and campaigners to unite now and really change the narative. We must keep banging the drum against short-termism and the obsession with economics and austerity. I am frankly amazed that this Government have come out with their committment to Fracking and this unambitious MCZ designation in the same week. We really have got a big fight on our hands. I'm well up for it though!

  • Hi Martin; re Coalition they did nt mean a word of anything they said re "green" did they ? If one takes this in context with the privatisation of schools and the NHS where they broke with clear promises and manifesto commitments then perhaps people will make up their own minds as to the cynical "coup" that has occurred.

    My response is to call for the means testing of all subsidies to landowners and compulsory environmental standards on farms. I have asked RSPB to publish a county map of CAP recipients focusing on the 2100 who receive over 100 grand and two thirds of the CAP budget , but it seems that it is too busy to do so; so I have gone to the Guardian and Daily Mirror. Frankly I am not content that RSPB is pulling its weight here with all its staff re agriculture policy; nice noises do not cut ice, Sir. You are ALL far better paid than I am.

    I would particularly refer you to the fact that the NFU has stated re nicotinoid pesticides " It is very well known that the current pesticide risk assessment systems were not developed to assess systemic pesticides" Guardian 13 Dec MP's say regulators turning Blind Eye.

    When I accused you months ago of "Kicking this Tin down the Road"; you said there was no evidence; well that statement from the NFU (Jesus Wept) is ample enough evidence to call for a ban under the Precautionary Principle until due assessments have been made ?

  • Yet another ecological disaster from this " greenest Government ever" is what I think of this Government's annoucement about marine conservation zones. As you say Martin, very very disappointing and a very big let down. Despite the question and answer session that was held with Mr Benyon over a year ago and his reassuring words at the time they have effectively come to nought. What a disappointment for all those who have worked to hard on this subject. Nevertheless we must "pick ourselves up and dust ourselves down" resume the campaign on a coordinated basis with other relevant conservation organisations and look to the future, including, say 2015 when a new set of our "dearly beloved" politiciations maybe in charge.