The UK Government has launched plans to increase protections for England’s waters through a pilot scheme to designate marine sites in England as “Highly Protected Marine Areas”. The selected sites would see a ban on all activities that could have a damaging effect on wildlife or marine habitats.
The sites to be piloted could be in or outside of existing Marine Protected Areas where they would benefit from a substantially higher level of protection. Highly Protected Marine Areas will take a ‘whole site approach’, conserving all species and habitats within their boundary to maximise protection of marine habitats and vital species.
These Highly Protected Marine Areas will be identified by Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee with input from stakeholders with a formal consultation set to launch next year.
Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England, said: “I am delighted that the Government has committed to implement Highly Protected Marine Areas with a number of pilot sites. Natural England’s evidence based advice has been instrumental in determining the need for special protection for our most vulnerable marine wildlife.
“We look forward to working closely with Defra to identify pilot sites and use this great opportunity to explore how highly protected areas can mitigate the impact of human activities on the ocean, support its recovery to a more natural state, and enhance vital marine ecosystems.
This comes as Defra and the Ocean Conservation Trust publish the results of the largest ever survey in England and Wales on public attitudes to our oceans. The survey finds that 85% of people consider marine protection personally important to them. Of those who had visited our coastlines last year, 80% said it was good for their physical health and 84% said it was good for their mental health.
The findings also show that when asked about the greatest threats to the marine environment, participants were most concerned about pollution, with overfishing, climate change and loss of marine habitats also ranking highly.
Joan Edwards, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at The Wildlife Trusts, said: “This new type of marine protection will be the gold standard for rewilding parts of the sea. The removal of all harmful activities – from fishing and trawling to construction – has never been attempted in UK waters before. This is an historic moment and we’re certain that HPMAs will help our seas become healthier and that degraded underwater habitats will be better able to recover.
“This special form of protection is vitally needed. Decades of overexploitation and pollution have left our precious seas damaged and the wealth of wildlife that once lived there is much diminished. Existing Marine Protected areas are limited in their ability to restore nature as they only go as far as conserving its current, sometimes damaged state. HPMAs will allow us to see what truly recovering seas look like. They will set a new bar against which other protected areas could be measured.”
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living.