Protection plans for three areas off Northumberland coast

Farne Islands
Farne Islands

The Government has launched a consultation on creating 23 further areas of marine protection around the country, with three proposed off the north Northumberland coast.

Everyone with an interest is invited to give their views on whether the sites in English waters should become Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs). Three of the recommended MCZs are on the Northumberland coast.

One covers a 200km² area around both Coquet and St Mary’s Island. It provides a habitat for anemones, soft corals, sea squirts, starfish, sea urchins, crabs and lobsters, and includes the first record of the Arctic cushion star on the English coast.

Another recommended MCZ is Farnes East, near to the Farne Islands. The lack of sunlight in these deep waters prevent seaweeds from growing, allowing cup coral, sea-fans, anemones, and sponges to thrive. Exposed areas of peat and clay are home to burrowing piddocks and ocean quahog.

The third is Fulmar, which is located 224km offshore and is the most northerly recommended MCZ in the North Sea, with depths of 50 to 100metres.

This consultation is the second tranche of MCZs. The first saw 27 sites designated as MCZs in November 2013. The Government aims to designate this second tranche within one year, followed by a third tranche to complete the contribution to an ecologically coherent network of sites in the North-East Atlantic.

Marine Environment Minister George Eustice said: “We’re doing more than ever to protect our seas, preserving incredible underwater landscapes and helping our sea life flourish. We’ve already created 27 Marine Conservation Zones and a quarter of English inshore waters are in protected areas.

“It is important we secure the future of our coastal communities as part of our long-term economic plan. We want to support these communities while protecting our marine life. We’re asking everyone with an interest in our sea to respond to our consultation so we can create new protected areas and ensure our seas remain healthy and productive for generations to come.”

However, the proposals have been described as a ‘let-down’ by charity the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), who claim that sound scientific advice has once again been ignored with 14 important sites not included in the consultation. The MCS says this tranche had been promoted as one to fill in major gaps, but instead appears to have slowed the MCZ process right down.

MCS biodiversity and fisheries programme manager, Dr Peter Richardson, said: “We are alarmed that these proposed MCZs have been shelved, at least for the time being. We believe all of the sites are necessary to achieve the Government’s stated commitment to deliver a full network. Delaying 14 sites means that a number of the UK’s iconic marine places and habitats are still not adequately protected.

“This decision doesn’t match urgent conservation needs, or indeed, the ambition of the public, who continue to demonstrate their support for the establishment of a network of marine protected areas in UK seas. Parties must recommit to a network in their manifestos and deliver this by 2016.”