100 years ago The Wildlife Trusts’ founder Charles Rothschild first championed the concept of a network of nature reserves on land. When The Wildlife Trusts were founded in 1912, the aim was to seek government protection for a network of important sites for nature - a revolutionary concept at the time. Three years was spent gathering information, looking for the 'breeding-places of scarce creatures', the 'localities of scarce plants' and areas of 'geological interest'. By 1915 a list of 284 sites 'worthy of preservation' had been compiled - the Rothschild Reserves. Since then vital wildlife sites on land have secured protection and are now valued by society. Not so at sea.
A hundred years on, the first national network of potential marine protected areas has been identified: 127 Marine Conservation Zones in English and offshore Welsh waters have been recommended to the Government for protection. All were selected through consultation with more than one million stakeholders. The list is based on the best available evidence – as the Government itself asked for it to be. The recommendations were made in 2011 with designation originally expected in 2012. However, the Government has stalled designation of any sites until 2013, citing lack of evidence. There are indications that even then only a small proportion will eventually be designated.
Joan Edwards, Head of Living Seas for The Wildlife Trusts, said: “The network recommendations mark a huge step in the right direction. This is the result of a great deal of hard work from many stakeholders. It is essential that this opportunity is not wasted. There are high expectations which need to be met. A strong and complete network of MPAs must be presented to the public by the Government. If it falters or fails in its designation, there’s no doubt it will fall short of reaching its own target."
Research from around the world shows now is a critical moment for marine conservation, with extinction rates at an all-time high. Key scientists have published a report recommending the creation of MPAs for restoring and protecting significantly damaged marine ecosystems. Protection of key marine areas from damaging activities is one vital element in achieving the Government’s own vision of ‘productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas’ and turning around decades of decline.
MPAs are essential for the future of marine life, and currently, only 0.001% of the UK’s marine environment is fully protected from damaging activities. Fish stocks have collapsed and species including corals, seahorses, whales, seals and basking sharks have all suffered declines.
The recommended sites in Norfolk include the Cromer Shoal Chalk Reef, which runs for 30km along the north Norfolk coast and is now thought to be the longest in Europe. Recent underwater surveys have shown the reef to be a biodiversity hotspot, rich in marine life and home to a species of sponge that was previously unknown to science. A recent television documentary highlighted the importance of the reef for both wildlife and local crab and lobster fisheries.
Norfolk's Secret Sea
Norfolk Wildlife Trust has been working with Seasearch East to show just how amazing our Marine Wildlife really is. Below is a video created by Rob Spray. Download a PDF of Norfolk's Secret Sea
, a photo guide to the marine wildlife of North Norfolk coast's wrecks and reefs.
Become a campaigner for the Marine Conservation Zones local to you and the network as a whole!
Norfolk Wildlife Trust along with other Wildlife Trusts has launched a campaign to recruit ‘Friends of Marine Conservation Zones’. The campaign is linked to a new online resource - the first of its kind - providing details of locations, species and habitats for all 127 recommended MCZs. By creating accessible information about all 127 sites, Norfolk Wildlife Trust hopes to inspire individuals to stand up for the extraordinary marine species and habitats in English and offshore Welsh waters.
To find out more about your local recommended Marine Conservation Zone, and sign up to be a Friend, visit www.wildlifetrusts.org/MCZfriends
Have your say as part of the public consultation via the easy form on the national website.
Read more about the North Sea Wildlife Project: http://www.northseawildlife.org.uk