The long-awaited consultation on the next stages of Marine Conservation Zone (MCZs) designation in English and non-devolved waters has been launched. Norfolk Wildlife Trust welcomes the inclusion of the Cromer Shoal Chalk Beds.
Of the 37 sites recommended by experts and stakeholders in February last year, only 23 are now included in the current MCZs consultation, which runs for the next 12 weeks.
MCZs are vital to protect and restore the marine environment. Such areas are one of the best tools to protect marine wildlife effectively and restore our seas to their full potential following decades of neglect and decline.
The chalk beds, located just 200 metres from the Norfolk coast, range from 0 – 20 metres in depth. This unique reef comprises boulders, stacks and arches and is most likely to be Europe’s largest chalk reef. Alongside chalk, the seabed is composed of a mixture of rock, sediment, peat and clay.
Marine life is abundant here, including over 30 species of sea slug, harbour porpoises, grey and harbour seals, alongside occasional sightings of sunfish and basking sharks.
The chalk habitat hosts large communities of crustaceans, burrowing piddocks, sea squirts, anemones and sponges; the purple sponge found here is a species new to science and was only discovered in 2011 by Dr Claire Goodwin. Shoaling fish are also a common sight and provide food for many seabirds, including common, little and Sandwich tern.
Chief Executive of Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Brendan Joyce said: “We are pleased that the Cromer Shoal has been included in the consultation for the second tranche of Marine Conservation Zones. The 27 areas designated in November 2013 were the first step towards an ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas and designation of the Cromer Shoal and other sites currently being consulted on, would represent a further step in completing the network.
“However, at a national level we are very concerned that only 23 out of a possible 37 sites that were originally proposed in this tranche are being considered for designation at this stage. We urge the government to move forward with the designation of further sites before the end of 2016.”
NWT is aware that some local fishermen are worried that there will be restrictions if the chalk reef becomes an MCZ. However, the consultation documents state that there are no activities taking place which at their current level of activity we expect to require management, and that there is no current indication that management will be required. We believe that there is great potential for conservationists and fishermen to work together; protecting both the reef and those who make their livelihood from crab and lobster potting, from outside threats.
How you can help
We need your support to urge Defra to designate the 23 sites under consultation, bring in management as soon as possible, whilst reminding them of the need to rapidly consult on the designation of an ambitious tranche 3, including the 16 sites lost from this consultation (37 sites were originally put forward) in order to complete the network.
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