Marine bill not strong enough to protect wildlife

The future of the UK’s marine wildlife will remain under threat unless legislation is strengthened, according to four organisations. The RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts, the Marine Conservation Society and WWF are sending delegates to Westminster today to lobby for increased wildlife protection within the Marine and Coastal Access Bill currently going through Parliament.

The lobby groups claim that the Bill contains no guarantees that the most important areas for marine wildlife will be adequately protected. They’re appealing for three key changes:
•    The inclusion of a clear duty to designate Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) for the protection of the full range of marine wildlife and habitats
•    Assurance that individual MCZs contribute to an ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas, which must also include ‘highly protected’ sites
•    The removal of the clause that states socio-economic factors (such as fishing) can be taken into account when deciding on the designation of MCZs

The UK’s coastline is home to a remarkable array of species, including 18 marine species of seabird, more than half of the world’s grey seals, two dozen species of whale and dolphin and innumerable corals.

Martin Harper, head of sustainable development for the RSPB, says: ‘Given that the seas around our islands have shaped our history and geography, the UK has a lacklustre record on the protection of our marine natural heritage.

‘Our seas contain some of the most impressive wildlife on earth, including ancient cold-water coral reefs, the world’s second-largest fish and some of the world’s largest seabird populations. But none of these treasures has the complete protection they deserve.’

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Melissa Moore, senior policy officer with the Marine Conservation Society, says: ‘MPs and Peers have a unique opportunity right now to strengthen the Marine and Coastal Access Bill. Let’s hope they have got the guts to deliver the protection the British public want.’

Joan Edwards, head of marine policy for The Wildlife Trusts, agrees: ‘With this Bill, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If our campaign succeeds, we will get the Bill we so urgently need and our seas will be protected and start to recover their health.

‘If we fail, the state of our seas will continue on its downward spiral.  We need to ensure that the Bill delivers effective protection for the marine environment.’

The Marine and Coastal Access Bill is currently being examined by the Peers in the House of Lords. It is expected to begin its passage in the House of Commons within weeks.

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