For once, government seem to have got it right

At last! The Minister , Richard Benyon, pointed out in a radio interview that the Marine Conservation Zone(MCZ) is only one of many coastal designations. Virtually every estuary in the country is substantially protected by Special Protection Area (SPA for birds) and Special Areas of Conservation (SAC for habitats and other species), underpinned above mean low water springs by Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) designation.

The Role of the MCZ

The MCZ will plug an important gap because the SSSI cannot, for technical reasons, be extended out into the water. But SPA and SAC protected sites have been managed since the late 1990s by schemes of management involving all the public bodies that have powers to protect the environment. These bodies include

  • Environment Agency
  • Local Authorities
  • Harbour Authorities
  • Natural England
  • And others

In the Solent, there are more than 30 bodies operating together within a scheme called SEMS (Solent European Marine Site) management scheme.


How large is the risk arising from Delay?

Mr Benyon says that it is necessary to take time to get the science right before declaring MCZ status for sites such as Bembridge Ledge, the north shore of the Isle of Wight, and parts of the west Solent such as Newtown (pictured above). With all the other designations in place, he is not taking too much of a risk. SPS welcomes the decision to reassess the Solent MCZs so that when they are finally designated, they will be based on sound scientific evidence and in accordance with equally sound and sensible social and economic concerns.

It is the Management measures that really matter

The real problem with the present consultation about Marine Conservation Zones is that the nature of management measures to be used was specifically excluded from the discussion brief. In all probability fears that sailing and fishing will effectively be banned are alarmist. Certainly the view of the Solent Protection Society is that these designations should only proceed when the scientific baseline has been properly established. The important debate will be about the nature of the management measures. That is why SPS has not commented during the present consultation, but will participate actively in the next phase.

The Marine Conservation Zone is only one of nearly 40 coastal designation schemes around UK coasts, but it has the unique distinction that specific enforcement powers and penalties have been granted to the new Marine Management Organisation to enforce it. That is why caution is justified.

Clear, understandable guidance is needed In the meanwhile, it would be helpful if official bodies such as MMO, the Environment Agency and Natural England offered guidance on how we can use these areas with respect in plain language that we can all understand.

MMO Comment

Since this item was first published, the MMO have advised their role in setting up and managing MCZs. This information is contained in a short report. Click underlined text to view. They also point out that Defra are responsible for the designation of MCZs as well as the associated consultation on tranche 1 of the MCZs.