We’re an island nation. The seas surrounding us help to give us our identity, provide food, power and recreation for many of us. They’re also an important ecosystem. For example, British seas are home to half the world’s population of grey seals. But for a long time, this ecosystem has been unprotected against damaging activities such as scallop dredging and bottom trawling.
One of the two main campaigning areas for the Wildlife Trusts this election is calling for more Marine Protected Areas. These are recognised areas of sea where damaging activities are not allowed. They help wildlife to recover from decades of industrial fishing. So far there are 27 Marine Protected Areas in English waters, and 30 in Scottish waters. The Wildlife Trusts have identified many more sites of ecological importance that they believe should be protected, covering all the different types of marine habitat and species found around the UK. Restoring our fisheries through this approach could bring economic benefits of up to £1.4bn a year, as well as the non-financial benefits of improving our environment, and protecting our wildlife.
This election focus post explores what the political parties’ views are on this, although it’s limited by most of them not having much to say on the topic. Where I wasn’t able to find information on their websites, I emailed to ask them for their views. Only the SNP have replied with information so far. If I hear back from any of the others I will update this post.
I can’t find anything about this on their website, and they replied saying they haven’t announced a data for the release of their manifesto yet. But the recent budget did announce the creation of the world’s largest marine reserve around the Pitcairn Islands, which are UK Overseas Territory in the South Pacific. What they would do closer to home is less clear.
I haven’t been able to find any election promises about this from the Labour party, but last year Angela Smith MP, Labour’s Shadow Water and Animal Welfare Minister, responding to the Environmental Audit Committee’s report on Marine Protected Areas, said:
“The Labour Party recognises there are significant pressures on the marine environment around the UK. In Government we committed the UK to establishing an ambitious ecologically coherent and well-managed network of marine protected areas, including new powers to designate Marine Conservation Zones in UK waters.
“Yet after four years of mismanagement and total lack of commitment under this Tory-led Government the future of the Marine Coastal Zones now look extremely uncertain.”
The Liberal Democrats are promising a Nature Bill, if they get into power. This includes ambitious proposals for two further tranches of Marine Conservations Zones in English seas by 2015-2016.
As part of the Coalition government they may well claim some of the credit for creating the Pitcairn Marine Protected Area.
UKIP don’t say anything about Marine Protected Areas on their website, and said their manifesto hasn’t been finalised yet. The only related thing I could find on their website is “Foreign trawlers would have to apply for and purchase fishing permits to fish British waters when fish stocks have returned to sustainable levels.” But they don’t say how they would help fish stocks to return to sustainable levels, and whether British trawlers will be restricted in any way. From an environmental point of view it doesn’t really matter which nationality the damage is being done by…
The Green Party will continue to work within existing legislation to fully implement a large-scale, ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) within the UK’s seas as soon as possible. As part of this network, 30% of the UK’s exclusive economic zone should be established as no-take reserves closed to commercial fishing and other extractive activities. These reserves should be properly representative, and always include at least 30 percent of the most productive and sensitive areas, such as spawning grounds. These proposals would be developed in collaboration with scientists, the public and stakeholders. The boundaries and existence of such reserves would be open to periodic renewal.
Increasing the protection of Britain’s seas will be beneficial to the fishing community in the long term, as stocks increase and profitable species start to return in high numbers. However, the Green Party recognises that in the short term fishermen may face difficulties. We would seek to enable a just transition for the local fishing community, and would work with them to ensure that the creation of MPAs, and particularly no-take marine reserves, do not damage their livelihoods.
Internationally, the Green Party would promote the establishment of a large-scale comprehensive system of MPAs in seas outside of national jurisdiction. Additionally we would support and encourage other nations looking to establish MPAs within their own waters. Globally, we will advocate high levels of protection, with 30% of the world’s oceans completely closed to extractive activities, and with a shift away from large-scale industrial fishing to locally-based sustainable models.
Scottish Nationalist Party
The Scottish Government recognises that the marine environment and wealth of industries reliant on it are hugely important and should be carefully maintained and developed. Cleanliness, safety, productivity, diversity and sustainability are key objectives for Marine Scotland and are borne in mind as stewardship of Scotland’s seas is undertaken.
Marine Scotland has compiled their tripartite Nature Conservation Strategy (NCS) which outlines how the protection of marine biodiversity can be ensured. The three pillar approach of the NCS can be broken down into:
- Species Conservation
- Site Protection
- Wider seas policies and measures
A National Marine Plan was laid before the Scottish parliament in December 2014. It sets out the Scottish Governments vision for the marine environment and its sustainable development. The plan sets out social and economic policies as well as climate change and marine ecosystem objectives and is set to cover Scotland’s sea out to 200 nautical miles.
The Plan includes policies for the sustainable growth of fishing, aquaculture, salmon and migratory fish, oil and gas, carbon capture and storage, offshore wind and marine renewable energy, recreation and tourism, shipping, ports, harbours and ferries, submarine cables, defence, aggregates.
The National Marine Plan will introduce a single framework to manage all activity in Scottish waters and provide clarity to developers and decision makers on Scotland’s priorities for sustainable use of the sea. Our seas are a vast and vital natural resource which provide energy, food and recreation, this plan will ensure it remains a prized asset for future generations. This is an important step towards achieving sustainable growth and protection of the environment.
Cabinet Secretary, Richard Lochhead, commented “Scotland’s rich seas are of huge economic and environmental importance. The seas bring a vast array of benefits not only in terms of the importance of scenery and wildlife – but also the economic gains through industry, the contribution to food and energy security and the provision of a wide range of goods and services. Protection of our marine environment is at the heart of Scotland’s first national marine plan”.
I haven’t been able to find anything relevant on their website, and they have not yet replied to my email (other than to say they’ve forwarded it to the relevant person, who is very busy). I will update this when I hear more.
It was quite hard to find information about this from some of the parties, which may be indicative of the importance they give to this issue. One way to try and get it higher up the agenda would be to get involved:
- ask your MP (and candidates) to sign up to the Marine Charter
- become a Friend of Marine Conservation Zones