The Lizard peninsula, down on the southernmost tip of Cornwall, is a special place. The beautiful natural scenery and abundant wildlife attract tourists, which the local economy relies on. Just off the eastern coast of the Lizard lie the Manacle rocks, which have caused many wrecks over the centuries. The rocks are a haven to wildlife, including rare maerl beds (like coral – slow growing and irreplaceable), bottlenose dolphins, and basking sharks. The sea around the Manacles was one of the first areas to be designated a Marine Conservation Zone. The land by it is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a Site of Special Scientific Interest. But all this is under threat from plans to open up a superquarry and build a huge breakwater out into the Marine Conservation Zone.
Marine Conservation Zones were set up two years ago to provide strong protection for some of our most precious marine habitats. The government is currently considering designating a further 23 zones, to add to the original 27. But the threat to the Manacles Marine Conservation Zone could undermine this.
There’s a history of quarrying in this part of the Lizard. In fact, my great great grandfather moved to the area to help open Dean Quarry. In the next bay along from Dean Quarry there is a smaller active quarry. But the scale of the planned superquarry goes beyond anything previously seen in the area.
Large amounts of rock are needed to build a tidal lagoon in Swansea bay, to generate renewable energy. There are also a number of other tidal lagoons rumoured, which would also require massive amounts of rock. The plan is to reopen Dean Quarry as a Superquarry, extracting 500% more rock per year as in its heyday, and operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Generating renewable energy is vital for tackling climate change. But that doesn’t mean that the stone needed for the Swansea lagoon has to come from one of our most precious and highly protected areas. The impact of the scheme on the marine and land wildlife, and the local community and economy also need to be considered. So far this hasn’t happened. Marine experts are worried that silt from the quarry could kill off the 8,000 year old maerl beds, and negatively impact on other marine wildlife in the Marine Conservation Zone. The Secretary of State recently ruled that a full environmental impact assessment should have been carried out before planning permission was granted for the first phase of the development. This wasn’t done, and Cornwall County Council have ignored the Secretary of State’s intervention.
The local community are also concerned about the impact that the Superquarry will have on the local environment, tourism, and their health and quality of life. They have set up a campaign group, and are taking Cornwall County Council to Judicial Review over the initial planning decision (which means they need money to pay for expert legal fees).
If the Superquarry is allowed to go ahead (particularly with the planned breakwater and jetties) it sets the precedent that Marine Conservation Zone status offers little actual protection, and may enable other damaging activities in other Marine Conservation Zones. It’s vital that this first challenge is defeated to protect both the Manacles Marine Conservation Zone, and ensure the protection of other zones is not undermined.