Five highly protected marine areas (HPMAs) will be created this week by the government to ban all fishing and rewild the sea, the Guardian has learned.
The new generation of marine nature reserves, which are governed by stricter regulations to allow decimated marine life to recover, are being set up near the Lindisfarne coast in Northumberland and at Allonby Bay, Cumbria, and on three offshore sites, two in the North Sea and one at Dolphin Head in the English Channel.
The five pilot sites are expected to pave the way to full HPMA status for some or all English sites in 2023 following consultation. In addition, Scotland has now committed to creating fully or highly protected areas on 10% of its waters.
Almost a quarter of UK territorial waters are covered by marine protected areas, but conservationists call them ‘paper parks’ because there are so few restrictions on fishing and industrial activities such as cabling of offshore wind farms. In 2020, the Guardian revealed that over 97% of protected areas were still subject to dredging and bottom trawling – the most damaging type of fishing that disturbs and destroys much marine life on the seabed.
HPMAs are effectively ‘no-take’ zones (NTZs) for fishing, and although a few tiny NTZs have already been established, including one off Lundy in the Bristol Channel and one community run off the Isle of Arran in Scotland, these areas are usually very controversial for anglers.
But research shows that Arran’s NTZ has led to a ‘spillover’ effect with more and larger lobsters being caught by fishermen near the restricted area, which acts as a nursery for rapidly recovering marine life. .
Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “Highly protected marine areas will provide the highest levels of protection in our seas. They will help a wide range of valuable habitats and species to fully recover, building the resilience of our ecosystem and allowing the marine environment to thrive.
“As the demands on our oceans increase, it is more important than ever that we take decisive action to protect nature while ensuring that we can continue to meet the sustainable needs of those who depend on our seas.”
Joan Edwards, Director of Policy at Wildlife Trusts, said: “Protecting large areas of our marine environment is a critical part of addressing nature and climate crises. We welcome today’s announcement which will protect vital wildlife strongholds and end damaging activities such as bottom trawling in these areas.
“This is just the start, however. We want to see a comprehensive network of highly protected marine areas to help our ocean habitats recover. As well as providing a much-needed boost to wildlife, fishermen will also benefit from the spill. of fish in the surrounding waters, helping to replenish our depleted seas.
Kirsten Carter, RSPB’s senior policy officer (marine), said the charity supports highly protected sites, but they need to be introduced alongside better fishing regulations and a holistic plan for all UK waters to restore marine life.
“It’s an incredibly positive step in the right direction,” she said. “We urgently need to protect marine wildlife more, but these areas are still very small and we need to manage and monitor them more widely. More than 90% of marine protected areas are still subject to very damaging fishing activity.
“As this consultation proposes new protected areas in the Irish Sea and the North Sea, there is a dire need for a strategic approach to considering wider regional areas and the management of our seas as a whole, looking at how we effectively plan our seas in space and how we take action to tackle biodiversity decline and climate mitigation together.
No HPMAs have yet been established around the south west coast of England, but Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs sources say sites are under consideration, the government wishing to balance ecological, social and economic factors.
The five HPMAs cover a mix of marine habitats including intertidal mudflats, kelp forests, and rocky reef habitats further offshore.
The three offshore locations also include ‘blue carbon’ areas, important for the sequestration and storage of atmospheric carbon, which are also home to a range of mobile species, including marine mammals and commercially important fish species.
On Monday, the government was criticized by wildlife campaigners for failing to implement a wide range of policies promised to improve England’s biodiversity, including on nature-friendly farming, the use of peat and pesticides, the reintroduction of beavers and other lost species and the protection of rare species. Marine life.
Highly protected marine areas in English waters
Along the coast of the English side of the Solway Firth in the Irish Sea, extending from the intertidal zone further offshore.
Habitat: large areas of biogenic reefs including blue mussels and the best example of Sabellaria reefs in the UK. The proposed site contains an important blue carbon reserve and provides protection against coastal erosion.
Species: an important spawning ground for thorny skate and bass. Calving area for harbor porpoises.
Inner money pit
Southern North Sea, about 16 miles off the Lincolnshire coast at Theddlethorpe.
Habitat: a unique glacial valley with deep water geological features (up to almost 100 meters) in a very shallow marine area.
Species: a spawning ground for commercially important fish species, also home to cetaceans and seabirds.
Thirty-two nautical miles from the coast of Sussex in the English Channel.
Habitat: the seabed supports benthic (bottom) communities of species and biogenic reefs, rising from the seabed and created by living organisms such as honeycomb worms or tubeworms.
Species: the productive and fish-filled waters attract seabirds and cetaceans.
North-east of Farnes
North of the North Sea
Habitat: subtidal sediments.
Species: sediments are important for sea quahogs, communities of sea pens and burrowing megafauna, anemones, worms, molluscs, echinoderms and fish. Dolphins, whales and harbor porpoises use the wider area.
Coastal site off the north coast of Northumberland
Habitat: salt marshes, beaches, cliffs, dunes and islands.
Species: this region is home to important breeding colonies of seabirds such as terns, penguins and guillemots, as well as seals.