Unique moment to save our seas

Dead mans fingers - Richard Shuchsmith

New report urges Government to tackle the immediate challenges facing our marine wildlife and habitats, including those off the Yorkshire coast.

Today, The Wildlife Trusts publish a new report that sets a vision for our marine environment post Brexit. It identifies a number of challenges which must be addressed before the UK leaves the European Union.

The first responsibility of the Government is to ensure that we bring across existing European regulations which provide protective measures for our seas and sea-life. With that done, the report highlights the key challenges that remain to include insufficient protected wild places at sea; over-fishing and discard issues; and severe pollution which is killing wildlife and adversely affecting human health.

The Wildlife Trusts’ Director of Living Seas, Joan Edwards, says:

“We are witnessing unprecedented pressures on UK seas and their fragile seagrass meadows, reefs and mud plains on which fish, dolphins and whales depend. Plastic is in the marine food-chain and is now affecting humans too. Seabird numbers are dropping due to lack of food. More dolphins are being caught in fishing nets than ever and sea bass stocks have declined by 50% in five years. The natural balance of our seas is at an all-time low and we need a brand-new strategy for the new era that we’re entering which tackles all these threats together – simultaneously.

“Our report shows why we need a new marine management system based on Regional Sea Plans which would allow a new spatial planning programme and achieve global goals for sustainable development. At the heart of this we also need a network of protected areas that represent the full range of marine habitats and species and are well distributed so that fragmented undersea places and wildlife can recover.”

Bex Lynam is Marine Advocacy Officer for 12 local Wildlife Trusts, including Yorkshire, who are collectively working to better protect wildlife native to the North Sea. She says:

“On a regional level, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust continues to work very closely with local marine stakeholders such as fishermen, industry and statutory authorities. We’ve seen some really positive outcomes from our projects such as ‘Waves of Waste’ and ‘Fishing 4 Litter’ – both of which are really simple but hugely effective initiatives.”

Last year, the Trust’s volunteer-led ‘Waves of Waste’ programme delivered 27 beach cleans across nine sites along Yorkshire’s coastline. ‘Fishing 4 Litter’ is extending the clean-up out to sea in a bid to address the even bigger problem caused by litter found floating or at the bottom of the sea, and which is encountered by fishermen on a daily basis. Estimates show that the Yorkshire Fishing 4 Litter scheme has removed 686,400 litres of rubbish from the Holderness Coast, with 95% being diverted from landfill.

Bex continues: “We’re encouraged by Government progress so far but there’s still a lot of work to do to help our seas recover from past declines. This report highlights the extent of the issues and the challenges that must be addressed now. It takes account of all the different activities and pressures our marine environment is facing.”

The report also highlights the need to complete a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) – nature reserves at sea – which will protect the whole range of wildlife in our seas, essentially creating a 'Blue Belt' around the UK to help our seas and their wildlife to recover. The report cites a first step would be ongoing commitment from the secretary of state and the UK Government to designate a third round of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs), a type of MPA.

Bex explains: “It’s about creating space for wildlife. 50 MCZs have been designated nationally to date, nine of these in the North Sea area, but we need more if they are to provide real benefits for wildlife.”

The Wildlife Trusts believe that there is now an excellent opportunity to build on what has been achieved within Europe and to create a healthy, productive and biologically diverse sea for future generations. This is only possible if we grasp the possibilities and think about new ways of working at this unique moment in time.

The new report by The Wildlife Trusts, The way back to Living Seas, is published today, Wednesday 25th October, and will be presented to the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Dr Thérèse Coffey MP at a marine round table being held on board Research Vessel Cefas Endeavour on the Thames in London this afternoon. 

Please visit the North Sea Wildlife Trusts website for further information on the challenges facing our marine environment and how you can help.