The government is due to publish its long-awaited Marine Bill, designed to regulate better the various activities taking place in UK waters.
Five key issues are covered:
*planning in the marine area
*licensing activities in the marine area
*marine nature conservation
*modernising marine fisheries management
*a new marine management organisation.
The consultation is now closed but the summary of responses was published on 17 October 2007. For a copy of the summary of responses click here .
Environmental groups say the seas are “in crisis” and need tougher protection than the government is likely to give. There are special concerns over oil and gas exploration around the coast.
There is broad agreement in the conservation community that the bill needs to deliver three things:
- Thorough protection, including bans on fishing, for ecologically important areas such as those where fish spawn and develop
- A planning system that sensibly allocates areas of sea to various uses such as wind farms, shipping or tourism
- Effective management and enforcement of the rules, possibly by a new Marine Agency
Currently UK waters have just three highly protected marine reserves, at Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland, Skomer in Pembrokeshire, and Lundy Island off the North Devon coast.
The Marine Conservation Society is looking for between 20 & 40% of UK seas to be protected as marine reserves but it is believed the government will not commit to more than 20% and some of that is likely to consist of partially-protected “marine conservation zones” rather than full reserves.
The government has promised to sort out the spatial planning issue, which currently sees areas vital for wildlife rubbing up against zones where oil and gas exploration is permitted.
The best example currently is in the Moray Firth, home to a population of bottlenose dolphins that conservationists fear are at risk from exploration activities planned in the area.
Sharon Thompson, senior marine policy officer with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) said, “It does sometimes seem that the left hand isn’t sure what the right hand is doing.”
The government has promised it will turn the draft bill into law by the end of this parliament.
More information on the Marine Bill