Tuesday, 25 October 2011

A call for support for Marine Protected Areas for Seabirds

The following is an excerpt from the Seabird Group Newsletter which I thought would be of interest:

"...there has been a recent whirlwind of activity around the designation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the UK’s seas. Much of the impetus for this comes from the passing into law of the UK Marine and Coastal Access Act and the Marine (Scotland) Act in recent years.

The creation of this legislation has been much welcomed by the environmental NGO community – the culmination of over a decade of campaigning supported by a huge swathe of the British public. One of the major successes of these laws was the legal duty placed on Ministers to designate a network of protected areas at sea – particularly for nationally-important habitats and concentrations of species which receive no protection through EU legislation (the Birds and Habitats Directives).

The processes for selecting these sites differ across Scotland, England and Wales. In Scotland, the process is science-led, with proposals for nature conservation MPAs brought forward by SNH, JNCC and Marine Scotland. In England, four independent stakeholder-led groups were convened to nominate Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) for protection. In Wales, given the high level of territorial waters already designated under EU legislation, the Welsh Government is leading on the selection of a limited number of ‘highly protected’ MCZs. These national level sites will prohibit any extractive or depositional activities, and aim to compliment the existing network of MPAs in Welsh waters.

As you would expect, the RSPB hoped that these MPAs would fill in the gaps for our nationally-important seabird colonies – presently protected on land through SSSIs but lacking protection in maintenance areas adjacent to their colonies and at important foraging sites offshore. In particular, we expected that black guillemot – the only seabird species in the UK which cannot be protected by marine Special Protection Areas – would be protected by the new national level designations. Without pre-judging the outcome of the site selection process, we hope that key areas for this species will be protected in Scotland, the UK stronghold for tysties – particularly the far north.

It is thus a major disappointment that, in England, seabirds – as well as some other mobile species – have been largely excluded from the ‘nationally-important’ site designation process (though one site for black guillemot is currently proposed in the English MCZ network at St Bees Head in the north west). In Wales, the restricted number and size of MCZs will offer very little in the way of additional protection for seabirds or other mobile species. In both cases, this is in spite of the relative simplicity with which colony extensions to protect maintenance activity areas could have been identified using agreed methodologies already applied to identify these extensions for SPAs across the UK (albeit that only those in Scotland have thus far been classified). Identifying key seabird foraging sites is admittedly more difficult – but not without precedent, and tracking technology is already revolutionising our understanding of seabird foraging – RSPB, working with partners across Europe (as part of the FAME project - www.fameproject.eu - see SGN115 Oct 2010), is using GPS technology in an attempt to proactively inform such designation. How key areas for seabirds are included in the Scottish site selection process remains to be seen – but we are continuing to engage with Marine Scotland, SNH and JNCC through workshops and consultation responses in the hope that seabirds will be actively protected through the process.

It is especially frustrating that much of the rationale for the exclusion of seabirds from the national MPA selection processes has been the fact that all species bar black guillemot qualify for protection within SPAs classified under the Birds Directive – 30 years after the deadline for implementation of the Birds Directive in the UK, we have only three truly marine SPAs (all in inshore waters), maintenance extensions to SPA breeding colonies – although identified and agreed some years ago have thus far only been classified in Scotland, and there are no areas protected for foraging seabirds in the breeding season.

Many members of the Seabird Group have been actively engaged in MPA work as it relates to seabirds – and we hope that you share our concern about the creation of the UK’s first MPA network being a massive missed opportunity for our seabird colonies. If you have time, we’d appreciate your show of support by signing our pledge at www.rspb.org.uk/marinepetition or by contacting your local elected representatives."

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