THE RSPB has criticised the “lamentable attention” paid to birds in proposals to protect wildlife living in and around the UK’s coasts and seas.

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Environment minister Richard Benyon announced last week that 31 Marine Conservation Zones, including a site at the Stour and Orwell estuary, would be created.

But in a move that prompted widespread disappointment from regional and national wildlife groups, including Suffolk Wildlife Trust, ministers rejected scientific advice to create 127 zones.

Leading figures at the RSPB have also now attacked the proposals, claiming the reduced number of zones left some vital habitats at risk, while sites that had been approved effectively ignored seabirds and “mobile species”.

Martin Harper, conservation director, said: “A process intended to protect our seas through the establishment of a coherent network of marine conservation zones has drifted dramatically off course when measured against the scale and urgency of the threat they face.”

“Of 127 sites proposed for protection, only ‘up to’ 31 are recommended for designation in 2013, and there appears to be no clear commitment to any further rounds of designation.

“Less than half of the 57 sites identified by the Government’s own advisors as being at high risk are to be progressed, the others in many cases being excluded on the basis that the economic implications of designation are perceived to outweigh the conservation benefits.

“Many of these sites may therefore be lost.”

Mr Harper added that the coalition government’s commitment to an ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas now looks “undeliverable”.

He added: “The RSPB will now be examining the consultation in detail, including the lamentable attention given to the protection of seabirds and other ‘mobile species’.

“This examination will include looking closely into the proposals for two sites in the east of England. The Stour and Orwell Estuaries situated close to the RSPB’s Stour Estuary reserve, a breeding ground for thousands of wintering birds.

“And the Blackwater, Crouch, Roach and Colne Estuaries, which are situated close to the Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project site in Essex, the largest habitat creation project of its type in Europe.”

Referring to the proposed 127 zones, Mr Benyon explained: “The scientific evidence base for a large proportion of the zones was just not up to scratch.”

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