Blackwater estuary 'must be protected'

A LEADING conservation charity has named the Blackwater Estuary as one of the UK's most important marine locations in the UK in urgent need of protection.

By Sharon Asplin

A LEADING conservation charity has named the Blackwater Estuary as one of the UK's most important marine locations in the UK in urgent need of protection.

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the incredible wealth of sealife existing off the Essex coast is gradually being destroyed by the growing impacts of human activity.

The charity claims this unique marine environment is under serious threat and, unless protected now by an urgently needed Marine Act, its treasures will be lost forever.

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Its report, Marine Biodiversity Hotspots in the UK: their identification and protection, was produced with WWF by the Marine Biological Association to identify “marine biodiversity hotspots” in UK waters and examine threats to these habitats.

Hotspots were chosen for their diverse populations of wildlife and habitat richness that include representative, rare and threatened species.

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Gill Yeates, WWF marine spokesperson, said: “Our seas are becoming busier than ever before due to a variety of human activities that threaten the marine environment, from fishing and shipping to dredging and wind farms. But these pressures would be seriously diminished if the UK government introduces a long-awaited, robust Marine Act.

“Our report highlighting that the Blackwater Estuary is an area of enormous natural importance will help in the development of this legislation which must include a national network of marine protected areas to preserve the richness and diversity of our seas and to restore sites wherever possible.”

The study describes the Blackwater Estuary, which is 23km long, as an important habitat for many rare and scarce species. Its extensive mudflats and saltmarshes are home to plants such as thrift, sea lavender and samphire. Species such as the native oyster are rare due to pressures from Pacific oyster alien species. The biodiversity of the area is threatened by toxic contaminants such as pesticides.

John Whittingdale, MP for Maldon and East Chelmsford, said: “The Blackwater Estuary is a nationally important site for biodiversity and has a wealth of natural resources. It is crucial, therefore, that a balance is struck between different interests to ensure the long-term sustainable use of the estuary and a Marine Act will help achieve this.”

A spokesman for Maldon District Council added: “We are pleased the WWF has nationally highlighted the importance of the Blackwater Estuary, and the need to see it protected.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “We remain committed to the manifesto commitment for a Marine Bill in this Parliament. A White Paper will be published soon.

“In the meantime we will continue to take action and take a lead internationally, maintaining the UK's position as one of the leading nations on the marine environment.”

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