Suffolk/Essex: Large part of coastline to become Marine Conservation Zone
MARINE life at a Suffolk estuary will be protected under law after the site was included in one of 31 conservation zones intended to prevent trawling and dredging.
Wildlife bosses welcomed yesterday’s announcement by the government that the Stour and Orwell estuary would become a Marine Conservation Zone but also voiced “disappointment” that sites at Orford and the Alde Ore estuary had been excluded as ministers rejected scientific advice to create 127 zones.
Julian Roughton, chief executive of Suffolk Wildlife Trust (SWT), said the creation of the 87 Sq km zone that stretches from Ipswich to parts of Frinton and Harwich in Essex was “significant.”
He added: “The Stour and Orwell estuary is hugely important and we welcome this additional protection for what is a nursery ground for many fish species like bass.
“Blue mussel beds and native oysters and other commercially important fish like Dover sole, herring and whiting are also at the site.”
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The 31 new zones unveiled by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will cover an area three times the area of Cornwall and are expected to allow some fishing to continue.
An �8m assessment involving the government’s own science advisers recommended 127 marine conservation zones were designated, including 58 said to be severely threatened and in need of immediate protection.
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Mr Roughton said: “Although the 31 sites are welcome we are still disappointed that there are not more.”
The SWT boss, who said he had hoped for a network of zones to protect the UK’s sealife, said he was particularly concerned that a long stretch of Orford inshore had not been included in the plans.
He said that Orford crab fishermen had backed the proposals, which although not affecting their fishing, would have prevented a number of non British trawlers from operating in the area.
Jean-Luc Solandt, at the Marine Conservation Society, said the decision to reject proposals for 127 zones was “pitiful.”
He added: “We cannot delay protection. We would not stand by and let wildflower meadows and ancient forests be dug up and cleared, and yet heavy fishing gear is dragged across all kinds of habitats, destroying large swathes of the seabed with very little control.”
Mr Solandt said the fishing industry would benefit from large-scale protection zones where bottom trawling was outlawed but fishing with fixed nets, pots and lines was allowed.
Environment minister Richard Benyon said: “The UK has one of the world’s richest marine environments, and we need to make sure it stays that way.”
“We have to get this right. Designating the right sites in the right places, so that our seas are sustainable, productive and healthy, and to ensure that the right balance is struck between conservation and industry.”
Referring to the proposed 127 zones, Mr Benyon added: “The scientific evidence base for a large proportion of the zones was just not up to scratch.”
A further �3.5m is now being spent on gathering more evidence that could support more zones being designated in future.