Trust urges public to get behind Marine Conservation Zone campaign

The campaign to protect wildlife in the North Sea includes fish such as Dover sole Picture: PAULA Y

The campaign to protect wildlife in the North Sea includes fish such as Dover sole Picture: PAULA YOUNG/KENT WILDLIFE TRUST - Credit: Archant

The government has launched a consultation requesting views about protecting precious marine habitats around the UK and the Suffolk Wildlife Trust is urging as many people as possible to get involved. Ross Bentley reports.

Catsharks are also found at Orford Offshore Picture: PAULA YOUNG/KENT WILDLIFE TRUST

Catsharks are also found at Orford Offshore Picture: PAULA YOUNG/KENT WILDLIFE TRUST - Credit: Archant

By its very nature, much of the natural marine environment is hidden from view, and it is only through programmes such as the BBC’s ground-breaking Blue Planet that we are able to see the wonders that exist below the waterline, and unfortunately the pollution and destruction our activities are causing.

But now the public has a chance to act to conserve some of the UK’s most precious marine habitats after the government launched a consultation asking for views about safeguarding a new group of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) – areas at sea where wildlife is protected from damaging activities.

A total of 41 special places, including a site in Suffolk, have been chosen for the public to comment on; from seagrass meadows in Dorset’s Studland Bay, to mud habitats in the Irish Sea.

Orford Inshore

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The site being considered in Suffolk is an area known as Orford Inshore.

Lying 14km offshore and adjacent to the Alde Ore Estuary, the site contains a large area of mixed sediments and is home to many flatfish species, including dover and lemon sole. Sprat and sand eels use these areas as well as skates, rays and small spotted catsharks.

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In the English North Sea region, nine MCZs have already been designated – including the Blackwater, Crouch, Roach and Colne Estuaries in north Essex - and, according to the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, protection of Orford Inshore would help effectively connect these areas of sea.

Bex Lynam Picture: Tom Marshall

Bex Lynam Picture: Tom Marshall - Credit: Archant

North Sea marine advocacy officer for Suffolk Wildlife Trust, Bex Lynam said the gravels and sands found at the site offer important habitats.

“They provide spawning areas for plaice and lemon sole, and the juveniles spend time here before moving on,” she said.

“It’s the sort of area that seals and harbour porpoises use for hunting, and where there are fish wide-ranging seabirds like the fulmar can be found.

“Important habitats like this form the basis of the food web with each species supporting the species above them.”

To ensure as many people as possible respond to the consultation Suffolk Wildlife Trust has joined with all of the UK’s Wildlife Trusts to launch a campaign #WaveOfSupport and has created a link so people can easily register their support.

Helping marine life recover

“The sea-beds around the UK are wild, yet fragile places that too often they have been ravaged by intensive fishing techniques,” added Julian Roughton, chief executive of Suffolk Wildlife Trust.

“The designation of more MCZs in Suffolk and elsewhere will be an important step towards helping our marine life to recover.”

However, another Suffolk site, the Alde Ore Estuary itself, with its sheltered muddy gravels that provide nursery grounds for fish such as the rapidly declining smelt, is no longer being considered as an MCZ.

Mr Roughton continued: “We are obviously very disappointed that Defra has decided not to include the Alde Ore Estuary in this consultation, but we will be working with Natural England to see if its special features can be included in a review of the site’s SSSI designation.”

Rare chance

Director of Living Seas at The Wildlife Trusts, Joan Edwards, said the consultation, which runs until July 20 , is a rare chance for people to influence the future of our precious seas.

She added: “Since The Wildlife Trusts’ president emeritus, Sir David Attenborough, brought us the Blue Planet series, there’s been a surge of interest in the wonders of marine life coupled with horror at the threats facing the delicate marine environment.

“We’ve been calling for the government to give real protection to a connected network of diverse sea-bed habitats since 2009. Only 50 Marine Conservation Zones have been designated so far and this new consultation on 41 special places is really good news.

“Without these astonishing submerged landscapes there simply wouldn’t be any fish, let alone fantastic jewel anemones, seahorses, and all the other wild and extraordinary creatures which are part of a healthy marine ecosystem.”

The Suffolk Wildlife Trust says none of the MCZs will be designated unless there is public support for their protection. They have until Friday July 20 to make their views known. Visit to complete the e-form

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