Independent review backs Highly Protected Marine Areas

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Review recommends introduction of Highly Protected Marine Areas in England as essential for marine protection and recovery.

An independent review led by former Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon, and published today on World Ocean Day, is calling for the introduction of Highly Protected Marine Areas in English waters. The review was commissioned on last year’s world ocean day by then Environment Secretary Michael Gove as part of the Government’s drive to protect our waters.

These highly protected marine areas would enable a greater recovery of the marine ecosystem and enhance the Government’s commitment to a national ‘Blue Belt’, which has already seen an area of 92,000 square km protected – 40% of English seas.

The UK currently has a range of protections in place through a network of 355 Marine Protected Areas, which offer protections for a designated feature or habitat within their boundaries. Highly Protected Marine Areas would go further by taking a ‘whole site approach’ and only permitting certain activities within their boundaries such as vessel transit, scuba diving and kayaking.

Activities that could have a damaging effect on habitats or wildlife, including fishing, construction and dredging would be banned. The review claims the introduction of such areas could lead to a significant biodiversity boost for our seas by giving our marine life the best chance to recover and thrive.

Social and Economic Benefits

The review, which was supported by a panel of independent experts, also sheds light on the potential social and economic benefits of introducing highly protected marine areas. These benefits include increased tourism and recreational activities, opportunities for scientific research and education, and positive effects for human health.

It also suggests that any potential fishing restriction could be counterbalanced by a stronger and biodiverse marine wildlife – with potential long-term benefits for the fishing industry from providing areas where sea life can develop and breed undisturbed.

Three Marine Protected Areas: Flamborough Head, Lundy Island and the Medway Estuary currently have in place ‘no take zones‘ which prohibit all methods of fishing.

The panel has made a number of recommendations which will now be considered by Government with a formal response made in due course.

Key Recommendations

Key recommendations include:

  • the introduction of Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) within the existing network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to allow for the full protection and recovery of marine ecosystems
  • a “whole site approach” to protect all species and habitats within the HPMA boundaries
  • potential sites should be identified on the basis of ecological principles. Once these are met, the selection of sites should seek to minimise any negative effects on stakeholders. To do this, Government should agree the identification and regulation of these sites in partnership with sea users
  • ‘blue carbon’ habitats are identified for protection during the HPMA site selection process to help combat climate change

On World Ocean Day, this review builds on the UK Government’s commitment to further advance ocean protection measures including last year’s designation of a further 41 Marine Protection Zones protecting species and habitats such as the rare stalked jellyfish, short-snouted seahorse and blue mussel beds.

The Government is currently putting in place management measures for Marine Protected Areas, including seeking new powers through the Fisheries Bill, and through implementation of the 25 Year Environment Plan.

This press release was originally published as Independent review backs introduction of Highly Protected Marine Areas on 8th June 2020.