Battle to protect our Irish Sea receives a boost

Anemone c. Amy Lewis

Cheshire Wildlife Trust welcomes the possibility of 41 new Marine Conservation Zones.

Wildlife in our Irish Sea could receive protection after the Government announced a consultation on 41 proposed Marine Conservation Zones around the UK.

Six areas in the Irish Sea have been included in the public consultation: the Ribble Estuary and the Wyre and Lune Estuaries off Lancashire, West of Copeland and the Solway Firth off Cumbria, and Queenie Corner and South Rigg in the western Irish Sea. The Government are looking for the views and support from people living in the area to ensure that they are protected into the future.

Marine Conservation Zones are areas at sea where wildlife is protected from damaging activities. A total of 41 special places have been chosen for the public to comment on; these range from seagrass beds in Studland Bay, Dorset to deep, rich mud habitats in the western Irish Sea.

Senior Marine Conservation Officer for the North West Wildlife Trusts, Dr Emily Baxter said:

“This is wonderful news for the Irish Sea. We were really hopeful that these wonderful places would be considered for protection, so this is a great step in the right direction.

“Estuaries are vitally important areas for wildlife, and not just for the hundreds of thousands of wading birds and geese that arrive every winter to feed on the mud flats. South Rigg, extremely important due to the presence of the Irish Sea Mounds, contains the only known breeding population of ocean quahog clams in the Irish Sea. These little molluscs can live for over 500 years, making them the longest-lived animals in the world. Because they are have a lot to tell us about the history of our seas and climate change.

“We want the people of Cheshire, who cherish their seas, to have their say in the consultation to protect our local wildlife. We will be launching a petition on our website over the coming days for people to pledge their support. We need to demonstrate how much people care about our coasts and seas to secure protection.”

Emily said: “If designated, these areas would join the Fylde and West of Walney, Allonby Bay and Cumbria Coast Marine Conservation Zones. However we can’t help being disappointed that two vital areas of deep sea mud in the Irish Sea - home to and sea pens and Dublin Bay prawns - are missing from the consultation. But the included Zones will start to create a network of protection for our seas – great news for people and wildlife.”

The network is being spread right around the UK according the Director of Living Seas at The Wildlife Trusts, Joan Edwards. Joan said: “We’ve been calling for the Government to give real protection to a connected network of diverse range of undersea landscapes and species since 2009.

“Only 50 Marine Conservation Zones have been designated so far and this new consultation on 41 important sites is really good news. We need to restore the seabed that has been ravaged over the past century and allow fragile marine life to recover – and this can only be done with good management.

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

The Wildlife Trusts believe that the consultation is a big step in the right direction for England’s seas. Proper protection of these sites after designation is needed through the implantation of management to give our seas a real opportunity to recover.

Joan said: “41 potential new protected areas represent a great leap forward but we are disappointed that a number of sites have been left out of this process, particularly mud habitats in the Irish Sea and English Channel. Although these habitats can appear featureless, mud is a diverse and wildlife-rich habitat and we think it’s important that these areas are protected too.”

The Wildlife Trusts are calling on the public to back the 41 potential Marine Conservation Zones in the consultation – details of how to do this will be added to our web page here. The consultation closes on Friday 20th July 2018.