Photography: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian
Five highly protected marine areas (HPMAs) will be created this week by the government to ban all fishing and re-naturalize the sea, the Guardian has learned.
The new generation of marine nature reserves, which are governed by stricter regulations to allow the recovery of decimated marine life, are being installed near the coast of Lindisfarne in Northumberland and in Allonby Bay, Cumbria, and at three offshore locations, two offshore. North and one at Dolphin Head on the Channel.
Related: The fishing industry still ‘destroying’ the seabed in 90% of the UK’s marine protected areas
The five pilot project sites are expected to pave the way for full HPMA status for some or all of the English sites in 2023 following consultation. Separately, Scotland is now committed to fully or highly protected areas in 10% of its waters.
Nearly a quarter of Britain’s territorial waters are covered by marine protected areas, but conservationists criticize them as “paper parks” because there are few restrictions on fishing and industrial activities, such as cabling offshore wind farms. In 2020, the Guardian revealed how over 97% of protected areas were still subject to dredging and bottom trawling – the most harmful type of fishing that disturbs and destroys much of the marine life on the seafloor.
HPMAs are effectively no-catch zones (NTZs) for fishing, and while a few small NTZs have already been established, including one in Lundy on the Bristol Channel and a community-led one on the Isle of Arran, Scotland, these areas are generally highly controversial for fishermen.
But research shows that Arran NTZ has led to an “overflow” effect with more larger lobsters caught by fishermen near the restricted area, which acts as a nursery for the rapid recovery of marine life.
Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “Highly protected marine areas will offer the highest levels of protection in our seas. They will help a wide range of valuable habitats and species to fully recover, increasing the resilience of our ecosystem and allowing the marine environment to thrive.
“As the demands on our oceans increase, it is more important than ever that we take decisive action to protect nature, ensuring that we can continue to meet the sustainable needs of those who depend on our seas.”
Joan Edwards, Policy Director at the Wildlife Trusts, said: “Protecting large swaths of our marine environment is a critical part of tackling nature and climate crises. We welcome today’s announcement that it will safeguard vital strongholds for wildlife and end harmful activities such as bottom trawling in these areas.
“This, however, is just the beginning. We want to see a whole network of highly protected marine areas to help restore our ocean habitats. In addition to providing a much-needed boost to wildlife, fishermen will also benefit from the overflow of fish into the surrounding waters, helping to replenish our depleted seas.”
Kirsten Carter, the RSPB’s chief marine policy officer, said the charity supports highly protected sites, but they need to be introduced alongside better fisheries regulations and a holistic plan for all British waters to restore marine life.
Related: Trawlers triple in key marine protected area despite Brexit promise
“It’s an incredibly positive step in the right direction,” she said. “We urgently need to protect more marine wildlife, but these areas are still very small and we need to manage and monitor more widely. Even more than 90% of marine protected areas are subject to highly harmful fishing activities.
“While this consultation proposes new protected areas in the Irish Sea and the North Sea, there is a strong need for a strategic approach to consider broader regional areas and the management of our seas as a whole, looking at how we spatially plan our seas and how we bring measures to address biodiversity decline and climate mitigation together.”
No HPMAs have yet been established on England’s southwest coast, but Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs sources say sites are being considered, with the government keen to balance ecological, social and economic factors.
The five HPMAs cover a mix of marine habitats, including intertidal mudflats, kelp forests and more distant rocky reef habitats.
The three offshore sites also include “blue carbon” areas, important in sequestering and storing atmospheric carbon, which also support a variety of mobile species, including commercially important marine mammals and fish species.
On Monday, the government was criticized by wildlife activists for failing to deliver on a wide range of policies promised to improve England’s biodiversity, including nature-friendly agriculture, use of peat and pesticides, reintroduction of beavers and other lost species and protection of rare species. Marine life.
Highly Protected Marine Areas in English Waters
Along the coast of the English side of the Solway Firth in the Irish Sea, extending from the intertidal zone farthest offshore.
Habitat: large areas of biogenic reefs including blue mussels and the best example of Sabellaria reefs in the UK. The proposed site contains a significant stock of blue carbon and provides protection against coastal erosion.
Species: important spawning ground for stingrays and bass. Puppies field for porpoise.
Internal Silver Well
South of the North Sea, about 16 miles off the coast of Lincolnshire at Theddlethorpe.
Habitat: a unique glacial valley with geological features of deep waters (up to about 100 meters) in a very shallow sea area.
Species: spawning ground for commercially important fish species, also serving for cetaceans and seabirds.
Thirty-two nautical miles off the coast of Sussex on the Channel.
Habitat: The seafloor supports benthic (bottom-dwelling) communities of biogenic species and reefs, arising from the seafloor and created by living organisms such as honeycomb worms or tube worms.
Species: Productive waters rich in fish attract seabirds and cetaceans.
North-east of Farnes
North of the North Sea
Habitat: subtidal sediments.
Species: Sediments are important for oceanic quahogs, corrals, and burrowing megafauna communities, anemones, worms, molluscs, echinoderms, and fish. Dolphins, whales and porpoises use the wider region.
Coastal site on the north coast of Northumberland
HabitatAttractions: marsh, beaches, cliffs, dunes and islands.
Species: this region is home to important breeding colonies of seabirds, such as terns, macaws and guillemots, as well as seals.