New report calls for protected areas for Lincolnshire’s sea life

Friday 30th September 2016

Today, The Wildlife Trusts publish a new report, ‘The case for more Marine Conservation Zones’. The report identifies 48 areas at sea including 4 large areas near Lincolnshire that, if designated, will complete a network of special places around England where marine wildlife can flourish.

Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) will allow sustainable use of the sea whilst protecting a range of species and habitats found in English waters from damaging activity. The 4 proposed zones near Lincolnshire are called the Lincs Belt, Silver Pit, Markham’s Triangle and Wash Approach. The Lincs Belt will include the grey seal colony at Donna Nook National Nature Reserve, which is managed by Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust.

Donna Nook already protects part of the Lincolnshire coast north of Mablethorpe but the Lincs Belt will create a much bigger conservation zone stretching far out to sea. The Wash Approach will be an even larger zone east of Gibraltar Point. To the north the Silverpit MCZ will cover a deep underwater canyon with sloping walls covered in a living turf of brittlestars. Even further out, on the edge of UK waters, is Markham’s Triangle a special area with gravel and sandy plains that provide a home to thousands of sandeels.

MCZs will protect and enhance a whole marine ecosystem. Large mammals like grey seals, minke whales, common seals and harbour porpoises rely heavily on the sea around Lincolnshire, which is also an important spawning and nursery ground for fish such as sprat, lesser pipefish, lemon sole, plaice and herring. Many invertebrates like sunstars and spider crabs also rely on these waters.

Over the last century human activity has had a massive impact on the seas around England, which is why the Wildlife Trusts want to see a network of protected areas to safeguard the future of our marine environment.

If you’d like to help protect the sea life around Lincolnshire you can become a ‘Friend of Marine Conservation Zones’. More than 8,000 people have signed up to be a Friend already, opting to ‘befriend’ one or all MCZs, similar to becoming friends of local parks, historic buildings and community projects. Go to www.wildlifetrusts.org/MCZfriends to sign up. Your details will never be used by anyone else, or for any other purpose.

The report by the Wildlife Trusts is published in advance of the government’s plans to announce a third and final phase of MCZs – the government plans to consult the public in 2017 and designate the chosen zones in 2018. The report will be presented to the environment minister, Therese Coffey.

Joan Edwards, The Wildlife Trusts’ Head of Living Seas, says:
“This is an unprecedented opportunity to create an effective network of protected areas at sea. If the government lives up to its stated commitments such a network would put us at the forefront of worldwide marine conservation. Designating these 48 wild havens as Marine Conservation Zones would go some way to guaranteeing a future for the extraordinarily diverse natural landscapes that exist beneath the waves off our coast.

“The government designated 50 zones in the first two phases. Unfortunately, this does not provide us with the really comprehensive network needed to enable marine wildlife to thrive once more. We need a sensible number, in the best locations and with the right degree of connectivity between areas. We hope that the government will aim high and hit the 48 mark for this last phase.”

The 48 areas proposed by The Wildlife Trusts will be the final gap-fillers in the ‘blue belt’ and vary from sea grass beds in the south, which provide protected areas for our two species of seahorse, to deep sea mud, brimming with burrowing animals including sea pens and the incredibly long-lived ocean quahog, a clam species which can live up to 500 years.

Joan Edwards concludes: “We know that the public support a strong ecologically coherent network of protected areas at sea and we want the government to be as ambitious as possible in order to restore decades of decline in the health of our seas and enable recovery in future.”