Benyon review of Highly Protected Marine Areas published today

Alexander Mustard

The Wildlife Trusts back new form of protection for the sea and call on Government for ambitious delivery plan for Highly Protected Marine Areas within a year.

The Benyon review of Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) is published by Defra today. The Wildlife Trusts back its recommendations that HPMAs should be an essential part of the UK network for protection and recovery of the marine environment, and the government should introduce HPMAs within existing protected areas.

The review is published on World Oceans Day by an independent panel of members from academia, industry and conservation backgrounds and chaired by former MP and Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon. The Wildlife Trusts believe that there is an overwhelming case for HPMAs across our seas which would see a ban on all damaging activities. We are calling for an ambitious HPMA delivery plan within a year.

One of the Review panel, Joan Edwards, director of marine conservation at The Wildlife Trusts says:

“Our seas are in an impoverished state and it’s hard for our generation to comprehend how abundant our waters once were. Cod were once as long and wide as humans are tall, and whales, dolphins and basking sharks were many times more common than they are today. We need to let the sea show us what it’s capable of. Today’s publication proposes a vital way of achieving marine recovery. We want to see real ambition from the Government with a commitment to a HPMA delivery plan agreed before World Oceans Day in 2021.

This new type of designation means that nature could properly recover.

“Existing Marine Protected Areas are limited in their ability to restore habitats and wildlife because their remit to protect nature only extends as far as maintaining the status quo. In these areas only some of the most damaging activities are prevented and even then, only in some locations.

“In Highly Protected Marine Areas, on the other hand, all damaging activities including fishing, dredging, construction and sea angling would be banned. This new type of designation means that nature could properly recover. HPMAs could be monitored to allow us to understand what a thriving seabed and restored marine life really means. They could set a bar against which other sorts of protected areas could be measured.”

Grey seal

Grey seal in kelp forest ©Alexander Mustard/2020VISION

The Wildlife Trusts believe that HPMAs should be designated in each regional sea, in both inshore and offshore English waters, encompassing a range of habitats so that experts can study how recovery works in different ecosystems. In October 2019 The Wildlife Trusts submitted evidence to the panel saying:

  • A selection of well monitored HPMAs that are sufficient in size and number are needed to understand what happens when damaging activities are removed and how our seas can recover. In turn this will help us determine appropriate management for the rest of the Marine Protected Area (MPA) network
  • Highly Protected Marine Areas provide a higher level of protection than other types of MPAs - this means marine areas will be able to return to as natural a state as possible with more marine wildlife
  • Highly Protected Marine Areas act as a natural solution to climate change in the form of carbon capture, whilst at the same time helping to conserve the animals and plants living there
  • Highly Protected Marine Areas have the potential to generate direct benefits through increased tourism and recreational activities while indirect benefits will improve people's wellbeing for decades

The designation of HPMAs can act as an ecosystem tool for recovery and significantly contribute to the Government’s aim of achieving a well-managed and ecologically coherent network of protected areas at sea.

Joan Edwards continues:

“When bottom trawling was banned from Lyme Bay in 2008, we learnt that recovery in the marine environment can happen, and sometimes much sooner than scientists thought possible. Beautiful sunset cup corals blossomed and pink sea fans grew across the area. By removing all pressures and damaging activities, HPMAs will give parts of our sea the best opportunity to recover to as natural and pristine condition as possible.”

In May 2019, the Government announced the creation of 41 new Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) to complete a network of 91 MCZs. With the aim of protecting vulnerable and rare habitats and species, these sites added to the rich tapestry of MPAs in the UK. This was progress towards becoming an ‘ecologically coherent’ network – one that is large and well-connected enough to allow an array of habitats to thrive. Well-enforced HPMAs could be designated across parts of these areas and offer the strictest form of environmental protection; they would become the gold standard of protection, the first of their kind in the UK.

Tammy Smalley, Head of Conservation at the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust says:

"This is another significant stepping stone towards an ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas, which has been a long road but a remarkable road. Hopefully we will see highly protected sites in place in the not too near future off Lincolnshire. In brief, this means places where human activity will be restricted to enable marine nature’s recovery, for example, no take zones for fishing or no piling for offshore wind turbines.

"Building on what we know to be true from places like Lundy, if we stop, then the marine environment will recover. Further details are to be worked out, but great news for our brittlestars, quahogs, terns, harbour porpoise, biogenic reefs and very important muddy habitats."

Peter Barham Chair of the Seabed Users Development Group (SUDG) says:

"We were grateful that the views of marine industry were included within the very considered discussions in the panel about HPMAs and how they may be introduced. SUDG warmly welcomes the designation of HPMAs and the outcome of the review is a set of recommendations to Government that we feel puts protection and restoration of marine conservation on a course which SUDG industries can work with comfortably and which will help us in developing better ways of working in the future."

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