The group of wildlife charities which make up the Wildlife and Countryside Link has published the Nature Check 2013 report. The report is critical of this government’s handling of Nature Conservation and considers that the Biodiversity 2020 programme is being pursued with insufficient vigour to be completed in time.
There is a lot in the report, and we will be commenting on a number of aspects insofar as they relate to the Solent when we have had time to fully analyse the report. But there is one issue that deserves immediate attention
The NGOs are critical of the time delay in the designation of MCZs in certain parts of the coastal zone, and this includes the Solent rMCZs. This report considers that valuable and rare Habitats and Species will be damaged during the delay.
The Solent Protection Society does not fully agree with this approach. We studied the data which the Balanced Seas organisation put forward to the JNCC scientific panel last December and came to the conclusion that the Solent had been found to be very much more complex and rich in diversity of both habitats and species than expected, and that there was need for both verification of current data and further exploration by qualified and experienced marine biologists before a reliable assessment of what was actually there, and what was not there, could be made. This was particularly so in both the Needles rMCZ and the much larger Bembridge rMCZ. It is therefore inappropriate to criticise the sensible decision to try and get data right. Without accurate data which is trusted by all involved or affected by the designation of MCZs, there is no proper basis for competent and effective management plans. If the data is not trusted, protective measures will simply be ignored.
So far as potential damage is concerned, the Southern IFCA has put in place regulations which forbid certain fishing methods and gear in the most vulnerable area. As bottom trawling, in particular, was the main cause of damage, it is likely that further damage during the delayed timescale is minimized.
We need sensible management plans which take both protected species into account while causing minimum compromise to socio-economic activities. This must be based on sound data. We sincerely hope that JNCC is using this time to thoroughly verify and update data on Solent rMCZs, using only the data in which they have full confidence, so that we are able to support the ensuing future designations and associated management plans as being sensible and competent.
We also hope that this delay is not allowing lobbyists to compromise the integrity of the MCZ and full Marine Protected Area system.