Turning the Tide

By Peter Shirley on Aug 21, 13 10:12 AM in

The Wildlife Trusts' recently organised National Marine Week, which for some reason lasted a fortnight from the 27 July to 11 August. The week is part of the Living Seas Programme and is designed to raise awareness about the problems and potential solutions relating to our coast and seas and their wildlife and habitats.

It is often said that in this country we have no wildernesses, and on land that is true. The seas are a different matter: on and around our beaches and cliffs, and beneath the waves, spectacular wildlife is holding on in a fight against a host of damaging activities. These include inappropriate fishing methods, wind farms, powered water sports, mineral dredging and oil wells. From tiny corals to giant basking sharks (the UK's largest animal) and from barnacles and shrimps to dolphins and whales the seas support an endless variety of creatures. Many of these are under threat because their watery habitats have very little statutory protection. More is needed because modern developments, for example of fishing gear, mean that once sustainable activities can now irreparably damage fish populations and the sea bed.

The Wildlife Trusts and other conservation bodies have been campaigning for such protection of the most important areas for wildlife in the Irish Sea, the English Channel and the North Sea. Whilst they are grateful for voluntary agreements with some of the people involved, especially fishermen, they believe the Government needs to do more. Two years ago there was a consultation about Marine Conservation Zones, as a result of which 127 were put forward for protection. To date the Government is only minded to declare 31 of these, a pitifully small number.

As always in these circumstances the Government seems to be more interested in the interests of big business than those of the environment. The irony is that if some of the businesses involved stopped to think they would realise that their's and the environment's interests are very similar. Short term profits are taking precedence over long term sustainability of the assets that they are exploiting.

Britain is a maritime nation, even here in the middle of the country we are only about 100 miles from the coast. Surely therefore we should be taking more care of the natural wealth of the oceans which surround us? Enjoy your days at the seaside, the boat trips to see the wildlife, prospecting for blennies and crabs in rock pools and, of course, eating fried fish and chips on the promenade. But spare a thought for how fragile and vulnerable the marine environment is, and help to turn the tide by supporting the campaign for Marine Conservation Zones.

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