Ministers shelve plans to protect marine sites

Sea horses will remain vulnerable.

Sea horses will remain vulnerable.

First published in News Daily Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Parliamentary Correspondent

ENVIRONMENTALISTS say they are “bitterly disappointed” after ministers shelved plans to protect Hampshire’s coastline.

Campaigners had called for nine sites in the Solent to be set aside as “marine conservation zones” to ward off the threat to sea horses, corals and other wildlife.

But the Government announced that only 31 of the 127 proposed sites across the country would be going ahead next year, of which none were in the Solent.

Jolyon Chesworth, head of marine conservation at Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, branded the publication “deeply disappointing and woefully inadequate”.

Mr Chesworth said the Government had given too much weight to commercial concerns ahead of the environment in its push for growth.

He said: “From the recommended 30 sites in south-east England, only nine sites are now suggested for designation in 2013 and, incredibly, none of these are around Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, despite there being strong evidence that these are some of the best sites for marine life in the region.”

As a result, he said: “Our local sea horses, corals and other marine life remain vulnerable.”

The marine conservation zones restrict activity in specific areas of particular environmental concern.

This could include curbs on leisure activities, like yachting, fishing, or commercial shipping.

Mr Chesworth insisted most activities would have been able to continue, with “some minor management”.

Nonetheless, the plans were criticised by some other sea-users, including yachtsmen around the Isle of Wight.

Port bosses also raised concerns.

Nine sites were put forward in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, including a number off the coast of the Isle of Wight and Fareham Creek.

They were aimed at protecting rare species found in the Solent, including spoon worms, stalked jellyfish, and a rare seaweed, maerl.

The Government said the sites missed out of the first tranche could be considered for a second wave of zones.

Environment minister Richard Benyon said 8.4 per cent of UK waters would now be within protected areas.

He told MPs: “This is a key step to meeting the Government’s commitment under the Marine and Coastal Access Act to create a network of marine protected areas in the UK.”

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