Coast conservation plans scaled back

Daily Echo: Sea grass Sea grass

PLANS to set aside sections of the sea off Hampshire and the Isle of Wight as nature reserves could be scaled back, it has been revealed.

The Government plans to declare a number of sites in the Solent as “marine conservation zones”, which would restrict activity in order to protect rare plants and wildlife.

The plans have been criticised by some sea-users, including keen yachtsmen, around the Isle of Wight. Port bosses have also raised concerns.

Now there are new fears that the zones could be scaled back after a minister admitted some of the 127 proposed sites would be “dropped”.

Environmentalists had hoped that all 127 zones would be set up to create a network of protected areas around Britain’s coastline.

Jolyon Chesworth, head of marine conservation for Hampshire Wildlife Trust, said: “It is something that we have heard rumours of. This is the first time that it has been publicly put out that some sites are going to be dropped.

“It confirms some of our worst fears.”

Nine sites have been put forward in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight for Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs).

They include a number off the coast of the Isle of Wight and Fareham Creek.

They are aimed at protecting rare species found in the Solent, including sea grass, a scarce plant, spoon worms, stalked jellyfish, and a rare seaweed, maerl. Previously ministers had dismissed claims that some of the sites would be ditched. But after receiving a report from an independent scientific advisory panel, the position appears to have changed.

In a letter to Labour environment spokesman Ben Bradshaw, Environment Minister Richard Benyon said he would be identifying sites that would become MCZs in 2013, as well as “those...that would be dropped”.

Southampton Test MP Alan Whitehead said it would be a “very retrograde step”

if some of the areas were cut, adding: “Frankly they are taking too long.”

There has been opposition to the scheme from yachting groups as well as from port representatives.

Parliament’s All Party Maritime and Ports Group, of which Mr Whitehead is a vice chairman, has warned of the “undue impact on port activities and development”, although the Southampton MP said he was very much in favour of MCZs.

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