This advice marks the latest step towards the Governments objective to create a well-managed network of Marine Protected Areas to help protect the range of habitats and species in our seas by the end of 2016. The Advice Package is being provided to Defra to support the decisions the Environment Minister will make on the designation of MCZs after a formal public consultation is held (the consultation will start in December 2012).
The process for making recommendations on where MCZs could be located has been unique, since sea users have been at the centre of it. For two years, four regional MCZ projects have worked extensively with specially formed groups of regional stakeholders involving representatives of different organisations, regulators, interest groups and individuals whose activities might be affected by MCZs. Balanced Seas represented the south-east; Finding Sanctuary the south-west; Irish Seas Conservation Zones the Irish Sea; and Net Gain represented the North Sea. These four regional MCZ projects submitted their final recommendations to JNCC and Natural England in September 2011.
Since then, JNCC and Natural England have assessed the ecological implications of the four projects recommendations for MCZs, and the ecological evidence base for the sites. At the same time, economists from the four regional MCZ projects have prepared socio-economic impact assessments for each MCZ, as well as for all the sites combined.
All of this information the regional MCZ projects recommendations (from September 2011), the regional MCZ projects impact assessments, and JNCC and Natural Englands formal advice regarding the ecological evidence is being brought together to make up the Advice Package presented to Defra on 18 July.
Between now and the end of the year, Defra will assess each component of the Advice Package and will provide its own impact assessment, which will be used during the three month public consultation that will open in December 2012. Following the consultation, it is anticipated that the Minister will select:
- Sites that are backed by robust evidence, to designate in summer 2013
- Sites where further evidence is required, to designate at a later stage
- Sites that are not considered suitable to progress
Once the first wave of MCZs is designated in summer 2013, JNCC and Natural England will provide their conservation advice packages for each site to help inform how these sites should be managed. Management measures will be proposed by the appropriate regulatory authority for each designated MCZ and finalised following local consultations and input from sea users and other interested parties.
James Marsden, Director Marine at Natural England, said: The formal handover of the Advice Package marks the latest stage for Marine Conservation Zones, and provides Government with a comprehensive ecological assessment of the recommended MCZs that will be subject to wide-ranging public consultation in December. Over the last three years, the four regional sea user groups have put in a huge amount of effort to produce their recommendations, and we are enormously grateful for their immense hard work and dedication. Natural England and JNCC commend the work that has been done and the process used to steer this project through safely to the next important phase.
John Goold, Director of Marine Advice at JNCC, said: Since the recommendations were handed over to JNCC and Natural England last September, we have been assessing how well these recommended sites meet the ecological guidance set out at the start of the project. The regional MCZ projects recommendations are an epic achievement by a huge number of people, and we estimate that the organisations engaged by the regional MCZ projects have, through their membership, shared data representing over 600,000 stakeholders. The recommendations show good progress towards achieving an ecologically coherent network, with the aim of combining recommended MCZs with existing MPAs. We are pleased to submit our advice to Defra, so they can begin to evaluate it in earnest, and we look forward to the next steps.