Following today’s Royal Assent for the Marine and Coastal Access Bill, Natural England heralded the legislation as a once in a lifetime opportunity to enhance and protect the marine environment.
Dr Helen Phillips, Chief Executive of Natural England, said: “The Marine and Coastal Access Act will be enormously important for our marine environment, which urgently needs greater protection from the overexploitation and damage that has been inflicted upon it. At last we have a mechanism for safeguarding threatened marine ecosystems and for managing the multiple uses of our seas. By any definition, this is a watershed moment for marine conservation.”
Helen Phillips continued: “Marine Conservation Zones are urgently needed in order to protect England’s most important marine wildlife and undersea landscapes. They need to be sufficiently large, diverse and interconnected to address ecological needs, but they also need to function effectively alongside other uses of the marine environment. This has to be a collaborative process and we want everyone who uses the sea to be involved from the outset in developing recommendations on where the new conservation zones should be located.”
To this end, there is now a pioneering ‘Marine Conservation Zone Project’, spearheaded by four independent regional stakeholder groups who will have a key role in determining the boundaries of the new Marine Conservation Zones using a unique ‘bottom up’ process. No other country in the world has attempted to involve people at this sort of scale in developing plans for marine protected areas.
Helen Phillips concluded: “The new Act is an enormously positive step forward and represents a once in a lifetime opportunity to deliver a sustainable future for our marine environment and the many human activities that depend upon it.”