Today (Friday 12 December, 2008) the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) launches the Marine LBAP* Guidance Manual for England, a one-stop shop for advice to help conservationists and local authorities protect England’s threatened marine biodiversity. The pioneering manual provides maps, information and guidelines for action to protect 24 threatened marine wildlife species and habitats in UK waters and is the first document of its kind.

The Manual has been three years in the making, with support from Natural England and Defra, and was compiled by MCS Biodiversity Policy Officer Dr Jean Luc Solandt using expert advice and information from leading conservationists throughout the UK. The species included in the manual range from migratory species such as whales, dolphins, basking sharks and turtles, to lesser know species such as the fanshell (a huge mollusc that is larger than a dinner plate) and the exquisite pink seafan (delicate, fan-shaped soft coral, closely related to species found on tropical reefs).

“We have neglected our productive seas and their magnificent wildlife for far too long, and have only paid lip-service to the UK’s commitments under international agreements to protect our marine biodiversity”, said Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, MCS Biodiversity Policy Officer, “This manual is the definitive guide to help the relevant authorities start protecting our marine resources, although this conservation work must be carried out in parallel with the establishment of a network of marine reserves throughout our seas”.

The Convention on Biodiversity, the European Commission and the UK Government have all called for biodiversity loss to be halted and reversed by 2010, only one year from now. Sadly there has been little progress towards this target in the UK marine environment, where 22 marine vertebrates are included on the Red List of Threatened Species, compared to only three UK terrestrial vertebrates. Almost all of the species and habitats outlined in the new MCS manual are highly threatened.

With the inclusion of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill in this November’s Queen’s Speech, MCS is hopeful that legislation will soon be passed to provide for the establishment of a network of ’Marine Conservation Zones’ to allow UK marine biodiversity to recover from centuries of heavy exploitation. MCS (along with the Coop group) is calling for a total of 30% of UK seas to eventually be set aside as Highly Protected Marine Reserves by 2020 to ensure recovery of threatened wildlife and their habitats. Whilst the establishment of marine reserves is vital to the protection of our marine wildlife, the new Manual will provide key information to help local authorities fulfil their obligations under the recent Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act and mitigate against threats to marine wildlife both inside and outside the marine reserve network.