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Seas and Oceans: Environment Protection

Volume 462: debated on Monday 25 June 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what marine protected areas are in place; what percentage of the UK coastal and offshore waters they cover; what plans he has for the designation of further such areas; and if he will make a statement. (144852)

There are 182 protected areas in UK inshore waters with a marine element: 81 special protection areas with marine habitats for birds, 98 special areas of conservation with marine habitats or species, and three marine nature reserves. In total, these sites cover more than 1.8 million hectares, or 2.2 per cent. of UK waters.

Work is under way to identify further sites in UK waters. To date, 19 areas for marine habitats have been surveyed and there are plans for additional survey of a further 10 areas. Between them, these areas cover up to 9,550,000 ha or 11 per cent. of UK waters. Seven areas for marine birds have also been surveyed, with plans for 30 more. A selection of these surveyed areas are likely to be recommended as marine protected areas under the habitats and birds directives, but the number and size of these sites is not yet known.

The Marine Bill will also introduce a new mechanism to enable the designation of marine conservation zones. There have been a number of recommendations on what proportion of the UK marine area might be covered by such zones, including by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. However, there is currently insufficient scientific evidence to enable us to make an accurate assessment of the likely extent of a network of marine protected areas.

To inform the impact assessment for the Bill, we have undertaken research investigating the likely extent of a network of marine conservation zones in UK waters under a range of different scenarios. The network configurations generated as part of the exercise all resulted in 14 to 20 per cent. coverage of the UK continental shelf. These figures were based on a number of scenarios, although none of these are necessarily representative of how the final network will look. The findings of this research have been published on the DEFRA website.