The UK Government’s vision for the marine environment is for clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas. To this end, the Government have taken steps within the past 12 months to protect sea life through a diverse range of initiatives and policies, including:
Developing the Marine and Coastal Access Bill
The Marine and Coastal Access Bill is currently progressing through the parliamentary process; it had its Second Reading in the House of Lords on 15 December 2008 and started its House of Lords Committee stage on 12 January. It is expected to gain Royal Assent in the summer or autumn of 2009. The Bill will bring significant changes to the way the marine area is managed and protected, and will help us towards our vision for the marine environment.
Assessing the state of UK Seas
The Government make regular assessments of the state of the UK seas to evaluate the extent to which they are clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse. The first report, Charting Progress, was published in 2005 and is available on the DEFRA website at:
The second report is currently being prepared and is expected to be published in 2010. The monitoring and assessment work and evidence collection is co-ordinated across the UK through the UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy (UKMMAS).
Designating further Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)
In the last 12 months, DEFRA has designated five additional marine candidate special areas of conservation (SACs) in UK offshore waters, which takes the total number of MPAs in UK waters to 156. These new sites have also been added to the OSPAR (Commission for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North East Atlantic) list of MPAs.
Furthermore, Natural England (NE) is currently carrying out pre-consultation discussions with stakeholders regarding a further eight marine sites in English waters.
Closing valuable areas to the most damaging activities
On 19 June 2008, my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw), made the decision to close an area 60 square nautical miles in Lyme Bay to the most damaging fishing practices. A statutory instrument was signed off by the Minister and laid in Parliament, and came into force on 11 July 2008. Lyme Bay is one of the most important areas for marine life in England, and the decision to close 60 square nautical miles to the most damaging fishing methods demonstrated the Government’s commitment to protecting the richness of our marine heritage as part of our goal of living within our environmental means.
On 6 March 2008, my hon. Friend announced his decision to ban scallop dredging and other towed bottom gear from the outer part of the Fal and Helford special area of conservation (SAC). The ban was implemented through a statutory instrument which came into force on 1 October 2008. Following DEFRA’s decision to ban scallop dredging, Cornwall Sea Fisheries Committee, with support from DEFRA, is considering introducing a byelaw in order to establish an experimental MPA in the outer SAC area for the purposes of assessing and managing the scallop stocks within it. The byelaw would prohibit all forms of scallop harvesting, including through diving. The public consultation on the draft byelaw was concluded on 15 February 2009. Cornwall Sea Fisheries Committee is currently assessing the results of the consultation.
Working with Europe to protect species and habitats
At the 60th annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) which took place in June 2008, the UK played an important role in the conservation and protection of cetaceans worldwide. We were able to defeat a Danish proposal for an annual take of 10 humpback whales in their Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling (ASW) hunt, thereby saving the needless slaughter of 50 humpbacks in the period 2008-12. We also made telling interventions on whale welfare; scientific whaling; the plight of the Western Pacific Gray Whale population; recent trade in whale meat from Iceland and Norway to Japan; and the Japanese Dall’s porpoise hunt. The UK will continue to strongly support the IWC moratorium on commercial whaling and oppose all forms of whaling, other than limited whaling operations by indigenous people for subsistence purposes to meet a defined and substantiated need.
Marine Biodiversity Action Plans (BAPS)
DEFRA has established a stakeholder group to drive forward the delivery of marine biodiversity. This group is chaired by NE and reports to the England Biodiversity Group.
Through the Countdown 2010 grant programme, NE specifically called for projects to help the delivery marine biodiversity targets. Three large projects were awarded funds totalling £286,000. These were:
The Isles of Scilly Marine Biodiversity Project;
British Elasmobranchs: building and applying knowledge for a sustainable future. This project aims to arrest, and where possible reverse, the decline in elasmobranch (shark, skate and ray) populations; and
Solent Seal Tagging Project.
NE also supported the Marine Conservation Society to produce the Marine Local Biodiversity Action Plan Guidance Manual for England published in 2008.
In addition, NE published a report, State of the Natural Environment, in 2008, a copy of which is available on their website at:
This included a chapter on the marine environment and its biodiversity. Further progress on the delivery of marine BAP targets is being captured through the 2008 Biodiversity Action Plan reporting process. This information is still being collated and will be available shortly.
The welfare of circus animals is protected by the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal. The Act also contains a Duty of Care to animals—this means that anyone responsible for an animal must take reasonable steps to make sure the animal’s welfare needs are met.
During the last 12 months DEFRA has been investigating whether further regulation of the use of wild animals in circuses is required.
The welfare of domestic pets is protected by the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal. The Act also contains a Duty of Care to animals—this means that anyone responsible for an animal must take reasonable steps to make sure the animal’s welfare needs are met.
In November 2008, the Secretary of State launched a public consultation on the new code of practice for cats, dogs and horses. The main purpose of the codes is to provide practical guidance on pet owners’ responsibilities under the Animal Welfare Act. The consultation exercise closed at the end of last year, and my Department is analysing the responses before the codes are approved by Parliament.