(2) what socio-economic criteria will be taken into account in (a) the selection of individual sites and (b) the design of an ecologically cohesive network of marine conservation zones;
(3) whether the seven principles of ecological cohesion will be adhered to in the designation of marine conservation zones;
(4) whether the minimum conservation objectives for marine conservation zones will be a favourable condition used in designating sites of special scientific interest.
Designations of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs), by necessity, must be based on science to identify the case for conserving habitats, flora and fauna in accordance with the provisions set out in the Marine and Coastal Access Act. The Government have established an independent Science Advisory Panel who will advise both the regional projects and Government on the science. In our statement of 11 March to Parliament, the Government set out the seven principles of ecological coherence it will apply. The development of the ecological guidance to be issued by the SNCBs is being informed by research that has been subject to peer review.
It will be the responsibility of the Statutory Nature Conservation Bodies, working with four regional stakeholder projects, to set out the rationale in its advice to Government on where to create MCZs and the conservation objectives to be achieved. A key part of this will involve assembling evidence, including scientific and socio-economic data. We consider that the concept of Good Environmental Status—which will be defined through implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive—should guide the minimum level acceptable for MCZ objectives, as far as that is an appropriate measure for a site-based conservation tool. Government expect that scientific uncertainty will be explicitly recognised in that advice. For example, our understanding of the connectivity principle is still evolving and while not unimportant it will be a secondary consideration.
There will be choices to be made, for example between replicate features, or site management measures, or how to support both development and conservation policies. We expect socio-economic considerations to be taken into account at all stages to inform these choices. These considerations will include opportunity costs. The criteria to be applied will be ones that provide confidence that decisions will result in an ecologically coherent network that is well supported, understood and can be managed to contribute to our vision for clean, healthy, safe, productive, and biologically diverse oceans and seas.