Marine conservation blueprint earmarks large areas of the North Devon coast

A NEW report has outlined major proposals for a number of new Marine Conservation Zones along the North Devon coast.

Protected areas in the Taw and Torridge estuary form part of the recommendations made by the Finding Sanctuary study, a two-year research project involving nearly a quarter of a million of the South West’s water users.

Also included are areas of coastline from Bideford to Foreland Point, and from Hartland Point to Tintagel. Areas of seabed at Morte Platform and to north of Lundy, as well as the island’s existing Marine Conservation Zone, are also highlighted.

A Reference Area has been recommended at Lundy.

Marine Conservation Zones are a new type of Marine Protected Area being introduced through the UK Marine and Coastal Access Act to protect nationally important marine wildlife, habitats, geology and geomorphology.

The study, one of four regional projects undertaken in the UK, was carried out in partnership with South West Food and Drink, the South West Wildlife Trusts, RSPB, National Trust, Natural England, JNCC and the county councils of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset. It identifies a total of 58 sites in the South West, covering habitats from estuaries and coastal areas to deep water canyons.

Finding Sanctuary project manager Tom Hooper said once designated, Marine Conservation Zones would make important changes to the way seas are used and managed.

“It is vital that these planning decisions are carefully considered by those with strong local knowledge and with expertise from the sectors that will be affected,” he said.

Marine Minister Richard Benyon added: “The thousands of species of sea life and habitats that live hidden under our waters need just as much protection as those that we can see on land.

“Today has seen our ambition to put in place special protection areas for marine life off the coast of England, take a significant step forward.”

The report is one of four regional projects taking place in the UK and the recommendations will now be considered by the Government, with a public consultation expected to take place during 2012.

Decisions about how the sites are managed, and what activities can or cannot take place there will be made once designation has been confirmed.