Ministers accused over marine zones
Published 30/03/2013 | 07:46
Environmentalists have accused the Government of being too slow to protect the UK's marine environment.
They are worried about the rate of progress on the development of a network of marine conservation zones which would safeguard wildlife in waters around the country, the BBC said.
A total of 127 areas were nominated for protection following a deal with others who use the sea, such as the fishing and sailing industries. But just 31 of these zones could be designated under a consultation that ends on Sunday.
Environmentalists are worried that the process is taking too long, but the Government has blamed the slow progress on the squeezed economy. Jolyon Chesworth, from the Wildlife Trusts, told the BBC: "We are disappointed at the rate of progress. The Government has an international obligation to protect wildlife in the seas.
"The marine environment is not as obvious to people as it is when they see wildlife walking through a woodland or downland but it's just as important and equally worthy of protection. The 127 zones were only nominated after very long discussions with anglers, sailors and the fishing industry. We are now being asked to compromise on a compromise."
But Environment Minister Richard Benyon told the BBC that budget cuts meant the cost of scientific assessments for developing new regulations were a major factor.
"We are constrained by a hugely expensive process at a time when we have little money in government," he said. "I want to do as many zones as we can for as little as we can. People have waited many years for this; we will designate the first tranche in September and will announce the next lot for consultation then."
Environmentalists are concerned the Government will drag its feet on an international commitment to develop the network of protected zones. But other sea users are worried about the consequences of any new rules. Sailors are concerned about proposals to protect some of the waters around the boating haven of the Isle of Wight, calling the idea "bonkers".
John Pockett, from the Royal Yachting Association, told the BBC: "We fear we won't be able to anchor our yachts; we fear we won't be able to train our next Ben Ainslie (the Olympian) because we won't be able to anchor marker boats."
Currently less than 1% of English waters are protected, the BBC said, while if all the sites had been approved that figure would be more than 25%.