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Written Statement - The Creation of a Network of Marine Protected Areas

Carl Sargeant, Minister for Natural Resources

I wish to set out the principles the Welsh Government intends to follow when contributing to the development of a network of MPAs. This is in line with the obligations set out in section 123(6) of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, which came into force in Wales on 12 December 2014.

I am committed to Wales contributing to an ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas (MPAs) and to ensuring our MPAs are well-managed by the end of 2016. Our contribution will include Special Protection Areas, Special Areas of Conservation, Ramsar sites, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Marine Conservation Zones.

The network is an important part of the Welsh Government’s wider strategy for managing the Welsh marine area in support of the sustainable use of our seas. The Marine and Fisheries Strategic Action Plan aims to integrate conservation and other marine activities in pursuing the shared UK vision for ‘clean healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse seas’.  Other elements include developing a Welsh National Marine Plan will help achieve the sustainable use of our seas through the integration of marine objectives and policies leading to the sound management of our natural marine resources; implementing the reforms to the Common Fisheries Policy to contribute towards achieving fishing levels at Maximum Sustainable Yield by 2020 and an improved system for marine licensing. All of these initiatives will contribute towards achieving good environmental status of our seas by 2020 as required under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

In 2012 the Welsh Government consulted on the use of Marine Conservation Zones within the network. We listened to the feedback and with the help of a Stakeholder Focus Group agreed a way forward. A key outcome was to assess the contribution provided by the existing MPAs in Wales, to identify if or where there might be gaps and determine if we need to do more. We have asked the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and Natural Resources Wales to undertake this assessment.

The principles which will guide the design and assessment of the MPA Network are:

  • Features – the range of habitats and species are represented within the network. The proportion of features included in the MPA network should be determined on a feature-by-feature basis, considering whether features that are in decline, at risk or particularly sensitive are of a higher priority and would benefit from a higher proportion being protected by MPAs.
  • Representativity – To support the sustainable use, protection and conservation of marine biological diversity and ecosystems, areas which best represent the range of species and habitats should be protected.
  • Connectivity – The MPA network is well distributed in space and takes into account the linkages between marine ecosystems.
  • Resilience – There is adequate replication of habitats and species in separate MPAs in each biogeographic area. The size of the site should be sufficient to maintain the integrity of the feature for which it is being selected.

The network assessment will compare our existing 128 MPAs against these principles. Should any gaps be identified we will work collaboratively with stakeholders to understand the shortfalls and consider how best to fulfil our obligations. This might include using the Marine Conservation Zone provisions within the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 to provide targeted protection for specific features. The assessment will also guide us in developing features and conservation objectives for Skomer to complete its re-classification to a Marine Conservation Zone.

I know we need to do more to strengthen the protection for birds within the network in line with our obligations under the Birds Directive and we continue to work to identify Special Areas of Conservation for harbour porpoise in line with our obligations under the Habitats Directive. My officials will be discussing this work with stakeholders in the near future.

I am committed to ensuring that our MPAs are well managed so that they contribute to the conservation and improvement of the marine environment and support sustainable economic growth.  The Welsh Government is working with Natural Resources Wales and other management authorities to review the way we currently manage our sites in Wales with a view to securing effective long term management for all our MPAs.

I expect that the work set out in this statement will contribute to achieving Good Environmental Status under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and deliver our contribution to an ecologically coherent network of MPAs under the OSPAR convention on the protection of the marine environment on the North East Atlantic.

This statement of principles will be kept under review, and I will continue to keep the National Assembly for Wales informed of key developments.

Notes

Skomer Marine Conservation Zone - On 12 December 2014 the waters around Skomer Island were reclassified from a Marine Nature Reserve to a Marine Conservation Zone. This was an automatic change brought about by Part 5 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 coming into force in Wales. Over the next 12-18 months in line with the Marine Act’s provisions for MCZs the Welsh Government intends to establish features and conservation objectives for Skomer in close consultation with those with an interest in this location.


OSPAR - Oslo-Paris Convention on the protection of the marine environment on the North East Atlantic http://www.ospar.org/