Anger as North Devon marine areas fail to gain protection
WILDLIFE enthusiasts have been outraged by the decision to scrap four marine conservation zones proposed for North Devon.
The scheme to introduce greater protection to rivers, estuaries, and the sea began four years ago and initial proposals earmarked 127 sites across the country which would benefit from becoming marine conservation zones (MCZs).
Defra, which led the scheme, set up localised bodies to investigate the needs of specific areas by working with stakeholders, such as fishermen, to assess which areas most needed to be designated zones.
The body for the South West, Finding Sanctuary, identified the four zones in North Devon: Morte Platform, Taw and Torridge Estuaries, North of Lundy and Bideford to Foreland Point.
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But on the final list of zones going out to public consultation only 31 are included for the whole country – with none for North Devon.
It is expected those shortlisted zones will become official after the consultation later this year.
Defra said there was a lack of evidence for the proposed North Devon sites so they could not be taken forward. By reducing the number of proposed marine conservation zones, the publicly funded project will save about £300 million.
Devon Wildlife Trust is concerned about the effects the decision could have on North Devon's habitats which are home to numerous unique, at risk species.
Trust marine officer Richard White, said they were not giving up the fight yet.
He said: "We know getting people to respond to the consultation, and to point out there is more information, is really important.
"We are concerned damage will continue to these sites, although with the sites in North Devon, it is more the potential threat down the line than what is currently happening.
"The area I am most concerned with seeing protected is the Bideford to Foreland Point area. This is a high porpoise area and we want to ensure that continues to thrive.
"Over the next few months we will be working with divers to improve the local data."
Rose Day, chairman of the North Devon Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), said a review by the Government advisory body, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, had indicated there was sufficient data to recommend designation.
She said: "These rich and diverse marine and estuary environments are extremely important sites for conservation and were agreed through a comprehensive process of consultation with representatives from fishing, marine, environment, and community organisations.
"The uniqueness and value of the North Devon coastal environment has already been recognised through the designation of Lundy as the first MCZ, and we would expect the other identified zones along the North Devon coast and the Taw and Torridge estuary to be recognised in the second tranche of designations. We will be working with partner organisations to achieve this."
Defra spokeswoman Laura Hunter said she was unable to comment on the North Devon sites specifically.
She said: "This is not about numbers or about drawing lines on a map.
"It is about setting out what we are protecting and where, and that these areas are properly managed to protect the marine environment.
"We have carefully considered the evidence, and these 31 sites are the ones that are suitable to be designated later this year."
She said Defra did not know if sites that were selected would be designated in the future as a decision was dependent on funding.
Designating the proposed 31 sites will cost more than £43 million.It would cost £300 million to enforce the 127 zones that were originally proposed.