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All at Sea over Marine Conservation?

“Friends of the National Park”, the South Downs Society, today (25 March) poured lukewarm water over government’s latest plans to protect maritime wildlife.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been consulting on proposals to create a number of special Marine Conservation Zones round the coast to protect key habitats and species including fish, but environmental organisations have deemed the plans insufficient.

Says South Downs Society Policy Officer, Steve Ankers, “We’ve been waiting for these proposals to emerge for a long time. There have been endless studies and meetings of interested parties. The urgent need for increased protection has surely been made and I have to say we’re disappointed with what the government’s come up with.”

The Society regards the English Channel close to the Sussex coast as the backdrop to the South Downs National Park and its health and wildlife diversity as fundamental to the public’s enjoyment of this special landscape. Although agreeing that the creation of special zones is a positive move, the Society believes “geographically limited and partially protected sites” will not be enough by themselves.

“We’re pleased that there’s to be a protected area just west of Beachy Head,” says Steve Ankers, “but it’s going to be much narrower in extent than the voluntary conservation area we’ve had in place there for a long time and it doesn’t even take in the tidal estuaries of the Ouse and the Cuckmere. And they say they’re not at this stage taking forward proposals for another zone just east of Beachy Head, which is a major setback.”

The South Downs Society is particularly unhappy that early ideas for setting up some “Reference Areas” amongst the conservation zones with an even higher level of wildlife protection have been dropped to satisfy commercial interests.

“These proposals are a start,” says Steve Ankers, “but we were expecting much more. Let’s hope that this is just the beginning and the network of Marine Conservation Zones will rapidly grow in area and species coverage and do the job that needs doing. And let’s hope it’s properly funded and not just paying lip service.”