One step closer to protecting wildlife in the Irish Sea

Razorbills on ledge © Mike Snelle

Each year on World Oceans Day we celebrate the wonders of our fantastic Living Seas. This year we are also celebrating the possibility of 41 new Marine Conservation Zones throughout UK seas - including 6 in the Irish Sea!

Wildlife in six special places throughout the Irish Sea could receive protection after the Government announced a consultation on 41 proposed Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) around the UK. The announcement comes on World Oceans Day (8 June), an international celebration of the world’s seas.

The Irish Sea sites which will go out to public consultation today include the Solway Firth and West of Copeland, off the coast of Cumbria; the Wyre/Lune and Ribble Estuaries in Lancashire; plus South Rigg and Queenie Corner in the western Irish Sea. The Government are looking for public support to ensure that they are protected into the future.

Marine Conservation Zones or MCZs are areas at sea where wildlife is protected from damaging activities. A total of 41 special places have been chosen for the public to comment on; these range from seagrass beds in Studland Bay, Dorset to deep, rich mud habitats in the western Irish Sea.

This is encouraging news for the Irish Sea and a great step in the right direction, but we are disappointed that two sites have been left out of this process
Dr Emily Baxter, Senior Marine Conservation Officer
North West Wildlife Trusts

Senior Marine Conservation Officer for the North West Wildlife Trusts, Dr Emily Baxter said:

"The Solway Firth, Wyre & Lune and the Ribble Estuary are being recommended to protect smelt, a type fish but important species in these estuarine ecosystems. Smelt are also known as 'cucumber fish' due to their intense smell, reminiscent of fresh cucumbers! Smelt populations have declined dramatically over the past 200 years and we hope that the designation of these MCZs would help them thrive across the North West again.

"South Rigg and Queenie Corner are rich, deep muddy habitats that support a wealth of wildlife at the bottom of the food web and South Riggs is also home to a rare breeding population of ocean quahogs. These large clams can live for over 500 years, making them the longest-lived animals in the world.

“We’re also delighted that protection for razorbills, an important species of seabirds, has been proposed, as an addition to the existing Cumbria Coast MCZ.  In addition, the Government’s nature conservation advisors have recommended a new site, West of Copeland, to help preserve ‘subtidal coarse sediments’. This coarse sand, gravel and shingle habitat supports a wealth of wildlife buried in the seabed – the safest place to be! This includes bristleworms, sand mason worms, small shrimp-like animals, burrowing anemones, carpet shell clams and venus cockles.  

“We want the people of the North West, who cherish their seas, to have their say in the consultation to protect our local wildlife. We will be launching a petition on our website over the coming days for people to pledge their support. We need to demonstrate how much people care about our coasts and seas to secure protection.”

Emily said: “If designated, these areas would join the Fylde and West of Walney, Allonby Bay and Cumbria Coast Marine Conservation Zones. However, we can’t help being disappointed that two vital areas of deep sea mud in the Irish Sea - home to and sea pens and Dublin Bay prawns - are missing from the consultation." 

If the Government decide to designate these sites, they will make a great addition to the network of protection for our seas, which is great news for people and wildlife.

The network is being spread right around the UK's seas according the Director of Living Seas at The Wildlife Trusts, Joan Edwards. Joan said: “We’ve been calling for the Government to give real protection to a connected network of diverse range of undersea landscapes and species since 2009.

“Only 50 Marine Conservation Zones have been designated so far and this new consultation on 41 important sites is really good news. We need to restore the seabed that has been ravaged over the past century and allow fragile marine life to recover – and this can only be done with good management.

“Without these astonishing undersea landscapes there simply wouldn't be any fish, let alone fantastic jewel anemones, seahorses, dolphins and all the other wild and extraordinary creatures which are part of a healthy marine ecosystem.”

The Wildlife Trusts believe that the consultation is a big step in the right direction for England’s seas.  Proper protection of these sites after designation is needed through the implantation of management to give our seas a real opportunity to recover.

Joan said: “41 potential new protected areas represent a great leap forward but we are disappointed that a number of sites have been left out of this process, particularly mud habitats in the Irish Sea and English Channel. Although these habitats can appear featureless, mud is a diverse and wildlife-rich habitat and we think it’s important that these areas are protected too.”

We are calling on the public to back the 41 potential Marine Conservation Zones in the consultation – details of how to do this will be added to our MCZ page here. The consultation closes on Friday 20th July 2018.