Almost 4000 square miles of wildlife-rich sea off the coast of Britain could receive protection under plans unveiled by the UK Government today.
Seven areas have been earmarked to become Britain’s first offshore special areas of conservation (SAC), providing conservation of sea life and habitats such as sandbanks, submarine structures and cold water coral reefs.
Five of those areas are in Scottish waters, including Braemar Pockmarks, 150 miles east of Orkney; Darwin Mounds, 100 miles north-west of Cape Wrath; Scanner Pockmark, 115 miles off the north-east coast; Stanton Banks, south of the Outer Hebrides; and Wyville Thomson Ridge, between the Faroe islands and Scotland.
The sites are intended to form part of a network of marine protected areas which the government says it wants to see in place by 2012 – and which may eventually cover up to 40% of the UK’s seas.
The SAC status will provide tighter control over any ongoing or planned activity in those areas, such as oil and gas developments, fisheries or wind farms.
A 12-week public consultation is being launched today, and the government’s conservation advisers, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, will then decide whether to recommend that the sites are submitted to Europe for approval as SACs.
If they are approved by the European Commission under the EU Habitats Directive, they will be assessed on a case-by-case basis to see what protection is needed.
Jonathan Shaw, Marine, Landscape and Rural Affairs Minister, said: “The UK has one of the richest marine environment in the world. We want to bring conservation standards at sea up to the level of those that we have on land, to give greater protection to sea life.
“I want to see a network of marine protected areas around the UK by 2012, and these seven new proposed offshore areas would be a big part of that.”
Currently, protected marine areas are limited to coastal and inshore sites conserving habitats, marine species and birds.
The UK has a well-developed network of land-based nature reserves including Local Nature Reserves, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and European Sites. Scotland has a several protected environments including sites such as Ben Nevis, the Clyde Valley Woods in Lanarkshire, the Isle of May off Fife, and the Loch Lomond Woods, which are already classified as Special Areas of Conservation.
20 December 2007
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