A draft marine bill was announced in today’s Queen’s speech, much to the dismay of conservation campaigners who have been lobbying for many years for comprehensive new legislation to ensure effective protection of Britain’s marine environment.
The government said that the purpose of the draft marine bill was to allow it to “better protect and regulate activities in the seas around Britain, improving conservation and managements so that future generations will continue to benefit from a clean, healthy and productive marine environment”.
The draft bill will create a new marine planning and management framework that balances the need for wildlife protection with the requirements of industry around Britain’s costs said the government.
Proposals include providing greater clarity for development decisions, streamlining marine licensing arrangements and introducing nature conservation measures that would protect important marine areas, species and habitats “where and when appropriate”.
But The Marine Conservation Society (MCS), which together with the RSPB, WWF and The Wildlife Trusts has been campaigning for many years for new legislation to protect Britain’s marine environment, said it was extremely disappointed that the Queen’s speech only included a commitment to produce a draft – rather than full – marine bill.
Melissa Moore, MCS senior policy officer, said “A draft marine bill will amount to little more than another consultation, and we have already had two.
The government needs to speed up this process if it is to meet its manifesto commitment for a Marine Act before the next election.”
Ms Moore added: “A marine bill is urgently needed to deliver a marine planning system that will enable sustainable development of industries such as marine renewables and the designation of marine protected areas.
“The RSPB said the announcement of a draft bill only has left campaigners feeling let down once again.
Sharon Thompson, senior marine policy officer at the RSPB, said: “Sadly, webelieve today’s half-hearted commitment is a clear signal that threatened marine wildlife is not a priority for this government.
“Despite huge public support for a Marine Act culminating in the handing-in of a 300,000-strong petition, this government has turned its back on public support and its own manifesto commitment.
This would have been a ‘golden’ opportunity for the prime minister to prove his green credentials.
“Our seas are nationally and internationally important for a range of marine creatures but we have a poor record of protecting this heritage. Without a proper Marine Act, this wildlife will be increasingly vulnerable to a range of threats from man’s activities at sea.”
Sally Bailey, the marine manager at WWF UK, said: “The neglect of our seas has to stop now. The Queen announced a draft marine bill in May 2005 but over two years have passed and all we have seen is further decline in our seas. Environmental groups, other political parties, and the general public are all in agreement that we need to introduce a marine bill as soon as possible, so it’s hugely disappointing to see further unnecessary delay.”
At present, without a forward-looking planning system, there is increasing conflict between interests such as shipping, renewables and conservation, but a planning system would prevent this by identifying the most sensible locations for all interests.
The plans would also make it easier for developers to get permission to build offshore wind, wave and tidal schemes, and for power companies to bury carbon emissions in old oil and gas fields in the North Sea. The licensing of marine activities such as dredging will also be overhauled, as will the organisation of fisheries.
The marine bill would enable the designation of much needed marine protected areas