Today you get two blogs for the price of none – this one’s about being at sea (or they might both be about being at sea…)
Last Thursday Defra issued a press release about the Dogger Bank being given extra protection under the EU Habitats Regulations as a Special Area for Conservation (SAC)(but it’s proposed at the moment so its not quite an SAC, it’s a candidate SAC, a cSAC).
This sounds very good, and indeed it probably is, although I am not quite sure yet.
This is what Defra says in its press release:
Over 12,000 square km of species rich sandbank, an area almost double the size of Devon, has become Britain’s latest marine protected area to safeguard important sea life and habitats.
The Dogger Bank is in the middle of the North Sea and crosses the offshore waters of the UK, the Netherlands and Germany. The UK section has been submitted by the Government to the European Commission and now has candidate Special Area of Conservation (cSAC) status.
It will be the largest European Marine Site to be submitted by any Member State for protection and links up with the existing sites in Germany and the Netherlands.
Natural Environment Minister, Richard Benyon, said:
“The thousands of species and habitats in our seas need just the same protection as those on land. The Dogger Bank is home to a fantastic array of sea life and habitats and thoroughly deserves special protection.
“This marks a major step towards achieving our commitment to create an ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas.”
The Dogger Bank is an important feature in its own right as well as being home to crabs, brittlestars (a type of starfish), clams and other crustaceans. It is also important for fish such as plaice, sole and sand eels.
Candidate SAC status means that the site must be protected from damaging activities to ensure its features are conserved.
So far, so very good. But I was slightly puzzled that the release did not say what this protection should be, over an area almost twice that of Devon. The JNCC advice to government was very helpful, saying as it does that:
The Dogger Bank sandbank is currently moderately or highly vulnerable to the following pressures. Therefore, to fulfil the conservation objectives for the Annex I sandbanks which are slightly covered by seawater all the time, the competent authorities for this area are advised to manage human activities within their remit such that they do not result in deterioration or disturbance of this feature through any of the following: i) Physical loss by obstruction (installation of petroleum and renewable energy industry infrastructure and cables); ii) Physical damage by physical disturbance or abrasion (demersal trawling); iii) Biological disturbance by selective extraction of species (demersal trawling). In addition, the feature is sensitive to the following pressures. However, exposure is unknown at this time and without further information it is impossible to quantify vulnerability: iv) Toxic contamination by introduction of synthetic and/or non-synthetic compounds (pollution from oil and gas industry); v) Non-toxic contamination by changes in nutrient loading (sewage from oil and gas rigs).
Interesting! So how is fishing to be regulated in this area nearly twice the size of Devon I wondered. Being a straight-forward type of chap I thought I’d ask.
So I phoned the Defra Helpline (08459 33 55 77) and after pushing some buttons to say I wasn’t reporting a dead bird and I wasn’t the NFU, I asked for help. The lady with the Liverpool accent to whom I spoke asked me lots of questions rather than answering mine and eventually told me that the Marine Management Organisation was where I should direct my enquiry. I expressed a little surprise that Defra might not be the place to talk to about a Defra press release but I did what I was firmly told.
I dialled the number she gave me (0300 123 1032) and got a recorded message telling me they weren’t available but if it was a press enquiry I could phone another number (0191 376 2543) so I did. The lady with the north-east accent to whom I spoke sounded a bit puzzled that I had found her, suggested that Defra was the right lot for me to talk to, but was very very helpful and said she would phone me back. And she did. And gave me the phone numbers of two folk in the Defra press office – that same press office with which the Defra ‘help’line had been unable to put me in touch.
The lady with the Home Counties’ (?) accent to whom I spoke said it was her first day in the job so she didn’t know much about last Thursday – fair enough. And she said that someone would phone me back that day. But it was 1635 so when I gave up at 1730 I wasn’t surprised that I was none the wiser about the protection given to the Dogger Bank (allegedly).
I am now very very very interested in the protection afforded to the Dogger Bank – much more interested than I was at the beginning of this tale. So I shall wait expectantly for Defra to phone back, and in case they are reading this blog, I’d like to know, please, does the Dogger Bank have any extra protection already? What restrictions have been placed on fishing in the area to meet the JNCC’s advice? And if there is not yet any extra protection what is the process of giving that extra protection, how long will it take and who will Defra consult?
And I will ask NGOs concerned with the marine environment what they think. And I’ll let you know.