Dogger Bank – I wonder what is happening

This blog has raised the plight of the Dogger Bank in the past.  That started with a Defra announcement of the listing of the UK portion of the Dogger Bank as a Special Area of Conservation under the EU Habitats Directive a couple of months ago.

Regular readers may recall that after the proud announcement by Defra of the SAC it became rather difficult to find out what that designation meant for wildlife (see here, here, here , here and here).

The Dogger Bank is a long way ‘out there’. I’ve never been there and neither have most of your fellow readers of this blog.  If we did get ‘there’ we would most of us be restricted to floating on the surface of the water, whereas an awful lot of the wildlife would be metres below us in the water column and on the surface of the sea bed.  It’s difficult to connect with the wildlife in the sea – and maybe that’s why it gets a poor deal, there must be an element of ‘out of sight, out of mind’.

But if we were bobbing about in a boat above the Dogger Bank we might find that we were seeing lots of seabirds – because that is what the JNCC found in this report.  And we know that kittiwakes travel long distances from the coast of Yorkshire to feed out at the Dogger Bank. There might even be enough seabirds to ensure that the Dogger Bank qualifies under the Birds Directive as well as the Habitat Directive so it, perhaps, should be an SPA as well as an SAC. I assume that the RSPB is pushing hard for SPA designation as well as SAC?  A good example of those pesky birds being of quite some value to all that creeps and crawls below?

We know already that the Dogger Bank is rich in wildlife and vulnerable to threats such as fishing and any form of development such as windfarms.

So you would have thought that because the SAC is an EU designation, and because the Common Fisheries Policy is an EU common policy for fisheries there might be some easy way to make sure that fishing doesn’t wreck the EU-acknowledged wildlife interest of the Dogger Bank. But I’m told that it is more complicated than that.

One of the difficulties is that fishing is an ongoing operation so, and this is a fair point, whatever fishing has taken place has been compatible with the internationally important wildlife interest that remains. But that is a little like saying that wife-beating is compatible with life provided the victim doesn’t quite die.  It is clear that the Dogger Bank could be much richer in marine life if it were made a no-take, no-fishery zone.  And indeed this might (I can’t say will) lead to more fish being available for fishermen in the medium term as stocks recover.

The CFP wasn’t designed to be a wildlife management policy just like the CAP wasn’t either.  Each, though, has major impacts on the wildlife in the economically active zones which they influence.  For those of us who are pro-EU, as I generally am, it is the clunkiness of the whole system that infuriates.  Everything seems like a struggle and everything is very slow.  The North Sea Regional Advisory Council has a Marine Protected Area working group which I am glad to see is chaired by Euan Dunn from the RSPB and I wonder how they are getting along with this issue?

The UK, under successive governments, has been awfully slow in designating marine protected areas under EU legislation and now (see Saturday’s blog, and yesterday’s blog) under English legislation too.  There must be a case for complaining to the EU over UK non-compliance with the nature directives and potentially taking legal action through the courts.

And the Dogger Bank is not just ours – I’m quite pleased about that.  The Netherlands and German governments (and people) have a stake in this stretch of sand and water. Cross-boundary sites are always tricky – three lots of politicians and civil servants!  And the UK (which in this case is really England) was the last of these three countries to do its bit and announce its bit of the SAC, and that was after years of foot-dragging and whittling down the size of the site, and weeding out inconvemnient features of interest such as porpoises.

Let us hope that the Germans and Dutch can pick the UK up by the elbows and hurry them down the street to agreeing a no-take and no-development zone for the Dogger Bank.  I don’t know whether that will happen but it is what should happen in many more places.  Despite them being ‘out there’ we need to give marine protected areas proper protection and that means full protection from damaging operations.  Marine wildlife has had a poor deal for so long and now it needs to catch up. The Dogger Bank case should set the precedent for protecting complex marine protected areas and restoring the sandbank to favourable ecological status.

This blog will keep coming back to this subject and any information that others would like to provide will be gratefully received and sensitively managed.

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3 Replies to “Dogger Bank – I wonder what is happening”

  1. What a marvellous example all this delay by DEFRA is, of "fiddiling while Rome burns". When a general is leading his troops there is no way he can have knowledge of every facet of the terrain and the opposition he just has to use his knowledge as it is and any delay invites defeat. This is pecisely the situation with marine conservation zones (MCZs). DEFRA may wait until the data on MCZs is perfect but by that time there will be no marine wildlife left worth conserving. The "greenest government ever" if it is to retain any credibility, and there isn't much left, must get on and finish the designation job nowand do it decently without skimping. Enough is enough as far as any further delay is concerned.

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  2. Hi Mark - I like your analogy about the Dogger Bank. Spot on - a ridiculous situation that just means commercial fishermen will carry on doing what they want miles from land with little or no oversight. I suppose getting the discard issue sorted first is a start but the time it has taken for the EU to realise the stupity of the CFP doesn't really inspire one with confidence for the rest of the issues.

    The EU (and many NGOs in this country, and RACs) also need to stop thinking that commercial fisherman have a God given right to the fish. They are mine too (and yours!)- and I may want them left there for the birds.

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  3. Science is a powerful weapon of delay for Government. When in doubt commission more studies - there's always more to know and it gets the 'experts' on side because it means more research money. Its pretty clear the whole marine area is one where any sort of commitment to conservation cries out for 'get on with it now and modify later'.

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