Consultation opens on Northumberland marine conservation

Consultation is under way on extra protection for Northumberland’s sea life and habitats.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is seeking views on whether 23 sites, covering some 10,810 square kilometres of our seas, should become designated Marine Conservation Zones (MCZ), protecting important seabed habitats and species.

One of the recommended zones is on the Northumberland coast, covering a 200 square kilometre area around Coquet and St Mary’s Island. It provides a habitat for anemones, soft corals, sea squirts, starfish, sea urchins, crabs and lobsters, and includes the first ever record of the Arctic cushion star on the English coast.

Another recommended area is Farnes East. The lack of sunlight in these deep waters prevents seaweeds from growing, allowing cup coral, sea-fans, anemones and sponges to thrive. Exposed areas of peat and clay are home to burrowing piddocks, and ocean quahog.

The evidence collected will help ensure sites with important wildlife, plants or geological features are protected, while providing long-term economic security for coastal businesses and communities.

Marine Environment Minister George Eustice said: “We’re doing more than ever to protect our seas, preserving incredible underwater landscapes and helping our sea life flourish.

“We’ve already created 27 Marine Conservation Zones and a quarter of English inshore waters are in protected areas.

“It is important we secure the future of our coastal communities as part of our long-term economic plan. We want to support these communities while protecting our marine life. We’re asking everyone with an interest in our sea to respond to our consultation so we can create new protected areas and ensure our seas remain healthy and productive for generations to come.”

The consultation focuses on the second tranche of MCZs. The first saw 27 sites designated in November 2013. The latest areas could be designated within a year, followed by a third tranche to complete a coherent network of sites.

The Marine Conservation Zones consultation can be found online at www.gov.uk/government/policies/protecting-and-sustainably-using-the-marine-environment