Create national parks around UK coastline, conservation group says

Create national parks around UK coastline, conservation group says

National parks should be created in the waters around the UK coast to help conserve fragile marine habitats and give people access to more of Britain’s natural heritage, a marine conservation group has said.

Blue Marine Foundation has identified 10 areas around the coast that it said could be designated national parks within the next 10 years. Designation could bring greater protections for habitats, help attract funding, and would require local authorities to make access easier for people.

Charles Clover, executive director of the charity, said: “It is remarkable that we have no parks in the sea, after 70 years of national parks on land. Our natural heritage is right there, just off the beach, but paradoxically the public is hardly involved in the enjoyment or the stewardship of this island nation’s greatest asset.”

The first national park was created on land in 1951, in the Peak District. The designation imposes rules on what can be done within the national park boundaries, and guarantees access for people. In law, national parks in England and Wales have a duty to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area, and to promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the public.

England’s 10 national parks on land contribute up to GBP4bn to the economy, with 90 million visitors a year and 22,500 businesses employing 140,000 people.

Clover said creating national parks at sea would bring similar benefits. He pointed to a project in Plymouth, where the city council is setting up what would be the UK’s first national marine park, covering 400 sq km (154 sq miles), with 70 groups involved and a lottery bid for GBP12m. More than 1,000 species have been identified in Plymouth Sound, which also boasts a significant maritime history, as the launch place of the Mayflower and the Beagle.

In Plymouth, the amenities planned include an underwater webcam network, including a virtual underwater tour showcasing marine life; wild swimming and snorkelling trails; land-based marine observation posts; and improved public access to the sea. There will be community involvement in marine rewilding projects, such as seagrass restoration, while local young people will be trained as marine park rangers, and an involvement campaign will be launched in the most deprived wards of the city.

Tudor Evans, leader of Plymouth city council, said: “It’s not about more regulation, it’s about users and stakeholders working collaboratively to increase knowledge, opportunities and understanding of the sea.”

Luke Pollard, the shadow environment secretary who is the Labour MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, said: “Just as the postwar government was ambitious to establish national parks, so too must we be ambitious for more national marine parks. In the middle of a climate crisis, this is a perfect response to growing public interest in our oceans.”

Blue Marine Foundation said marine parks could pay for themselves through attracting visitors. It has estimated that seed funding of about GBP200,000 to GBP500,000 would be enough to get a national marine park started in the other areas it has identified, which are: the greater Thames London Gateway; East Anglia Suffolk, the Wash and north Norfolk; north-east England, Tyne to Tees, Northumberland and Berwickshire; north-west England, Cumbria and the Solway Firth; the Severn estuary; Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly; Wales, Pembrokeshire; the Argyll coast and islands in Scotland; and the crown dependency of Jersey.

The conservation group said marine parks would complement the marine protected areas that the government has set up around the coast. These have attracted controversy as a Guardian investigation established that damaging fishing methods such as bottom trawling was being used in nearly all such areas, with supertrawlers also given access, though some protections have since been proposed. In marine national parks, trawling could still be allowed in some areas.

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “Our seas provide great economic opportunities for our world-leading marine sector, but they also need our protection. We are already leading the rest of the world by protecting over 30% of our waters around the UK and our overseas territories. We’ve also created 91 marine protected areas, expanding the national ‘blue belt’ so that it protects more than 40% of English waters.”