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Gold standard of ocean protection must not be tarnished by loss of pilot sites

28 February 2023

In a statement from Dr Therese Coffey, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Government has confirmed today that two of its five proposed Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) will not be going ahead as planned, and two will be reduced in size.

Nature experts agree that HPMAs must work for local communities, at the same time as protecting the local wildlife that people love and the struggling natural resources that the fishing industry relies upon and which protect the coast from climate change, flood and storm damage. Environmentalists are urging Government to find replacement pilot sites and to ensure that effective engagement with local communities can deliver these schemes in a way that benefits nature and local communities for generations to come.

The 3 pilot sites will now cover less than 0.5% of English seas. This compares with Scotland where Ministers have committed
to designate at least 10% of Scotland’s seas as Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs), by 2026.

Dr Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said:
“Losing two out of five HPMA pilot sites is a major set-back and does not bode well for Government meeting its targets to effectively protect 30% of land and sea by 2030 and to ban bottom-trawling across marine protected areas by 2024.

“With only a few square miles of our seas currently protected from all damaging activities, the proposed Highly Protected Marine Area programme is an important new ‘gold standard’ of environmental protection. However, there are now only three pilot sites set for designation, when the Government’s initial review concluded that five sites would be the bare minimum for this important scheme.

“It is crucial that HPMAs work for wildlife and local people. Ministers must ensure that this vital programme now advances in a way which brings communities on side while offering much-needed protection for our struggling ocean and endangered wildlife.”

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