UK government’s ‘Super Year of the Sea’ promise has been a failure, wildlife charities say

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A ministerial promise that 2021 will be an “excellent year” for marine protection has backfired, according to conservation groups.

Charities including RSPB, WWF-UK and Surfers Against Sewage said the government had not done enough to stop poaching, revive seabird numbers, reduce pollution and protect sensitive habitats in the past 12 months.

They concluded that, by almost all accounts, government actions last year were “insufficient to help stem the decline of nature”.

“The powerful combination of infrastructure, chemicals and overfishing has caused a long-term and ongoing loss of wildlife in our seas,” said Dr. Richard Benwell, Wildlife & Countryside Link, a coalition of environmental groups that produced the report.

“If the government is serious about changing the state of nature by 2030, it has to do something to ease the pressure on our ocean,” he said. I.

In January 2021, Environment Secretary Rebecca Bowe told an audience at the Coastal Futures conference that the next 12 months would be a “great year” for the marine environment.

It promised ministerial measures to better protect wildlife-rich waters, new planning rules for marine development and new efforts to protect endangered seabirds, as well as tougher international measures to protect marine environments.

New commitments have been made to better protect vulnerable marine areas, but charities say the government has not moved fast enough to put these new policies into practice. Meanwhile, they said there was “no clear progress” on 11 of the 17 standards.

“There isn’t much change happening on the ground,” Dr. Benuel said. “Something needs to change in the system, and fast.”

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For example, environmental groups say little has been done to set more sustainable fishing quotas, reduce bycatch, or better monitor vessels to prevent illegal fishing activity.

Overfishing is believed to be one of the driving forces behind the rapid decline of seabirds in Britain, with some species having suffered a decline of up to 70% in the past 20 years.

In December, dozens of emaciated puffins washed up on Scotland’s northeastern coast, with starvation thought to be the likely cause.

Dolphins, porpoises, and other wildlife often get entangled in fishing nets (Photo: Cornwall Wildlife Trust)

Meanwhile, despite the government’s pledge in February 2021 to ban bottom trawling in four MPAs, the practice still continues with charities warning that there has not been “significant progress” in enacting regulations.

“The evidence is clear of the devastating environmental damage that bottom trawling can cause,” said Dr. Benuel. “Consultation has taken place, and now the government has to bite the bullet and deliver on its promises of environmental recovery.”

Sewage pollution is another chronic problem, with untreated waste seeping into coastal waters more than 5,000 times in the past year. Charities have also insisted that the rules governing the location of offshore wind farms should be reviewed to protect wildlife.

The government said it did not agree with the charities’ assessment, and its spokesperson noted that it had taken steps over the past year to tighten protections for marine protected areas, announced plans to introduce marine highly protected areas and negotiated sustainable fishing for key fish stocks.

“The UK is a world leader in the fight to protect our seas and this year we are going even further, with our fisheries and environment laws at the center of an ambitious program to improve and protect our marine environment.” speaker. “This includes measures to ensure clean seas that are biodiverse, and plans to return our fish stocks to sustainable levels across the UK.”

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