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By Colin Smeeton
The Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST) received a visit this week from Richard Benyon MP and a number of officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) who wanted to gain an insight into the operation and success of the organisation in establishing and maintaining a Marine Protected Area (MPA) and No Take Zone (NTZ).
Following the announcement by the Secretary of State for Environment for a review of Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMA) in English and Northern Ireland inshore and offshore waters Richard Benyon MP was appointed as panel chair.
With his experience as the former fisheries minister he has been visiting a number of relevant stakeholders to formulate an evidence-based assessment of the views of sea users and other relevant stakeholders on the potential environmental, social, and economic impacts of HPMAs.
Currently in England and Northern Ireland MPAs provide a measure of protection for maintaining species and habitats and allows for some sustainable activities to occur in them. In the review being undertaken by Richard Benyon MP and the panel the purpose is to investigate how and whether Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) – which would prevent all human activity with the potential to damage – could be introduced to keep these area entirely pristine.
The visiting delegation were particularly keen to learn from COAST trustees and staff about the work and processes that have gone into establishing the No Take Zone and MPA and the community led action that has led to their creation.
Following a short introduction and show-around of the Octopus Centre, COAST members sat and exchanged knowledge and information with the panel members and chair who described the meeting as ‘useful’.
Mr Benyon told the Banner: ‘We had a really useful discussion and have taken away some great ideas for the creation of more Highly Protected Marine Areas in England. Lamlash Bay is a fantastic example of how a community based project can be delivered.’
The review is due for completion by the end of this year and upon completion it is expected to develop processes and criteria for selecting HPMAs and it is also required to include recommendations on potential locations for up to five pilot sites.
These will all be located in the waters for which the Secretary of State has responsibility: the English inshore and offshore and Northern Ireland offshore zones. Scotland and Wales are not included as executive competence for marine conservation is devolved in Scotland and Wales, and in Northern Ireland in relation to the inshore zone.
Attending the meeting were, left to right: Ruth Stubbles, Paul Chandler, Howard Wood, Richard Benyan MP, Aisling McGarrigle, Simon Brockington and Simon Ross-Gill. Not pictured, Jenny Stark. 01_B35COAST01
Delegates sit around the table at COAST and listen as COAST co-founder Howard Wood details some of background information in establishing the MPA. 01_B35COAST02