Government moves to protect East Devon marine life

Axmouth harbour at the mouth of the Axe Estuary. Picture Chris Carson

Axmouth harbour at the mouth of the Axe Estuary. Picture Chris Carson - Credit: Archant

Axe and Otter estuaries now designated Marine Conservation Zones

The Axe and Otter estuaries are amongst 12 new Marine Conservation Zones created in the south west of England.

The expansion of the UK's 'Blue Belt' was announced by Environment Secretary Michael Gove today (Friday May 31).

Among the species and habitats given greater protection by the designation are fan mussels, native oysters, tentacled lagoon-worms and the deep sea bed.

Mr Gove said: "The South West's waters contain riches to rival the tropics - with the seas home to a vast array of animal and plant species.

"That's why in this Year of Green Action we are increasing protection for these habitats, helping ensure they are safeguarded for generations to come."

The latest additions to the MCZs follow an extensive consultation which saw overwhelming support for the proposals with more than 48,000 responses received from the public. Each designation is based on scientific evidence provided by marine experts from Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, as well as socio-economic information provided by stakeholders and Defra economists.

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Regulators, such as the Marine Management Organisation and local Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities, will be responsible for ensuring the MCZs are managed to protect their species and habitats.

Tony Juniper, chairman of Natural England, said: "These new protections are based on advice from our world-leading marine scientists and we believe will go a long way toward safeguarding more than a million hectares of England's ocean and coastal environment, and the many species which rely upon it.

"Today really does mark a major step forward for the conservation of our precious marine environment, but there is still much to be done, including putting in place more of the good practices that we know are needed to secure the long-term health of our seas and their wildlife."

Management plans will now be put in place to protect the designated features. This could help reduce or even stop activities that are causing damage.

Harry Barton, chief executive of Devon Wildlife Trust, said:

"This is a tremendous moment for our internationally-famous coast and surrounding seas. Here in the south west we have some of the most beautiful and charismatic marine life anywhere in Europe, including stunning reefs, kelp beds and sea grasses, as well as the many fish, whales, dolphins and sea birds that live alongside them.

"Until now far too much of has been unprotected. Here is our chance to change all of that and start to put our seas into recovery. The challenge now is to manage these sites properly, stop damaging activities like scallop dredging and monitor their condition so that we can be sure to leave future generations with something at least as good as we have today."

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