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Thu Dec 13, 2012, 11:49 AM

UK seas to gain 31 marine conservation zones


The Wildlife Trusts said it was 'bitterly disappointed' that sites such as Flamborough (above) in Yorkshire were missing from the government’s list of new marine conservation zones. Photograph: Alamy

The UK's sealife will be protected by 31 new conservation zones aimed at preventing trawling and dredging destroying life on the ocean floor, under plans announced by the government on Thursday. But ministers rejected advice to create 127 zones, including all the areas where no activity would have been allowed, leading campaigners to describe the plan as "pitiful" and a "bitter disappointment".

"The UK has one of the world's richest marine environments, and we need to make sure it stays that way," said environment minister Richard Benyon. "We have to get this right. Designating the right sites in the right places, so that our seas are sustainable, productive and healthy, and to ensure that the right balance is struck between conservation and industry."

The 31 new zones will cover an area three times the area of Cornwall but are expected to allow some fishing to continue. An £8m assessment involving the government's own science advisers recommended 127 marine conservation zones were designated, including 58 said to be severely threatened and in need of immediate protection. But Benyon said: "The scientific evidence base for a large proportion of the zones was just not up to scratch." He said another £3.5m was being spent on gathering more evidence that could support more zones being designated in future.

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