An eye on the horizon

In the article below, Richard Benyon (Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Natural Environment and Fisheries) thanks birdwatchers who spend time staring out to sea and encourages more BTO volunteers to get involved in the systematic monitoring of the birds that use the UK’s inshore waters. As an organisation, the BTO is trying to develop relationships that enable better use to be made of sea-watching data, in order to tackle scientific research issues that are directly relevant to marine conservation. Defra are asking for comments on the new Marine Strategy Framework Directive consultation to be submitted by 18 June 2012.

Achieving good environmental status for our seas

Fulmar. Photograph by Jill Pakenham

The UK has one of the world’s richest marine environments with more than 8,000 species, ranging from whales and dolphins to sponges and sea anemones. To protect these species for future generations and enhance their habitats everyone needs to work together. This will help us to achieve good environmental status for our seas by 2020 which is at the heart of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

Over the last 100 years, fishing in our waters has dramatically increased, putting pressure on our seas and we all have a duty to carefully manage this increasing pressure.

I am committed to finding the right balance between fulfilling economic growth, which will see a prosperous fishing industry, with a healthy marine environment and sustainable fish stocks.

The UK Government’s vision is that by 2020 we will have clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas.

The consultation I launched in March on the Marine Strategy Framework Directive sets out proposals for coordinated action across both the UK and Europe to enhance our marine environment. It goes hand in hand with our ambitions for genuine, fundamental reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and UK fisheries management measures to reduce discards and help fish populations to recover.

I believe it is vital that the reformed CFP leads to an end to discards and allows fishermen to maximise the value of their catches rather than a narrow focus on what they land.

We know from our published research that overfishing and damaging fishing practices cause significant impacts on wider marine life. The reports have found that despite some improvements due to better fishing management, many commercial fish stocks are still depleted.

We are working with you to protect our marine areas. The Marine and Coastal Access Act will establish a network of marine protected areas, consisting of Marine Conservation Zones, Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas. I am very keen for this important work to continue.

Puffin. Photograph by Stuart Newson

At a local level, we have set up Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities in England, which will balance the social and economic benefits of fishing with the need to protect the marine environment from exploitation.

Our consultation sets out a draft assessment of the state of the UK’s seas, and describes what we want our seas to look like in the future. It sets out our plans for specific targets and indicators so that we can measure progress towards our goal of good environmental status. These targets include specific biodiversity targets for sea-floor habitats, which have been particularly affected in some areas in recent years, as well as national level targets for reducing the levels of litter on our coastlines.

I am keen to hear from a wide range of people including environmental NGOs on our proposals and indicators.

I would like to thank the thousands of British Trust for Ornithology volunteers from local groups like Holme Bird Observatory (Norfolk) and Seawatch Southwest who work hard to collect valuable seawatching data which will be very relevant to the development of Marine Protected Areas.

I am also keen to see the results of the Defra-funded BTO partnership project which has recently started. This collaborative project with CEFAS, the University of Aberdeen and Swansea looks at the effectiveness of the proposed Marine Protected Area network for birds, mammals, fish and turtles in English waters. This is a very good example of work which will help us to develop our research in this area.

I accept that we need to have a stronger evidence base and I would welcome innovative thoughts on data collection from the NGO community. Our knowledge of the sea is improving through better targeted research and monitoring but we do need more information for the offshore parts of our seas.

The deadline for providing your views on the Marine Strategy Framework Directive consultation is 18 June 2012 and you can find out more at

Richard Benyon

Richard Benyon
Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Natural Environment and Fisheries