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Lancashire estuary protection zones go out to public consultation

The Ribble estuary
The Ribble estuary
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Wildlife in three of Lancashire’s major estuaries could receive protection after the Government announced a consultation on 41 proposed Marine conservation Zones around the UK.

Sites on the Ribble estuary and the Wyre and Lune estuaries are among the areas which will now go out to public consultation.

The Government are looking for the views and support from people living in those areas to ensure that they are protected into the future.

Marine Conservation Zones, or MCZs, are areas at sea where wildlife is protected from damaging activities.

A total of 41 special places have been chosen for the public to comment on.

These range from seagrass beds in Studland Bay, Dorset to deep, rich mud habitats in the western Irish Sea.

Senior marine conservation officer for the North West Wildlife Trusts, Dr Emily Baxter said: “This is wonderful news for Lancashire. We were really hopeful that these special estuaries would be considered for protection, so this is a great step in the right direction.

“The Ribble and Wyre/Lune estuaries are vitally important areas for wildlife, and not just for the hundreds of thousands of wading birds and geese that arrive here every winter to feed on the mud flats.

“These estuaries are proposed to provide protected areas for smelt, a type of fish also known as the cucumber fish for its distinctive cucumber-like smell. Smelt populations have declined dramatically over recent decades and it is hoped that the designation of these MCZs would help them thrive again.

“We want the people of Lancashire, who cherish these estuaries to get involved in the consultation to protect our local wildlife. We will be launching a petition on our website over the coming days for people to pledge their support.

“We need to demonstrate how much people care about our coasts and seas to secure protection.”

There are also four other areas in the Irish Sea that are being considered for protection – West of Copeland and the Solway Firth off Cumbria, and Queenie

Corner and South Rigg in the western Irish Sea.

Dr Baxter said: “If designated these areas would join the Fylde and West of Walney, Allonby Bay and Cumbria Coast MCZs in the Irish Sea. It will start to create a

network of protection for our seas which is great news for people and wildlife.

However, we are disappointed that two vital areas of deep sea mud in the Irish Sea - home to and sea pens and Dublin Bay prawns - are missing from the consultation.”

And that network is being spread right around the UK according the Director of Living Seas at The Wildlife Trusts, Joan Edwards.

She said: “We’ve been calling for the Government to give real protection to a connected network of diverse range of undersea landscapes and species since 2009.

“Only 50 have been designated so far and this new consultation on 41 special places is really good news. We need to restore the seabed that has been ravaged over the past century and allow fragile marine life to recover – and this can only be done with good management.

“Without these astonishing undersea landscapes there simply wouldn’t be any fish, let alone fantastic jewel anemones, seahorses, dolphins and all the other wild and

extraordinary creatures which are part of a healthy marine ecosystem.”

The Wildlife Trusts believe that the consultation is a big step in the right direction for England’s seas. Proper protection of these sites after designation is needed through the implantation of management to give our seas a real opportunity to recover.

Joan said: “Forty-one potential new protected areas represent a great leap forward but we are disappointed that a number of sites have been left out of this process, particularly mud habitats in the Irish Sea and English Channel.

“Although these habitats can appear featureless, mud is a diverse and wildlife-rich habitat and we think it’s important that these areas are protected too.”

The Wildlife Trusts are calling on the public to back the 41 potential Marine Conservation Zones in the consultation – details of how to do this will be

added to their MCZ page https://consult.defra.gov.uk/marine/consultation-on-the- third-tranche-of-marine-conser/ .

The consultation closes on Friday, July 20.