Although there was great hope that MCZs would greatly improve the number of marine protected areas and the protection of marine wildlife, there will be no change to the management of Skomer MNR despite what some media reports have said. Also, despite reports in the press and TV coverage, Skomer Island is not part of the new MCZ. It is surrounded by the MCZ but certainly not in it.
Perhaps the most positive thing to be taken from the Ministerial announcement is that Welsh Government has promised that there will be no loss of protection. While this might not seem much to cheer about, it could have been much worse. Management of MNRs was the responsibility of the statutory nature conservation body – the Countryside Council for Wales for Skomer MNR until CCW was dissolved in 2013 and its duties taken on by Natural Resources Wales. On the other hand, management responsibility for MCZs is government’s, together with any other authority with duties in the marine environment. Thankfully NRW has been told that Welsh Government expects it to continue to manage Skomer MCZ.
There remain threats to Skomer MCZ’s management into the future though. At least the same level of resources are needed to maintain the specialist team and the facilities they need for management and to continue the most comprehensive suite of marine wildlife monitoring in one place in Britain. But NRW’s budget is being slashed by government and in turn NRW is making huge cuts across its full range of duties. How much of a priority will the imposed burden of funding MCZ management be?
In the slightly longer term, changes to Wales’ approach to managing European Marine Sites, including Pembrokeshire Marine Special Area of Conservation that Skomer MCZ lies within, are a risk to maintaining the effective long term protection of Skomer MCZ, far less even thinking about improving that protection.
So the message is this: the change from MNR to MCZ is essentially cosmetic. It doesn’t mean that those of us who care about effective marine conservation and the MNR can relax and think the job’s done. It certaibly is not. We need to keep the pressure on NRW and Welsh Government to make sure they stick to their promises not to let the protection slip and to continue to press for greater protection and the prohibition of all activity that removes or damages wildlife and the other natural features in the MCZ.
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