A steering committee of interested organisations and individuals, chaired by the Nature Conservancy Council (NCC – the UK wide predecessor of the Countryside Council for Wales and sister conservation agencies in England and Scotland), began work in 1974. By 1976 the group had evolved into a management committee and had produced a management plan for safeguarding what had by now become the voluntary Skomer Marine Reserve. In addition to aiming to safeguard subtidal habitats, the plan considered that the reserve should also provide a ‘quiet zone’ around the internationally important seabird breeding colonies of the National Nature Reserve.
The steering committee initially had difficulty in engaging the South Wales Sea Fisheries Committee, the local fisheries management body, in the discussions and developments. However, mostly thanks to the efforts of Paul Raggett, a Solva-based Committee member and formerly the National Trust’s first Pembrokeshire Warden, the SWSFC eventually did join the SMR’s management committee. Nevertheless, it is debatable whether this would have happened if assurances had not been sought and received from the management committee that there was no intention at that time to try and curtail the then current levels of “traditional” pot-fishing as there was no evidence of harm (not that anyone had looked for any evidence of effects). Although these important caveats were recorded, they appear to have been overlooked by the fishing industry since.
Despite the 1976 management plan, the expansion of the Management Committee to include the SWSFC and representatives from the local authorities and local community, and the production and distribution of a basic information leaflet through the National Trust’s car park attendant in Martin’s Haven, success for the voluntary Reserve was always going to be limited as there was neither staff nor resources for management.
However, the limitations of the voluntary approach were recognised and the provisions for statutory MNRs in the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act (WCA) were welcomed by the Reserve’s Management Committee, as was the inclusion of Skomer in the NCC’s list of the first seven proposed MNRs.
Surveys, impact assessment and monitoring
By 1981, several marine biological surveys had been undertaken in the reserve with the encouragement of the Management Committee. The first of these was carried out by Peter Hunnam and colleagues from Dale Fort Field Centre between 1974 and 1976. This first systematic diving survey around Skomer and the Marloes Peninsula revealed and confirmed the great diversity of habitats and species present in the area. In order to further the case for designation, survey work continued during subsequent years, several of them by volunteers led by Francis Bunker from Orielton Field Centre, and monitoring work and impact assessments were begun.
Dr Robin Crump, then Director of the Field Studies Centre at Orielton and the Management Committee’s scientific secretary (now the Chairman of the Skomer MNR Advisory Committee) had recognised the importance of monitoring changes in the Reserve’s marine communities and encouraged establishment of a monitoring project. In 1982, with Dr Crump’s support, Blaise Bullimore of Swansea University established a long-term monitoring site on Skomer’s “North Wall” and began a regular stereophotographic sampling programme, which is still being continued and now forms the longest rocky habitat monitoring dataset in the UK.
In the early 1980s a particular and growing concern to both the NCC and the Management Committee was the damage that dredging for scallops in the sediment dominated areas of the reserve was inferred to cause. As it was clear from the 1981 WCA legislation that control of fishing activities in even statutory Marine Nature Reserves would remain with the relevant fisheries authorities, the NCC sought the cooperation of the South Wales Sea Fisheries Committee (SWSFC).
In 1985, with the assistance of the SWSFC and the cooperation of a local fisherman, an experimental investigation was carried out to assess the impacts of scallop dredging on the seabed and its associated marine life. The study included filming the action of the dredges on the seabed, and the seabed before and after dredging, and was reported on the BBC’s flagship natural history programme of the time. The investigation concluded that considerable damage was caused to the communities and species present and the sediment composition of the dredged areas were unfavourably altered. The SWSFC accepted to prohibit the practice upon designation of the Reserve, though the Committee eventually introduced the promised byelaw before the statutory MNR was actually designated.
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