Two full time staff were appointed soon after designation. Blaise Bullimore, NCC’s Liaison Officer from 1987 to 1990, became the MNR’s Conservation Officer, and Phil Newman, from the Menai Bridge Marine Lab, was appointed as Assistant Marine Conservation Officer. Beginning in 1992, a third member of staff was appointed on a seasonal basis to form a legal minimum sized diving team during the summer half of the year. Sarah Curran, followed by Liz Macedo in 1993 were appointed for six months. However it did not take long before it became clear that six months was insufficient to complete both the rapidly building monitoring programme and analysis of the data that it generated, and during the subsequent four years the seasonal appointments, filled again in 1994 by Liz, by Sue Burton in 1995 and Kate Lock, lured to the MNR from Dale Fort Field Centre, in 1996, varied between eight and ten months in length.
However, resource constraints led to the length of seasonal appointments fluctuating wildly in the following years before a permanent full-time three-person team was eventually appointed . In the meantime, despite Kate Lock being appointed as a permanent member of the MNR team in July 1999, following Blaise Bullimore’s move from the MNR to become the West Wales Senior Marine Conservation Officer, the staffing situation became so inadequate between 1998 and 2000 that much of the monitoring requiring diving was only possible with the assistance of qualified volunteers.
The new millennium began more positively with the appointment of Mark Burton, again headhunted from Dale Fort Field Centre, in 2001, and he became a permanent team member in 2003. Kate Lock meanwhile moved to part-time working in 2002 and the balance of her time was filled by Lou Luddington for four seasons until 2006. The staffing wheel of fortune had turned again by this time though, and the MNR once again had to argue hard for approval for a post to make up the balance of Kate’s time. Nevertheless, Rob Gibbs was recruited in 2006, expanding the skill base of the MNR team with his video-photographic flair and mathematical expertise.
Information and interpretation, communication and publicity
However strong or weak the legislation to protect MNRs, because of the marine environment’s very nature, it was always clear that it would never be possible to rigorously police Skomer MNR unless impractically immense levels of resources were put in. It was equally clear that the success of the MNR would depend on a high degree of cooperation by users. To best secure this cooperation, it was important that the MNR’s users believed in and supported the conservation measures and one of the most effective indirect means to protect the species and the environment within, and beyond, the Reserve was expected to be by education – in the widest possible sense.
A display introducing the MNR opened in the Fisherman’s Cottage interpretation room in April 1994. Though aimed at all visitors passing through Martin’s Haven, it was particularly targeted at the 75% or so of visitors who get no nearer the MNR or the island than walking around the mainland cliffs. In the small space available it was not possible to provide a comprehensive introduction to the Reserve. Instead, the display sought to capture the feeling of the underwater world with large backlit transparencies and to send a brief message of the need to conserve that which is out of sight below the sea surface.
Interpretation at Martin’s Haven was fine as far as it went, but it was also vital to strive to ensure that all users of the MNR, including the ‘exploiters’, and the general public, marine managers and decision-makers and even legislators were sufficiently well informed and helped to be convinced of the legitimate need to adequately conserve the marine environment. As became clear when an attempt was made to strengthen fisheries management in 2005, there is still someway to go.
A series of management leaflets were developed which, though essential, did not contribute to increasing awareness of the appearance of the submarine environment. However, thanks to considerable support from the education and science subcommittee of the Advisory Committee, after a painfully long gestation, a booklet ‘Stars, squirts and slugs – marine life in an underwater refuge’ was published by CCW. In the meantime, great effort had been taken to grab every opportunity for raising the awareness of the widest audience possible, particularly through radio and television, resulting in several visits by the popular Welsh wildlife presenter Iolo Williams who has become a firm friend and advocate for the MNR.
Over the years annual reports, project status reports and individual project reports have been produced and widely circulated. Specific requests for these to be available via the internet have been made through the Advisory Committee.
Sudden, significant changes after designation were not anticipated though, despite having received a reasonable amount of publicity, general local publicity and more specialised national coverage, it continues to be disappointing that there is still such widespread ignorance of the MNR. In particular there remains confusion as to where the MNR is and where it extends, who manages the MNR and the biggest puzzle of all, what are MNR’s for – seabirds? seals? fisheries? The protection of the whole marine environment and the wildlife of the seabed seems to occur to relatively few people.
However, that ignorance should not be equated with a lack of interest. The idea of conservation under the sea is a great fascination to many people, and most particularly for those who have no knowledge or experience of the underwater world.
- Government inquiry into management of marine protected areas in Wales
- European Union abandons plan to “overhaul” flagship Birds and Babitats Directives following a huge public campaign
- Welsh Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs makes “inaccurate and misleading claims” about the sustainability of Welsh seafood.
- Welsh Government dismiss objections to further scallop dredging in Cardigan Bay
- Consultation on proposed Special Areas of Conservation for harbour porpoise
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