A petition signed by 1,185 coastal dwellers has been handed to a government minister, urging him to reject plans for a restrictive conservation zone on Blakeney Marshes.

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The signatures, collected in less than a week from around the north Norfolk village, highlight the strength of local opposition to proposals which could designate part of the landscape as a Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ).

The project, being led by Natural England (NE) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), includes recommendations for several reference areas (RAs) to protect vulnerable shoreline habitats and assess how they would fare without the impact of human intervention.

One of these “no-go” areas covers a square kilometre of inter-tidal mudflats, salt marshes, and sand dunes at Blakeney – an area historically used by wildfowlers, bait-diggers and samphire-pickers who fear their traditional lifestyles and industries could be at risk.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb handed the petition to Defra minister Richard Benyon last night (Tuesday 10th), in an eleventh-hour bid to prevent the contentious site being included in the public consultation for the plans, due to be announced next Tuesday.

The accompanying letter, also signed by Dr Marie Strong, Norfolk county councillor for the Wells division, says: “1,185 people in Blakeney and the surrounding area have signed the petition out of concern about the uncertainty these plans will cause local residents and businesses. The proposals risk seriously undermining the local tourism and fishing industries on which many livelihoods depend.

“We strongly urge you to heed the opposition to these proposals and ensure that the Blakeney Marsh MCZ (RA4) is not included in the public consultation.”

Mr Lamb and Dr Strong are campaigning with Blakeney and Morston Parish Councils and local interest groups which feel threatened by the proposal.

Dr Strong said: “Supporters of the Blakeney and Morston marshes have stated categorically that there is no need to ‘zone off’ areas which are already subject to a range of protective orders. Me and the signature-collectors have worked our socks off pulling this (the petition) together – because we feel it essential to make a final push to protect the marsh.”

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