Campaigners reunite to fight off government proposal to ‘zone off’ Blakeney marshes
07:59 27 January 2014
Campaigners are reuniting to send a warning shot to environmental chiefs after it was revealed a controversial no-go area covering a stretch of north Norfolk coast could not be ruled out.
People living in and around Blakeney are again adding their voices to a call for a proposed government conservation area - that would seal off a swathe of the village’s marshland - to be dropped once and for all.
In 2012 campaigners successfully forced the then environment minister to scrap the planned Blakeney marshes Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) reference area, amid fears the move would destroy centuries of working and walking around the harbour and marshes.
But they are now gearing up for a second battle after newly appointed environment minister George Eustice, announced he would “not be in a position to say” whether the cordon - designed to let scientists study areas without human interference - “will be needed or not”, until he has completed a review of the proposals.
Last year the government announced 20 MCZs to be set up around the country and a second draft are due to be designated by Natural England.
North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb and Norfolk county councillor Marie Strong are leading the renewed battle, and have launched an online petition calling on Mr Eustice to stop Natural England from zoning off Blakeney.
Hundreds of people have already signed the petition, which Mr Lamb said would send an “early warning shot” across the government’s bow.
He added: “The public view is as strong as ever, in no circumstance do we want this in Blakeney. I think it’s a flawed proposal and it cuts against the traditional use of the marshes, and we don’t see any evidence that there’s a need for it.
“Traditional uses have not caused any problems so why interfere with people’s rights. It’s a powerful message we want to reinforce again.”
Mr Lamb has had an initial conversation with Mr Eustice to flag up his interest in MCZ developments, and is now pushing for a meeting to drive home the strength of local opposition.
“People feel exactly the same, time won’t resolve the problem. We just want the proposal scrapped,” he said.
Dr Strong added: “All zoning would achieve is to prevent activities that have taken place for generations.”
She hopes to beat the 2,500 signatures the last petition generated.
When the 1km sq reference area was first proposed it raised concern among sailors, bait diggers, winkle pickers, fishermen, samphire pickers, walkers and wildfowlers who feared they would no longer be able to use the area.
Tony Faulkner, Blakeney Parish Council chairman, said there would be a “huge rumpus” if the plan was put back on the table and it would be fought “to the hilt”.
“It was such a totally idiotic concept,” he added. “There’s acres and acres of marsh, which isn’t trod on by a single person. If they want to study some undisturbed marsh they can just go and look at that.
“It’s just a completely unnecessary restriction on people’s enjoyment.”
Large swathes of the marshes and coastline are managed by the National Trust and Mr Faulkner said the beauty spot is also covered by six layers of statutory protection.
“The area is very well protected against anything that might be done to damage it,” he added.
■ To sign the petition visit www.normanlamb.org.uk/Blakeney
■ What do you think to the reference area proposals? Write to EDPLetters@archant.co.uk