Cromer shoal chalk beds. Picture: ROB SPRAY

Norfolk Wildlife Trust bitterly disappointed as Cromer shoal chalk beds fail to make Marine Conservation Zone shortlist

Sunday, December 16, 2012
6.00 PM

A beautiful but fragile marine environment off the north Norfolk coast will remain at risk if a government proposal goes ahead, bitterly disappointed wildlife experts have warned.

Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT) says it cannot understand why the Cromer shoal chalk beds are not among sites put forward for special conservation status next year.

The beds, believed to form part of the longest chalk reef in Europe, feature arches and towers, and teem with marine life including a purple sponge, new to science, discovered last year.

They stretch from between Weybourne and Salthouse to just south of Happisburgh.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has just launched a consultation on proposals to designate as Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) 31 sites off England and Wales - fewer than a quarter of the 127 recommended after two years of consultation with interested groups.

Brendan Joyce, NWT chief executive, said he was “very disappointed” that the beds were not among the 31: “the reasons given being lack of evidence and possible economic impacts on wind farm cable routes.”

Mr Joyce added: “We are mystified why, when the renewables industry consented to the recommendations for all North Sea MCZs, there will be further delays to designation of the Cromer shoal and other proposed MCZs, whilst economic impacts are considered further.”

Britain’s marine environment was in decline, said Mr Joyce. Basking shark numbers had dropped 95pc and species such as the common skate, once abundant, were now critically endangered. MCZ designation would help the seas recover and flourish.

But Cromer-based fisherman John Lee said he was “very pleased” that the beds were not among the proposed MCZ sites.

Mr Lee, a North Norfolk Fishermen’s Society representative who took part in the initial MCZ consultation process, said there was a long-standing ban on trawling between Blakeney Church and Happisburgh lighthouse.

It was trawling which damaged the sea bed, not the lines, nets, and pots traditionally used by north Norfolk fishermen.

He feared restrictions could be imposed at the time of designation, or in future, which could severely affect fishermen’s livelihoods.

● Anyone interested in supporting wildlife trusts’ bid to have sites designated as MCZs can visit www.wildlifetrusts.org/MCZfriends