Bottom trawling could be banned off parts of the Norfolk coastline

A Sheringham tour company has started running trips out to the Dogger Bank, pictured is a common dol

Campaigners say a ban on bottom trawling would protect wildlife and allow at-risk species to recover - Credit: Wildlife Tours and Education

Government proposals to ban damaging fishing in parts of the North Sea off our region's coast could be the first step towards the recovery of a rich array of wildlife, conservationists have said.

Under proposed bye-laws put out for consultation by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), bottom trawling would be prohibited in four English offshore marine protected areas.

They include Dogger Bank and the Inner Dowsing, Race Bank and North Ridge special areas of conservation, off the Lincolnshire and North Norfolk coasts.

Campaigners said the move would help preserve important habitats such as sandbanks, coral gardens and reefs and the wildlife they support, and boost fish stocks.

But they warned that properly conserving four marine protected areas was just the "tip of the iceberg" in the scale of the challenge to reverse declines in marine wildlife.

Last year, Greenpeace took matters into its own hands to stop bottom trawling in Dogger Bank, which is designated to protect its seabed habitat, by dropping boulders into the sea to create a barrier to fishing gear.

Launching the consultation, Environment Secretary George Eustice said that now the UK had left the EU-wide Common Fisheries Policy, the government could deliver on its commitment to achieve a healthy, thriving and sustainable marine environment".

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Charles Clover, executive director of conservation charity Blue Marine Foundation, said Dogger Bank was "a huge and ecologically important area which has been hammered by trawls and dredges for too long".

Prof Callum Roberts, of Exeter University, said that the wildlife on the Dogger Bank was a "ghost" of what was once there, and new protection could lead to the beginnings of a recovery of species including halibut, flapper skate, blue skate, longnose skate, angel sharks, turbot, brill, wolf fish, conger eels and cod.

"Protection of the Dogger Bank would be a first tangible step to address their needs at a meaningful scale," he said.

The areas where protections could be increased include areas off Dorset and Cornwall.

Chris Thorne, from Greenpeace UK, said: “All of our sensitive marine areas must be properly protected, not just four. Ministers have finally woken up to their responsibilities, yet there are still hundreds of other equally important marine areas still open to all forms of destructive industrial fishing.

"Action in these four sites is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the scale needed to solve the crisis facing our oceans."