Call to protect Norfolk seabirds in conservation zone plans

A conservation officer has called for seabirds to be protected in plans to create a number of marine conservation zones (MCZ) along the Norfolk coast.

Mike Jones, of the RSPB, believes the MCZs will fail to create a coherent network of protected areas if there are no sites looking after seabirds in the North Sea.

Currently, some seabirds and mammals - such as dolphins and seals - will not be safeguarded at sea, including Norfolk's little tern colonies.

The concern over seabird protection has led 3,500 people in the East to sign upto the RSPB Safeguard our Sealife campaign to make sure seabirds are better protected in the future.

Mr Jones raised the alarm in light of a recent study which revealed the UK had lost 9pc of its breeding seabird population in the last decade - the equivalent to 600,000 birds.

He said: ''We were very shocked that seabirds were not going to be included. You cannot have an ecological coherent network if it doesn't protect all the wildlife.

'We have got protection on the cliffs for some sea birds, but nothing once they leave the nest.

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'We want to have them included as soon as possible, even though the MCZ are being delayed.'

MCZs are a marine protected area introduced through the UK Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.

They aim to conserve a range of marine wildlife, such as seahorses and honeycomb worm reefs, as well as taking into account the people who make their livelihoods at sea.

Proposals so far have seen stakeholders outline 127 MCZs across the English coast, with the Net Gain site set to protect the North Sea off East Anglia.

However, the government announced on November 15 that only a few sites will be unrolled initially, while the number of sites maybe cut down.

Carl Chapman, tour guide for Wildlife Tours and Education based in Cromer, said: ' Here in Norfolk we have some important numbers of Little Terns, Common Terns and Sandwich Terns. marine conservation zones are the foundation stone for a healthy marine environment.

'If we look after the environment this will protect the micro organisms at the bottom of the food chain upon which everything else feeds. The predators feeding higher in the chain will then thrive. What we now need is the protection of some important cetacean and seabird feeding areas not covered by current legislation.

This lack of protection has led to some drastic declines in some seabird numbers.'

Sites along the Norfolk coast recommended by Net Gain for increased protection are: Seahenge Peat and Clay, near Holme-on-Sea; Blakeney Seagrass; Blakeney Marsh; Seahorse Lagoon and Arnold's Marsh, within Norfolk Wildlife Trust Cley Marsh Reserve; Glaven Reedbed, within the Cley Marsh Reserve; and Blue Mussel Beds near Cromer.

Blakeney Parish Council plans to hold a meeting with representatives from Natural England and local interest stakeholder groups to discuss MCZs reference areas RA4 and RA5 on Thursday December 15, 7pm, at a venue yet to be confirmed.

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