Protection hope for Norfolk marine life

Two areas of sea off the Norfolk coast could be given special status to help increase protection for marine life under new proposals unveiled today.North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef off the north-east coast of the county could be designated the UK's first offshore special areas of conservation (SACs), along with six other sites.

Two areas of sea off the Norfolk coast could be given special status to help increase protection for marine life under new proposals unveiled today.

North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef off the north-east coast of the county could be designated the UK's first offshore special areas of conservation (SACs), along with six other sites.

The total area which could be converted to SAC status runs to nearly 4,000 square miles and includes sites off the Orkney Islands, the Isles of Scilly and the Outer Hebrides.

The designation would be subject to public consultation.


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The seven chosen areas would extend protection for important sea life and habitats such as sandbanks and cold-water corals beyond the UK's 12-mile territorial waters limit.

Saturn Reef is a living reef which has been formed by the tube-building worm Sabellaria spinulosa. The reef is partially located on a sandbank with the reef itself rising well above the surface of the seabed.

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There are only four other known areas of well-developed Sabellaria spinulosa reef in UK waters and Saturn Reef is one of the two best-developed examples.

The North Norfolk Sandbanks are the most extensive example of the offshore linear ridge sandbank type in UK waters. They are subject to a range of current strengths which are strongest inshore and which reduce offshore.

The outer banks are the best example of open sea, tidal sandbanks in a moderate current strength in UK waters. The sandbanks have no vegetation, but support invertebrate communities characteristic of southern North Sea sandbanks. The site is also an important spawning ground and nursery area for some commercial species.

Plans to consider the sites for SAC status have been published by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), a statutory nature conservation adviser to government. Following consultation, the JNCC will consider whether to recommend to government that the sites are submitted to the European Commission for approval.

Marine, landscape and rural affairs minister Jonathan Shaw said: "The UK has one of the richest marine environments in the world. We want to bring conservation standards at sea up to the level of those that we have on land, to give greater protection to sea life.

"I want to see a network of marine protected areas around the UK by 2012, and these seven new proposed offshore areas would be a big part of that."

The full list of sites is:

North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef - off the north-east coast of Norfolk.

Braemar Pockmarks - about 150 miles east of the Orkney Islands.

Darwin Mounds - about 100 miles north west of Cape Wrath, off the north west coast of Scotland.

Haig Fras - 60 miles north west of the Isles of Scilly.

Scanner Pockmark - about 115 miles off the north east coast of Scotland.

Stanton Banks - south of the Outer Hebrides.

Wyville Thomson Ridge - west of Scotland, in the Atlantic Ocean.

To see the proposals, go to www.jncc.gov.uk/marineconsult. The deadline for responses is March 13.

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