Welsh Government all at sea on marine conservation

(Title Image: National Assembly of Wales)

Environment Committee
Progress on Marine Protected Areas (pdf)
Published: 14th November 2019

This inquiry was a follow-up to a report published in August 2017.

1. A lack of Welsh Government enforcement duties has hindered progress

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are all forms of legally-recognised protected conservation sites at sea, with activities within them carefully managed. MPAs make up 69% of Wales’ inshore waters.

The management and enforcement arrangements are described as complex, but a failure by the Welsh Government to integrate fisheries and marine conservation and some witnesses called for a new law to be introduced to set out clear enforceable duties with regard to marine conservation.

Other witnesses expressed disappointment with the lack of progress since the 2017 report, despite the introduction of a new management framework and action plan which lasts until 2023. The Committee concluded that a clear and ambitious MPA strategy was required and recommended such a strategy be published by summer 2020 at the latest.

2. Staffing and finance continue to be a cause for concern

The Welsh Government accepted recommendations on staffing and finance from the 2017 report, but the Committee has found that, again, very little progress has been made – despite a £600,000 increase in funding for offshore marine policies.

There were suggestions that seen local management areas should be established, each with at least one dedicated officer (depending on the area’s needs) – however, the Welsh Government opted to focus on specific projects with the greatest impact.

There are only four Welsh Government staff members dedicated to marine conservation out of 104 staff members in the Welsh Government’s Marine and Fisheries Division. However, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) has said that 60 posts will be dedicated to marine work in the future following an organisational redesign.

Other than the potential loss of finance, Brexit isn’t expected to have a major impact – but there are concerns that as the EU has been largely responsible for funding and driving up standards, that level of leadership might be lost even if the rules etc. are carried over.

3. Welsh MPAs are in a “surprisingly poor” condition

An assessment by NRW found that 45% of Welsh MPA features were in a favourable condition and 45% were in an unfavourable condition (presumably with the other 10% neither good nor bad or lacking information).

This was described as “surprisingly poor” given that MPA designations have been in place for over ten years. The Port of Milford Haven said some of the areas had no active management, while the Welsh Government said it wants to develop a permanent process for recording the condition of MPAs by 2022.

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