Brexit could end the status of the UK’s marine protected areas

Posted On: 
1st March 2018

It is crucial that steps are taken before Brexit to better protect the UK’s marine environment once EU law no longer replies, says Dods Monitoring’s Mitch Adams. 

Over 50% of the UK’s Marine Protected Areas were established by EU laws such as the EU Habitats Directive and the EU Birds Directive.
Credit: 
PA Images

Ahead of the G7 Environment meetings that are due to take place later this year Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey had earlier this month travelled to Canada and the USA for discussions over the UK’s priorities for the marine environment.

Following on from the announcement in late 2017 that the “Blue Belt” of marine protected areas is to be extended by over 650 square miles and Thérèse Coffey stating that she looks “forward to working with [her] international counterparts to do all we can to protect our oceans for future generations” it is evident that the Government is taking seriously its commitment to offering better protection to the UK’s marine environments.

This, however, begs the question of what further actions can be taken to better protect the UK’s marine environment? A ban on microbeads has already been put in place earlier this year in an effort to curb the damaging effect that the products can have on marine life. But more can be done, and the continued battle against damaging plastics is likely to be emphasized during the G7 meetings.

Canada, through its presidency of the G7, has already shown a strong commitment to the protection of marine environments, exceeding their own targets of 5 percent protection of marine and coastal areas and coming closer to the 10 percent international target set for countries to aim for by 2020. As such, the precedent to overachieve has been set for the UK to aim towards. Calls for a National Marine Park in Plymouth and for further protections to wildlife within Marine Conservation Zones are two such examples of steps that can be taken between now and the G7 meetings to show a continued commitment from the UK towards the advancement and dedication towards the marine environment and its protection.

As always though, Brexit appears to be a stumbling block for marine policy going forward. Over 50% of the UK’s Marine Protected Areas were established by EU laws such as the EU Habitats Directive and the EU Birds Directive. As such, the Government’s approach to how these areas are handled during and post-the process of leaving the European Union will be vital. It is entirely possible that their status of protection shall be maintained following the completion of Brexit, but it is also possible that these protected areas could go through a process of de-designation that ends the protected status of the sites.

As is the case with many areas of domestic policy at present, the coming few years will be incredibly important in establishing the future direction of the UK’s attitude towards marine protection. Therefore it is important that steps are taken before our exit from the European Union, to reassure the public that the Government’s established commitment to being “a world leader in marine conservation” will not falter once EU law no longer applies and that the future of the UK’s marine environment is in safe hands.