A new wave of protection announced for Lancashire’s seas today

Sea urchins and starfish by Paul Naylor

Rare and mysterious creatures will be protected in Lancashire’s estuaries, which have become part of a network of wildlife havens that will surround the UK.

Endangered fish, ancient clams, urchins and anemones will benefit as three estuaries become Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs), after being designated by Defra.

A Government consultation last summer saw 1,800 people from across the North West calling for greater protection in the Irish Sea. There are already 50 MCZs around the UK and four in the Irish Sea, including the Fylde MCZ, 100 square miles off Blackpool.

Today, Defra announced that there would be another 41 zones designated, including six in the Irish Sea. In Lancashire the Ribble, Wyre and Lune estuaries have all received a new level of protection as MCZs.

And it sparked delight among the Wildlife Trust officers and volunteers who have fought so hard to protect these vital areas of the Irish Sea.

A group of smelt, a rare fish, swimming through the Irish Sea

A school of rare smelt by Paul Naylor

Dr Emily Baxter, Senior Marine Conservation Officer at the North West Wildlife Trusts, says: “We are particularly excited to see that the estuaries have been designated as MCZs. These are vital sites for the protection and recovery of some of our secret species – the European smelt or cucumber fish as it is known because of its distinctive cucumber-like smell.

“These little-known fish have been lost from many estuaries across England and Scotland but important populations still remain. Protection and conservation of important spawning and nursery habitats could help them thrive again.”

The Lancashire estuaries are part of six new MCZs in the Irish Sea, including two off the Cumbria coast and two to the west of the Isle of Man. It brings the total of zones in the Irish Sea to 10.

Emily said: “We are delighted that this announcement brings six new Marine Conservation Zones for the Irish Sea. The protection of these areas is crucial to the recovery of an array of underwater habitats and threatened species that have suffered from decades of over-exploitation.

“These special places include deep muddy plains that are home to delicate sea pens, strange spoon worms, fragile sea potatoes, as well as the world’s longest lived creatures – ocean quahog clams.

“Other areas include scarce areas of sandy seabed that supports a wealth of wildlife from molluscs to sea urchins, and burrowing anemones and starfish.”

The protection of these areas is crucial to the recovery of an array of underwater habitats and threatened species that have suffered from decades of over-exploitation.

Sea pens and a fireworks anemone on the deep sea floor

Sea pens and a fireworks anemone by Paul Naylor

There has been a lot of support for the protection of Irish Sea marine life. Over the three rounds of consultation, more than 6,000 people in the North West took action for their seas, pledging their support for the designation of Marine Conservation Zones.  Emily said: “And thanks to their help we have achieved success.”

It means there are now 91 MCZs throughout UK waters and this goes a long way towards achieving a network of protected sites at sea. Emily added: “They are an essential part of the bigger picture for the conservation of the marine environment, the recovery of damaged and degraded habitats and threatened species, as well as helping us achieve national and international commitments. 

“Although, we are over the moon with today’s news, there is still more work to be done. Each of these sites will require management to ensure that they actively protect these special underwater habitats and species. We will be working hard with statutory organisations, regulators, other stakeholders and local communities to ensure this happens.”

Without these astonishing undersea landscapes there simply wouldn't be any fish, let alone fantastic jewel anemones, seahorses, dolphins and all the other wild and extraordinary creatures which are part of a healthy marine ecosystem.

The Wildlife Trusts Director of Living Seas at The Wildlife Trusts, Joan Edwards said: “We’ve been calling for the Government to give real protection to a connected network of diverse range of undersea landscapes and species since 2009. We need to restore the seabed that has been ravaged over the past century and allow fragile marine life to recover – and this can only be done with good management.

“Without these astonishing undersea landscapes there simply wouldn't be any fish, let alone fantastic jewel anemones, seahorses, dolphins and all the other wild and extraordinary creatures which are part of a healthy marine ecosystem.”

The Wildlife Trusts believe that today’s news is a big step in the right direction for England’s seas. Proper protection of these sites after designation is needed through the implantation of management to give our seas a real opportunity to recover.

Joan said: “Forty-one new protected areas represent a great leap forward but we are disappointed that a number of sites have been left out of this process, particularly mud habitats in the Irish Sea and English Channel. Although these habitats can appear featureless, mud is a diverse and wildlife-rich habitat and we think it’s important that these areas are protected too.”

Learn more about why we need MCZs