UK Government review supports introduction of Highly Protected Marine Areas

09 Jun 20

A Government-commissioned review led by former Fisheries Minister, Richard Benyon, is calling for the introduction of Highly Protected Marine Areas in English waters.

The review was commissioned on last year’s World Ocean Day by then Environment Secretary, Michael Gove as part of the Government’s drive to protect England’s waters.The UK currently has a range of protections in place through a network of 355 Marine Protected Areas, which offer protections for a designated feature or habitat within their boundaries. Highly Protected Marine Areas would go further by taking a ‘whole site approach’ and only permitting certain activities within their boundaries such as vessel transit, scuba diving and kayaking. 

Activities that could have a damaging effect on habitats or wildlife, including fishing, construction and dredging would be banned. The review claims the introduction of such areas could lead to a significant biodiversity boost for our seas by giving our marine life the best chance to recover and thrive.

The review, which was supported by a panel of independent experts, also sheds light on the potential social and economic benefits of introducing highly protected marine areas. These benefits include increased tourism and recreational activities, opportunities for scientific research and education, and positive effects for human health. It also suggests that any potential fishing restriction could be counterbalanced by a stronger and biodiverse marine wildlife - with potential long-term benefits for the fishing industry from providing areas where sea life can develop and breed undisturbed.

The panel has made a number of recommendations which will now be considered by Government with a formal response made in due course.

Key recommendations include:

  • the introduction of Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) within the existing network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to allow for the full protection and recovery of marine ecosystems
  • a “whole site approach” to protect all species and habitats within the HPMA boundaries
  • potential sites should be identified on the basis of ecological principles. Once these are met, the selection of sites should seek to minimise any negative effects on stakeholders. To do this, Government should agree the identification and regulation of these sites in partnership with sea users
  • ‘blue carbon’ habitats are identified for protection during the HPMA site selection process to help combat climate change

Phil Horton, RYA Environment and Sustainability Manager said: “The RYA welcomes the publication of the Benyon Review into Highly Protected Marine Areas. The RYA recognises the importance of increased protection of our seas and the need to create zones which can return fully to their natural state. The Review emphasises the need to have no-take and no-deposit areas, which have been shown to allow habitats and species to recover, and the RYA supports this approach.” 

This review builds on the UK Government’s commitment to further advance ocean protection measures including last year’s designation of a further 41 Marine Protection Zones protecting species and habitats such as the rare stalked jellyfish, short-snouted seahorse and blue mussel beds.

Phil Horton concluded: “Our members all enjoy the benefits of a clean and biodiverse environment, and the Review notes the potential for continued non-damaging recreational use of these areas. We look forward to continuing to represent recreational boating interests as individual sites are considered for HPMA designation, and will liaise with local boaters to ensure that the process addresses their concerns.”

If you are an RYA member and have any questions relating to this or any other environmental topic, then please contact the Environment and Sustainability team via email