No Take Zones - a maritime rewilding
ADDENDUM - November 2006

ADDENDUM - June 2007

Occasionally, a clear lesson pops up that should get us to rethink our relationship with wild nature. The planned breaching of a sea wall at Wallasea Island in Essex this July, allowed the sea to reclaim 115 ha of marine wetland. The progress of the return of wild nature was dramatic, as it has been in another maritime setting where the transformation was brought about not by our active intervention, but by a withdrawal of our influence. To appreciate the full significance of this, it should be put into context with our mainstream approach to nature conservation.

Conservation grazing

Rarely a week goes by without an announcement of another conservation project utilising sheep grazing as a management tool. Whether it is chalk grassland by a wildlife trust in Hampshire, or a heathland by the Forestry Commission in Yorkshire, the sheep are brought in to do battle with wild nature and to maintain these ephemeral habitats.

At cause is the homocentric utilitarianism that is deeply ingrained in our use of natural resources, so much so that the models of nature conservation we use in Britain are based on a historically farmed landscape that has brought along an adapted nature with it, which is itself transient without our continued intervention.

It has thus become the orthodoxy that the wild nature that we value is only conserved in the landscapes that we create, and this is entrenched in our systems for designating protected areas. Witness these views about management, written by a conservation professional (English Nature) for a habitat comparable to the Pembrokeshire Coast, and which I wrote about last time:
Maritime grassland and heathland supports the greatest diversity of plants and animals (including a diverse invertebrate fauna and a number of characteristic bird species) where management maintains an open nature of the habitats……… Scrub control may be necessary on some sites to maintain the diversity of habitats for which the site was notified.

As you should know by now, for scrub control read livestock grazing. It’s a chilling realisation to see that the process of notification/designation fixes the landscape cover as it is seen in the eye of the (human, conservation professional) beholder, such that it is regarded as a failure if wild nature just happens to want something else. I suppose what surprises me most about this orthodoxy is that there doesn’t seem to be any dissonance, now that the motive of the farming methods used in these conservation approaches is divorced from food production.

All this is anathema in countries where the principled approach of protected areas is to limit the activities of people and their surrogates rather than manage wild nature itself. This is the basis of legislated wilderness in N America (as it is also of their national parks) where exploitation and extraction of natural resources is excluded. The same is true in countries, such as Australia, that have adopted the IUCN Guidelines for Protected Areas Management Categories, giving them a framework in which to assess their level of intervention in protected area management, and ensure that there is representation across the range of categories (1).

Livestock grazing, whether intended for food production or other wise, is excluded as an activity from legislated wilderness, as it is from IUCN categories I – III, because it is not seen as being part of the natural processes that would exist in a landscape with ecological integrity. It is thus no surprise that until recently, we had no protected area in Britain whose management framework even approaches a wilderness, or of those top three IUCN categories. But as we shall see, a new zoning initiative in a maritime area is setting the example.

Marine protected areas

In marine protected areas (MPA) around the world, the level of protection varies in the same way that there is a range of land protection in the IUCN categories (2). Wild nature under water is for the most part in a natural condition that, unlike the wildlife habitats on land, frustrates the attempts of those wedded to active management. But we still need to be aware of our considerable impact. Thus a highly protected marine reserve is an area of sea where all exploitative and extractive activities and other significant disturbances are removed to safeguard and maintain the existing marine wildlife (i.e. all methods of fishing and extraction of natural materials, dumping, dredging or construction activities are prohibited). This level of protection – known as a No Take Zone (NTZ) – is also put in place when there is a need for marine wildlife to recover from over-exploitation, or to prevent the marine ecology from collapsing (3).

Evidence is often given from New Zealand on the benefits for marine wildlife of NTZs, these benefits also spilling over into the surrounding seas. The Cape Rodney – Okakari Point Marine Reserve of 518 ha was designated in 1975, under the Marine Reserves Act 1971, and was one of the world’s first no-take marine reserves. Within the reserve, all marine life is protected and fishing and the removal or disturbance of any living or non-living marine resource is prohibited, except as necessary for permitted monitoring or research. This includes dredging, dumping or discharging any matter or building structures. This gives the marine reserve the highest IUCN Category of Ia. The same applies to the 1,835 ha of Tonga Island marine reserve designated in 1993, and in which research over the years has seen a four-fold increase in spiny lobsters over that in nearby fished sites (4).

NTZs can be permanent, containing the whole area of a designated MPA, or they may be one part of a zoned MPA, constituting a core zone area surrounded by protective transition or buffer zones. Or they may be temporary and of value in restoring and maintaining commercial fish stocks, rather than being part of the MPA system of marine wildlife conservation. Thus an NTZ may exist for only a particular season or trial period.

A seasonal NTZ can help improve reproductive success in the same way that close seasons exist for wild mammals. Temporary NTZs are in the main linked to increases in both size and quantities of commercial species, but fish stocks tend to return to pre-closure levels very quickly once the NTZ is lifted (3). Nevertheless, many seasonal NTZs have been established in developing countries by local fishermen, often with the help of an NGO.

People of the village of Andavadoaka in Madagascar worked with the conservation group Blue Ventures to create a community-run marine protected area for octopus in 2004. The seasonal bans on octopus fishing helped improve the local fishing economy and in 2005 led to national legislation that created similar protected areas across all of Madagascar. The NTZs protect against over-fishing, and give octopus the freedom to grow larger and produce greater numbers of young, benefiting the fisherman with greater yields. More villages along the country’s south western coast are now creating their own no take zones that go beyond the national restrictions (5).

In the UK, the world-wide database of MPAs lists 218 designated marine sites, amongst which are National Parks, Heritage Coast, SAC, AONB, NNR, National Scenic Area (NSA, Scotland), and there are the three Marine Nature Reserves (MNR) of Lundy, Skomer and Strangford Lough (6). However, the first NTZ that occurred in the UK was a voluntary initiative, not forming a part of these designations, although its location is off the Heritage Coast of St Agnes.

Lobsters in the coastal waters of Cornwall have been heavily exploited for many decades, leading to concerns amongst St Agnes lobster-fishermen, fish producers and researchers, for the long-term sustainability of Cornish stocks. Thus in 1997, the lobster-fishermen of St Agnes agreed to set aside 50 ha of their regular fishing grounds as a voluntary shellfisheries NTZ in an attempt to improve the long-term viability of their local fishery. In 2002, a five year demonstration trial was launched by a Marine Development Officer employed by Cornwall County Council to establish the effectiveness of the NTZ. Funded variously and with support from the Cornwall Sea Fisheries Committee and the Cornwall Fish Producers Organisation, local fisherman and volunteers will assess the effectiveness by using experimental potting to compare Catch Per Unit Effort between the NTZ and two normally fished control areas to the W of the NTZ (7).

Statutory no take zone

While the St Agnes NTZ is voluntary, the first statutory NTZ in Britain was created in early 2003 in the Lundy Island MNR. The zone was proposed by the Devon Sea Fisheries Committee and English Nature to alleviate pressure on fish and shellfish stocks, and to allow recovery of the exceptional marine wildlife for which the sea around Lundy Island was designated an MNR in 1986 (and a SAC in 2005). The statutory byelaw that set up the NTZ came into force when it was confirmed by the Secretary of State after advertisement for objections, in accordance with the Sea Fisheries (Byelaws) Regulations 1985 (Statutory Instrument 1985 No:1785) (8).

Lundy Island is in the Bristol Channel, 12 miles off the N Devon coast. Its wide range of marine habitats encircle a rugged coast and consist of reefs, sea caves, sub-tidal sandbanks, and a small inter-tidal area. These are home to grey seals and a magnificent marine flora and fauna of a large number of seaweeds, the soft coral pink sea fan, cup corals, erect branching sponges, sea cucumber and sea squirt. The W side of the island is buffeted by wind and waves, and so the NTZ was established in its lee on the E side. The zone encompasses a quarter of the overall area of the MNR (330 ha out of 1,390 ha) and it extends N-S along the island shore and outwards from the coast. The No Take Zone is bounded by two other zones of use in what is perhaps the first example of zoning being used in a protected area in Britain. The Refuge Zone abuts most of the NTZ and swings around the rest of the island, forming an inner transition or buffer zone where only potting and angling are allowed, and there are no other forms of fishing. Outside of this is the General Use Zone which covers the rest of the MNR and where all activities are allowed except spear fishing (see 8 for the marine reserve zoning map).

All evidence so far points to remarkable benefit arising from the introduction of the NTZ into the Lundy Island MNR. The results of monitoring, after just 18 months, were surprising when the initial expert view was that it would take 3-5 years to see significant change. A threefold increase in the numbers of lobsters above the minimum landing size were found within the NTZ compared to control areas during the survey in 2004, and many were found to be bigger than usual. The same improvements were seen in the survey of the following year (10). Scientists have also monitored sponges and soft corals that may have been affected by fishing and, while few signs of change were seen in the first years, the most recent underwater survey this year (as seen on TV news last week, and which prompted me to write this article) revealed an underwater world of startling colour, structure and abundance that can only result from a lack of disturbance. It surely must be a sign of maritime rewilding, brought about by a removal of our extractive activities.

The early success of the Lundy NTZ has prompted consideration of its use elsewhere. Lyme Bay off the Dorset coast is another stronghold of the pink sea fan, which favours the warmer waters around SW Britain. Defra has worked with English Nature and representatives of the fishing industry to reach a compromise on the areas of the bay to be closed. An agreement has been reached which provides protection on a voluntary basis, but the local Sea Fisheries Committee will consider whether the NTZ should be backed up by legislation for a statutory byelaw (11).

Sadly, fishermen are not always as co-operative in establishing NTZs, and a recent attempt to institute a statutory NTZ within the Skomer MNR was blocked. In my last article (12), I referenced Skomer MNR and the fact that its only protection comes from a voluntary Code of Practice for local net fisherman (13). There are also a couple of byelaws from 1997 that prohibit dredge/trawl and scallop fishing in the Skomer MNR (13). Inspired by the Lundy NTZ, the South Wales Sea Fishing Committee (SWSFC) developed proposals with the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW) for a statutory NTZ that would cover 1,100 ha of the 1,320 ha reserve (about 85%) and, because it would eventually ban all fishing, it would revoke the unneeded existing byelaws. As it is, the Skomer MNR area covers less than 0.3% of the SWSFC District, and it was estimated that less than 5% of the annual SWSFC district landing of 100 tonnes of lobsters come from that area (14). On the other hand, amongst the marine wildlife that would have benefited from the NTZ would be the large mature colonies of the pink sea fan, though less dense than those further south, but that are known to encircle the Skomer MNR (11).

You may wonder why commercial fishing interests have such great influence over decisions when it comes to a nationally important Marine Nature Reserve. Government set up Sea Fisheries Committees as a local authority committee system to regulate sea fisheries in their districts by means of byelaws. The balance on the committee is normally equal between members appointed by constituent Councils, and the other half appointed by the Secretary of State (or Assembly Government of Wales) to be “persons acquainted with the needs and opinions of the fishing interests of that district or as being persons having knowledge of, or expertise in, marine environmental matters” (15, 16). As someone remarked at the meeting at which the Skomer NTZ was voted down, the absence of seven out of the ten Councillor members meant that the debate would be “dominated by fishery members who had a self-interest and who might pay less attention to wider socio-economic matters” (14).

This is only a temporary setback for the Skomer NTZ. I see no reason why it should not be brought forward again to the SWSFC, perhaps slightly modified where needed (but not too much) and with some greater support from CCW (who sound like they didn’t prepare well enough). Citizens of the S Wales Council areas involved would do well to lobby their Councillor members of the sea fisheries committee to turn up next time and vote for what is a remarkably simple and principled approach to maritime rewilding. Then perhaps soon we can extend this simple and principled approach to terrestrial rewilding as well.

Mark Fisher 18 October 2006

ADDENDUM - November 2006

The Wildlife and Countryside Link have been running an excellent maritime campaign to influence the contents of a forthcoming Marine Bill (17). The key recommendation of their campaign is:
"Link believes that a network of Nationally Important Marine Sites (NIMS) is needed to help deliver conservation and recovery of the UK’s marine biodiversity. This network must include a suite of Highly Protected Marine Reserves (HPMRs). Link believes that HPMRs, within which any damaging and/or harmful activities (notably extractive activities) are excluded, are essential to underpin the conservation and recovery of biodiversity and ecosystem processes."

A NIMS is a proposal for a statutory Marine Protected Area (MPA) that would replace the MNR that we have at present. HPMR is another name for a No Take Zone and the intention is that these would be within a NIMS, but may also be free standing.

Mark Fisher 26 November 2006

ADDENDUM - June 2007

The Government have prosposed a Marine Bill that replaces MNR with Marine Conservation Zones (MCZ) and HPMR get a single mention in the Bill. The Marine Conservation Society organised a local petition, calling for Skomer MNR to be turned into an HPMR under the new Bill, as they have also a national petition in support of HPMR. To read more about this, go to Heroes and Villains page for the entry there.

Mark Fisher 4 June 2007

(1) Directions for the National Reserve System - A Partnership Approach, Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council, Commonwealth of Australia 2005

(2) Protected Areas National Management Categories, UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre,

(3) No Take Zone - Frequently Asked Questions, Cornwall County Council

(4) Marine Reserves A-Z, Marine protected areas, Dept. of Conservation, New Zealand

(5) Blue Ventures Turns Three! 29th September 2006

(6) MPA Global – A database of the world’s Marine Protected Areas

(7) St. Agnes No Take Zone, Cornwall County Council

(8) Protection for Lundy Island's sea life boosted: The First No Take Zone in UK confirmed by Government, EN Press Release EN/03/03, 27 January 2003

(9) Lundy Island Marine Nature Reserve zoning scheme

(10) Lundy Lobsters Bounce Back in UK’s First No-Take Zone, EN Press Release 22 July 2005

(11) New measures to protect marine environment, Defra news release Ref: 389/06 24 August 2006

(12) Shooting grey seals out of season, 23 September 2006

(13) Byelaws, South Wales Sea Fisheries Committee

(14) Committee decision on Skomer Marine Nature Reserve (MNR) No Take Zone, South Wales Sea Fisheries Committee Press release 02/05 30th June 2005

(15) Modernised Sea Fisheries Committees to deliver improved inshore fisheries management in the future, Defra News release Ref: 270/06 20 June 2006

(16) Working with others - Sea Fisheries Committees, Defra

(17) A future for our seas - Marine Campaign Information, Wildlife and Countryside Link