Marine plan welcomed by dredging campaigners

New marine plans to manage uses of the sea have been welcomed by conservationists and fishermen as a way of putting a check on aggregate dredging.

The coastal waters off Norfolk and Suffolk will be covered in the country’s first two marine plans, covering an area stretching from Flamborough Head in Yorkshire down to Felixstowe.

The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) will start working on the plans on behalf of Defra from next April when it will also begin public consultation.

The plans, which will eventually cover the sea right round the country, will mirror the on-land planning regime to balance competing interests, including economic and environmental issues, and promote the sustainable use of English waters.

Steve Brooker, the MMO’s head of marine planning, described the work as “pioneering”, going further than marine plans being developed in other countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands.

He said activities in the sea were already regulated by the granting of marine licences by the MMO. This would continue once the plans were in force in 2013, but decisions would become more forward-looking, founded on a much more detailed database of evidence. Opponents of plans would have the same right to express their view as already existed.

“England’s marine area is extremely crowded in terms of existing activities and the pressure and competition for space are going to increase,” he said.

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“Marine planning will enable the MMO and others to balance and integrate the vast range of competing activities and aspirations.

“As a country, we can then take informed decisions about the development of our sea areas and our priorities.”

The development of the plans has been welcomed by Marinet, the marine equivalent of Friends of the Earth, which has been actively campaigning for the curtailment of aggregate dredging off the East Anglian coast.

Its spokesman Pat Gowen, from Hemsby, said there was evidence that aggregate dredging contributed to coastal erosion as the hollows left behind were gradually filled in by material moving from the direction of the shore. He added that it also had a disastrous impact on fishing stocks and the eco-system.

While they would like to see dredging banned, he accepted that having it restricted to certain areas was more realistic.

He said that during the public consultation, Marinet would be raising the possibility of creating ‘set-aside’ areas – zones where no fishing or industrial activity could take place, to allow fish stocks to recover.

Also welcoming news on the marine plans was Lowestoft fisherman Chris Wightman, a spokesman for the last 11 fishing vessels operating out of the port.

He said: “We will also be asking for restrictions on aggregate dredging which creates a suffocating plume fish don’t like, which can move up to 12 miles.

“It also takes away spawning grounds which are never replenished. There are areas off our coast still affected, which were last dredged more than 10 years ago.”

Mr Wightman said they would also be asking planners to consider the possible impact of marine noise from large windfarms.

Noise is known to have an impact on harbour porpoises and dolphins.

?In a separate move benefitting marine wildlife, licensing of oil and gas exploration in UK waters has been cut back by the government.The total number of licences granted in the latest round, announced earlier this week, has been cut by more than a quarter to 144. Some 45 other licences have been withheld while further work is carried out on potential damage to marine wildlife and ecosystems.