Page last updated at 12:55 GMT, Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Marine Bill enters final stages

Seven sisters, East Sussex (Image: BBC)
The Bill includes measures to open up the entire length of England's coastline

The Marine and Coastal Access Bill, which will establish a series of marine conservation zones around England and Wales, is set to finally become law.

Critics say the measures, which will ban fishing in certain coastal areas, will not offer enough protection to endangered marine species.

The legislation also includes plans to create a footpath that stretches along the two nations' entire coastline.

The Bill is in its final stages in the Lords before receiving Royal Assent.

The idea of passing a bill to protect the UK's marine coastal areas has been on the political agenda since 2001.

Speaking in the Commons in October, Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said that he hoped the first stretch of coastal path and the first marine conservation zone would be established in 2012.

"The Bill provides for a streamlined regulation and better protection of marine wildlife," Mr Benn told MPs.

"It will give us better means to manage what we do in the seas around our island.

"In particular, it will help us identify potential conflicts arising from the fact that we put competing pressures on our seas, and find a way of doing something about it."

As well as the establishment of an uninterrupted coastal path and conservation zones, the Bill also creates a government body called the Marine Management Organisation (MMO).

The MMO, which is set to be up and running in April 2010, will be tasked with marine-related issues, such as plans for offshore wind farms.

The new organisation would also be a centre of marine expertise, according to details provided by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

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