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Wednesday, 6 November, 2002, 00:11 GMT
English coastline 'under stress'
Garrison shore, Isles of Scilly (Roger Covey/English Nature)
A better marine environment serves the interests of all
The seas and coast around England are "damaged and declining", according to a major report published on Wednesday.

English Nature, the UK Government's wildlife advisor, warns that the marine environment is showing signs of "significant stress and low resilience to continuing pressure".

It points, for example, to the loss of salt marshes, the continuing decline in fish stocks and a rise in the nutrient "pollution" of seawater as signals that all is not well.

The agency wants to see a more holistic approach in government, with the establishment of a "Blue Group" of ministers to co-ordinate all aspects of maritime policy.

Dan Laffoley, head of marine conservation at English Nature, told the BBC: "The evidence and analysis we are launching today is an alarm call for those who use or manage our coasts and care about the future."

Water successes

English Nature's concerns are contained in an 80-page document called State Of Nature: Maritime.

St Mary's Flats, Isles of Scilly (Roger Covey/English Nature)
Half the English population visit the seaside each year
The advisory group's chairman, Sir Martin Doughty, is delivering its contents to a London meeting of more than 100 organisations with marine and coastal interests.

These range from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the National Federation of Sea Anglers to the Associated British Ports and the British Tourist Authority.

The report acknowledges that important strides have been made in recent years to better protect the marine environment.

It cites the well documented improvement in the quality of bathing waters and the reduction in effluent discharges among the major successes.

But it argues that far more needs to be done.

Fish gone

It laments, for example, the continuing decline in salt marshes and the detrimental impact this has on sea defences and coastal habitats.

It says that in the county of Essex alone, one quarter of all salt marshes has been lost in the past 25 years, and adds that in some estuaries the rate of loss has actually accelerated over the past decade.

The agency is also concerned about nitrogen run-off from the land.

This nutrient "pollution" has already had a major impact on the type and range of plant species on the UK landmass, and there is evidence it is now also having similar effects on marine life.

Since 1984, nitrogen input to the seas around the UK has risen by 20%, the agency says.

Declining fish stocks continue to be a major worry, English Nature adds.

It says the estimated total fish stock in the North Sea has declined by 35% in the past 25 years - and in terms of physical size, plaice are now just a quarter the size they were in 1902.

Seaside outing

The agency says too many policy initiatives - many of them very well intentioned - are constructed and implemented without a proper regard to their wider consequences.

Cod, PA
Continuing concern about declining fish stocks
It wants government departments to adopt a more integrated approach to the way policies are set for the maritime environment.

It believes ministers who have a sea and coastal brief in their portfolio should work much more closely together.

English Nature says a better marine environment serves the interests of everyone.

In 1998, 51% of people in England visited the seaside supporting the local economy.

Also, 50% of the UK's biodiversity - about 40,000 species including corals, sea horses, fish and mammals such as dolphins and whales - is to be found in the sea.

Dan Laffoley, English Nature
"Nitrogen inputs have gone up 20% since 1984"
See also:

11 Oct 02 | Science/Nature
17 Sep 02 | Science/Nature
01 May 02 | Science/Nature
20 Mar 02 | Science/Nature
03 May 01 | Science/Nature
06 Aug 01 | Science/Nature
13 Mar 02 | England
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