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Friday, 11 February, 2000, 14:07 GMT
UK moves to protect coastline

braer off shetland The Braer founders off Shetland


By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

Conservation groups have welcomed the announcement by the United Kingdom Government that it is to explore ways of giving greater protection to vulnerable parts of the British coast.

The announcement, by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, said the government was launching a consultative process which could result in the setting-up of marine environmental high risk areas (MEHRAs).

The establishment of MEHRAs was one of 103 recommendations made in the report of the Donaldson inquiry into the loss of the tanker Braer in 1993. The vessel broke up off southern Shetland, spilling about 85,000 tonnes of crude oil.

aircraft spraying spill Spraying the Sea Empress spill off south Wales
Announcing the consultation, the Transport Minister, Lord Macdonald, said the setting-up of MEHRAs could provide guidance to mariners, and help to shape future government policy. It would also have an effect on day-to-day maritime operations.

In his report, entitled "Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas", Lord Donaldson proposed that the government should establish MEHRAs covering no more than 10% of the UK's coastline. These, he said, would be "comparatively limited areas of high sensitivity which are also at risk from shipping".

About 20% of the UK coast forms part of a chain of marine special areas of conservation, designated under the European Union's habitats directive.

Sam Pollard, of the Marine Conservation Society, told BBC News Online: "It's probably not feasible to make all those areas into MEHRAs, but we'd like to see at least 10% of the coast designated."

Effectiveness

"We know that we have to balance the demands of conservation with the importance of shipping to the UK economy.

"We welcome the start of the consultation process. But one of our main concerns is that, while MEHRAs will look very good on paper, the crunch will come over implementation and enforcement.

seven sisters cliffs The Seven Sisters, a sensitive English Channel coastline
"We need something that will give real protection to places like Lundy, in the Bristol Channel, and Skomer, off the Pembrokeshire coast - the UK's only national marine nature reserves, together with Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland."

Alasdair Bright, of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, told BBC News Online: "This has been a long time coming, and we're glad to see action now."

"We don't want the MEHRAs just to be areas marked on a map. We want measures to ensure that shipping is kept away from sensitive wildlife areas - that they become shipping-free zones, at least for vessels with highly-polluting cargoes."

Lord MacDonald said the government wanted to get the right methodology for choosing MEHRAs, and was not yet committed to any particular approach, or to any specific sites.

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See also:
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Exxon Valdez: Tip of an oily iceberg
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Another Empress before long
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