Page last updated at 14:21 GMT, Friday, 27 November 2009

Move to protect sea bird colonies

Red-throated diver
An estimated 1,000 red-throated divers spend the winter in Liverpool Bay

Three months of public consultation are getting under way on plans to make Liverpool Bay a special protection area for birds.

It is home to large colonies of common scoter off the coast at Colwyn Bay in Conwy and at Shell Flat off Blackpool.

The stretch of Irish Sea spans the north Wales coast from the western tip of Anglesey to the Lancashire coast.

A decision on whether to make the bay a protection area will be made in 2010 after public opinion is sought.

Common scoters winter in British waters before returning to Scandinavia to breed. Experts estimate that between 60-70,000 birds make the trip to Liverpool Bay every year - nearly 60% of all common scoters to be found off the UK shore.

"The number of these birds in Liverpool Bay mean they are off international importance," explained Dr Neil Smith from the Countryside Council for Wales, which is carrying out the consultation exercise, along with Natural England.

Map

Up to 30,000 alone are thought to visit the area around Colwyn Bay and Llanddulas.

The bay is also home to around 1,000 red-throated divers, which is more than 5% of the British population.

Dr Smith said the extent of the bird numbers meant the UK government had a duty to protect their environment under European law.

The designation as a special protection area (SPA) means off-shore developments, such as wind farms, would come under extra scrutiny.

"The designation doesn't mean Liverpool Bay is a no-go area, but it does mean there must be thorough consideration about developments, there is an extra test for them to pass," said Dr Smith.

"Liverpool Bay does seem to be good for renewable energy, and there are bound to be more applications in the future.

"We just need to safeguard the feeding grounds in the future."

Common scoter duck
Around 60% of all wintering common scoters are in Liverpool Bay

Dr Smith urged anyone with a view on the future designation of Liverpool Bay to take part in the consultation process, adding: "This three month window will provide people with the chance to participate in and influence the decision making process."

It is expected that the findings of the public consultation will be presented to the UK and assembly governments in summer 2010, when a decision on awarding protection status will be made by ministers.



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