Seventy years after Britain declared its first national park, coastal and marine experts are calling for a new generation of marine parks in the UK’s territorial waters. As people flock to open spaces and beaches to recover from a year of lockdowns, why do we have no national parks in the sea?
A report commissioned by Blue Marine Foundation reveals the extent that leaders in coastal communities are beginning to explore how marine parks could boost tourism, sustainable fishing, public health and economic recovery and sets out a vision for ten National Marine Parks over the next ten years. They could revolutionise how the public views the ocean.
As a country surrounded by the sea, some marine experts believe it is time to make the most of the blue planet on our doorstep. The pandemic has shown us how much we value our outdoor spaces and National Parks. Now, many key experts believe, is the perfect moment to look beyond the green and towards the blue and appreciate the marine habitat that surrounds our country when we visit the beach.
Charles Clover, executive director of Blue Marine Foundation, said: “It is remarkable that we have no parks in the sea after 70 years of parks on land. In the early 1950s, people were putting into practice an idea that had been around since Yellowstone in the 1870s, but they stopped at the shore. Back then, just after the war, the sea was still the Cruel Sea, it was a bit intimidating, underexplored but still endless and bountiful. Now we have a different perspective, we are more connected to the ocean through TV and we are more aware of its vulnerability and how much our lives depend on it.
“Our natural heritage is right there, just off the beach, but paradoxically the public is hardly involved in the enjoyment or the stewardship of this island nation’s greatest asset. No wonder the barometer of informed opinion is swinging towards the concept of marine parks around Britain’s coastline, with the pioneering model of Plymouth’s National Marine Park leading the way.”
National Parks were created in the post-war era to protect open spaces and support the nation’s mental and physical health and well-being. Ten National Parks in England contribute as much as £4 billion to the economy with 90 million visitors each year and 22,500 businesses employing 140,000 people. Three National Parks in Wales generate an estimated 12 million visitors per year and over a half a billion pounds into the Welsh economy. These national landscapes cover almost a quarter of England and Wales. The Jurassic Coast – England’s only natural World Heritage Site – brings £111 million per year into the Dorset and Devon economy. The advocates of National Marine Parks believe they could enhance people’s access and enjoyment – for the same reason we created space for National Parks two generations ago.
Natasha Bradshaw, co-author of the report, said: “Our research shows that attempts to protect parts of the sea with multiple complicated designations with different acronyms have left the public behind. Everyone understands and knows about National Parks – we need the same recognition for the sea.
“In talking to people for our research, I explained that Britain did not have any national parks in the sea and we asked what they thought about the idea of Marine Parks. As we spoke and they thought about the idea, there was a real sense of opportunity. Everyone I interviewed warmed up to the idea as we talked about it, especially when they heard more about Plymouth.”
Plymouth Sound National Marine Park is being pioneered by Plymouth City Council, with a declaration of intent supported by 70 stakeholders and BLUE in 2019. BLUE is now calling for other local leaders to explore the value of creating National Marine Park status for their coast and sea. This could include the Isles of Scilly, our very own paradise islands off Cornwall; Jersey in the Channel Isles, a jewel in the crown of British seas; and the west coast of Scotland where a Hope Spot is building community interest.
Tudor Evans, OBE, Leader of Plymouth City Council, said: “Plymouth Britain’s Ocean City has a long history of launching many pioneering voyages, from the Beagle to the Mayflower and every time one of her majesty’s ships crosses Plymouth Sound we are reminded of how our maritime space has helped shape the city, nation and world. Plymouth Sound National Marine Park is Plymouth’s next exciting marine voyage. With more than 1000 species residing in Plymouth Sound, it’s not about additional regulation, it’s about users and stakeholders working collaboratively to increase knowledge, opportunities and understanding of the sea.”
The seas surrounding Britain contain iconic wildlife including dolphins, porpoises and basking sharks, rays, sea horses, beautiful sea fans and corals. But few people know what’s under the sea or have a chance to see it. Marine parks would promote access and enjoyment while protecting life in the sea and healthy seas for our future. Blue Marine Foundation has created this vision report to explore how and where marine parks could work for Britain and translate the vision into reality over the next ten years.
Read the National Marine Parks newsletter here.