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Atlantic Puffins

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has announced the creation of 23 new Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) and proposal of seven Special Protection Areas (SPAs) around the English and Welsh coast.

Defra said the initiative would expand a “blue belt” of protected areas intended to safeguard “the diverse array of wildlife in our seas”, but the RSPB has said that more needs to be done to protect seabirds.

The announcement brings the total number of MCZs to 50, which is an important step towards establishing a functioning network of marine protection for the UK’s seas. They will cover areas across the country from as far north as the Farne Islands off the Northumbrian coast down to Land’s End in Cornwall

A total of 4.155 square miles of rich marine habitats will be protected bringing the entire protected area around the UK’s coasts to 7.186 miles.

Martin Harper, the RSPB’s Director of Conservation, said, “To save nature, we need the most important places on both land and at sea to be protected and well managed. This new announcement is an important step towards this goal.

“However, it is disappointing to see that some of the UK’s marine jewels – sites for seabirds – haven’t been used in the designation process. We hope that the third round of marine protected designations, due in 2018 will offer the chance to finally designate sites for that provide protection for our seabirds.”

The UK is home to internationally important populations of seabirds, with 8 million nesting seabirds of 26 species, but they are facing significant declines in population with about 600,000 seabirds lost between 2000 and 2008.

Despite threats including marine pollution and the impact of climate change, species that are at risk such as puffins have not been included in the current designations. Previous designations have not included seabirds as it was thought too difficult to identify important sites for highly mobile species, which includes seabirds.

However, new data collected using groundbreaking scientific research is making this possible and the RSPB and other organisations are now able to track birds away from their breeding sites.

Mr Harper added, “Human activities have caused environmental declines along our coasts and across our seas. Marine protected areas offer a tool to help monitor and manage threats, allowing species to recover and giving them room to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Today’s announcement is a positive step in this direction but more is still needed to protect our globally important seabird colonies.”

The RSPB also welcomed the proposal for the designation of seven new or extended Special Protection Areas for seabirds under the European Birds Directive.

These sites will provide much-needed protection for a range of seabirds from the wintering grounds of internationally important populations of divers, ducks and grebes to the foraging areas relied upon by breeding tern colonies.

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