I was fortunate enough to get a few decent days at Ladram Bay in the good weather this month before the storms blew in. Apart from giving me a great opportunity to study the fascinating geology of this part of the Jurassic Coast, I was able to visit some of the locations that have recently received protection as ‘blue reserves’ – new marine nature reserves known as Marine Conservation Zones.
The government has recently announced the designation of 41 new Marine Conservation Zones bringing the overall total in the UK to ninety one. Now, a ‘blue belt’ of protected waters – an area nearly twice the size of England – surrounds our coastline.
Nine of the new marine protection areas are to be found off the coasts of Devon:
• Axe Estuary
• Dart Estuary
• East of Start Point
• Otter Estuary
• Avon Estuary
• Erme Estuary
• Morte Platform
• North-West of Lundy
• South-West Approaches to Bristol Channel
While exploring the coast path around Ladram Bay, I came across one of the new MCZs at the Otter estuary near the town of Budleigh Salterton. The coast path connects with other footpaths on either side of the estuary, offering great views of substantial salt marsh areas and reedbeds used for shelter by both marine animals and wading birds.
The salt marshes include characteristic plants such as glasswort, sea puslane, and sea lavender, and there is a classic saltmarsh zonation from the sea to the head of the estuary, where the influence of freshwater is greater and common reed and hemlock water dropwort grow. On the west of the estuary there is a small area of freshwater reedbed, pools and grazing marsh.
The Otter Estuary supports a significant population of wintering wildfowl and waders, including redshank, common sandpiper, curlew and red-breasted merganser. Reed warbler, sedge warbler and reed bunting breed on the site.
Incidentally, there were already six existing MCZs in place in Devon, all featuring stunningly diverse marine habitats – Lundy Island, Skerries Bank and surrounds, Tamar Estuary sites, Torbay, Bideford to Foreland Point and Hartland Point to Tintagel.
The earliest to be designated was Lundy, which became the UK’s first ever Marine Nature Reserve, before later becoming an MCZ in 2010.
Critics have in the past dismissed marine conservation zones as “paper parks” with little control over damaging activities. However, each of the new Marine Conservation Zones has a robust new management plan that considers the requirements of both marine life and local people including fishermen, before establishing measures to protect the unique flora and fauna within. For example, some areas have been closed to scallop dredgers and trawlers to prevent damage to seabed habitats, while others have set up no take zones to protect specific species such as spiny lobsters.
The new bye-laws to prevent damaging activities in Devon’s Marine Protected Areas are also being effectively policed. For instance, Devon and Severn IFCA has recently launched successful court proceedings against skippers and owners of scallop-dredgers operating within protected areas of Lyme Bay and Torbay.