A group of 13 conservation bodies, known collectively as the Irish Sea Network, is urging planners in all six nations bordering the Irish Sea to collaborate and cooperate, for the sake of nature. In a new report, the Network calls for planners to work together strategically and ensure that wildlife is protected, as they review how the Irish Sea is used.
The Irish Sea, which is bordered by England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man, is coming under significant and increasing pressure from damaging activities such as industrial fishing, aquaculture, offshore renewable energy development, shipping, military activity, recreational activity and pollution. All of these activities take their toll on marine species, that are already endangered by the impacts of climate change.
The Irish Sea Network reports that while over a third of the Irish Sea has been designated as Marine Protected Areas, as little as five per cent is actually managed for nature, and less than 0.01 per cent is fully protected from damaging activities. This leaves the Irish Sea’s wildlife and the habitats on which they depend at serious risk, with little chance for nature to recover. As well as its intrinsic value, people depend on healthy seas because they produce oxygen, sequester carbon on the seabed, provide food security, livelihoods for local fishing and coastal communities, enable low-impact eco-tourism opportunities, and contribute to our wellbeing and culture.
Marine wildlife doesn’t respect borders – yet each Irish Sea nation is producing separate marine planning documents. Each plan will cover a huge range of uses of the Irish Sea, from rules about fishing and renewable energy to shipping and tourism. The Irish Sea Network says all planners and decision-makers must collaborate and cooperate better and with urgency, to consider the Irish Sea as a whole, and ensure that the nature and climate crises are at the forefront during this process.
Jo Pike, Chief Executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said:
“This important new report highlights the urgent need for transboundary collaboration in a marine region that is an increasingly busy space, governed by six different administrations. Prioritising nature in such areas will be crucial for achieving the clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse seas we all need. The report coincides with the development of Scotland’s new National Marine Plan 2 and provides opportunity for its recommendations to be taken forward not only in the Irish Sea but across Scotland as well.”
Joan Edwards, Director Policy and Public Affairs at The Wildlife Trusts, thinks: “The Irish Sea is a special place, but decades of overexploitation and pollution have left wildlife here degraded and at risk. As our seas are increasingly industrialised, it’s vital nations work together to prioritise nature and the achievement of net zero. We need spatially explicit marine plans which aim to recover nature, ensure the sustainability of all activities and enable a just transition for sea users and communities around our coasts.”
All six Irish Sea nations are responding to the joint nature and climate crises by committing to protect and restore at least 30% of our seas by 2030 and achieving net zero by 2050. However, with all of the large-scale developments and numerous activities in the Irish Sea the Wildlife Trusts and its partners are highlighting the urgent plight of marine wildlife and the habitats they depend on. The Irish Sea Network is urging planners to ensure that environmental projects, such as wind farms, are sited in the right places using the right technology, i.e. not in marine protected areas, where underwater cables can damage fragile habitats and ecosystems on the seabed.
Read The Irish Sea Network’s report ‘Ecological Considerations for Marine Spatial Planning in the Irish Sea’ online here.
The Irish Sea Network was set up in 2022 to improve understanding of conservation activities and pressures across the Irish Sea.
The Irish Sea Network is a partnership of 10 Wildlife Trusts from around the Irish Sea (Manx Wildlife Trust, North Wales Wildlife Trust, North West Wildlife Trusts – Cumbria, Lancashire and Cheshire, The Wildlife Trusts, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Ulster Wildlife, Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, and Wildlife Trusts Wales), Northern Ireland Marine Task Force, Irish Wildlife Trust, and the Sustainable Water Network (SWAN).