European Marine Sites (EMS)
European Marine Sites (EMS) or ‘Natura 2000′ sites are a network marine areas which protect habitats and species of European importance.
This network consists of:
* Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) which are designated under the EU Habitats Directive to conserve habitats and species of European importance
* Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are established under the EU Wild Birds Directive to protect populations of bird species of European importance and regularly occurring migratory birds within the EU.
* Features – The bird species (SPAs) or broad habitat types (SACs) a site was designated for
* Sub features – A more detailed description of the habitat feature
* Site specific sub-feature – A biotope level description of the sub-feature specific to the site
* Supporting habitats – Habitats on which bird features of SPAs rely
* Conservation objective – A statement describing the desired state or quality of an EMS feature, and whether it must be maintained or restored to meet that state.
When an EMS is created a list of the important species and habitats it is being designated to protect is created, and these are known as the sites features. The features can be broad habitat types, such as ‘estuaries’ or ‘saltmarshes’. Many of the habitat features then have more detailed sub-features such as ‘intertidal mudflats’. Finally, these sub-features are described at biotope level and are specific to the site – these are the site specific sub-features. For SPA sites the bird species and assemblages constitute the features and they have associated supporting habitats which are important to the bird species as they provide feeding/rooting grounds.
All EMS have a set conservation objective. This is a statement describing the desired ecological state or quality of a feature for which the site is designated. The conservation objective establishes whether a feature meets the desired state and should be maintained, or falls below it and should be recovered to a favourable condition.
EMS in Kent & Essex
The coastal areas of Kent and Essex are highly diverse, from chalk reef habitats extending off the north coast of Kent to vast saltmarshes supporting thousands of migrating birds in Essex. Many of our marine and coastal habitats are of European importance, with Kent and Essex having some of the best or most extensive examples certain habitats in the EU. As such, large sections of the coastal and marine environment are protected by SACs or SPAs.
Kent and Essex IFCAs role in EMS
MPAs that are situated within territorial waters (less than 12 nautical miles from the coast) are the responsibility of the relevant Statutory Nature Conservation Body, which in English waters is Natural England.
Establishing management schemes is optional for relevant and competent authorities under the Habitats Regulations and Offshore Habitats Regulations. Competent authorities include any statutory body or public office exercising legislative powers, while relevant authorities are those competent authorities with local powers which may impact on the marine environment within an EMS. Relevant and competent authorities can include (but are not limited to) Natural England, local councils, harbour authorities, the Environment Agency and IFCAs.
IFCAs are defined as competent and relevant authorities in respect to the implementation of the habitats directive. As such, it is the IFCAs responsibility to deliver management of fisheries within EMS encompassed within an IFCA district. It is therefore Kent and Essex IFCAs legal duty to implement appropriate conservation measures to avoid damage to EMS by fisheries activities.
Defra’s revised approach to managing fisheries in European Marine Sites
In 2012, the UK government (the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs, Defra) announced a revised approach to the management of commercial fisheries in European Marine Sites (EMS). The objective of this revised approach is to ensure that all existing and potential commercial fishing activities are managed to conserve important habitats and species in line with our obligations under the EU Habitats and Birds Directives.
This approach is being implemented using an evidence based, risk-prioritised, and phased basis. Risk prioritisation is informed by using a matrix of the generic sensitivity of the sub-features (habitats and species of importance) of EMS to a suite of fishing activities as a decision making tool. These sub-feature-activity combinations have been categorised according to specific definitions, as red, amber, green or blue.
The highest priority for the implementation of management measures was assigned to activity/feature interactions identified within the matrix as red risk, with a deadline of the end of 2013.
Activity/feature interactions identified within the matrix as amber risk require a site-level assessment to determine whether management of an activity is required to conserve site features. Activity/feature interactions identified within the matrix as green also require a site level assessment if there are “in combination effects” with other plans or projects. These must be completed and management implemented where necessary by the end of 2016.
Red risks and EMS byelaws in Kent and Essex IFCAs district
Applying the governments’ risk matrix to Kent and Essex EMS identified several red risk interactions. Intertidal and subtidal chalk reefs in Thanet Coast SAC and Thanet Coast and Sandwich Bay SPA have been identified as sensitive red risk features, and are incompatible with the majority of bottom-towed (demersal) gear as well as scallop dredges. In addition, seagrass in Essex Estuaries SAC has been identified as a sensitive red risk feature which is incompatible with all bottom-towed (demersal) gear, dredges (towed and other), intertidal handwork and bait collection.
Kent and Essex IFCA formulated the ‘Bottom Towed Fishing Gear Byelaw’ to prohibit the use of all bottom towed gear in areas where these red risk habitats occur. This byelaw has been confirmed by the Secretary of State and is now enforceable.