In 2019 the Government commissioned Richard Benyon to conduct a review of the potential role for Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs). HPMAs are similar to the Marine Conservation Zones already established. However, there is strict protection with a presumption against any activity involving extraction, destruction or deposition being permitted in those areas and strict protections on other damaging activities. The review reported last year in June 2020.
The Benyon Review concluded that HPMAs would have an important role in helping the marine ecosystem recover. It concluded that there could be spill over benefits for marine life in adjacent areas to highly protected areas. The review recommended that the Government pilot around five HPMAs to test the proposition further and test delivery. It also recommended that some or all of the pilot sites could be co-located with existing Marine Protected Areas such as Marine Conservation Zones, in effect to upgrade the status of some of those sites.
Today is World Ocean Day when, across the globe, people are taking action to protect and recover our global ocean. This Government is committed to ocean conservation and leaving our environment in a better state than we found it, including the marine environment. I would like to thank Lord Benyon and the panel for their work on the Review, and the broad range of stakeholders who contributed to it. The Government welcomes the report and accepts the central recommendation that we should take forward some pilot sites.
Defra will begin introducing HPMAs by identifying a number of locations within English waters to pilot our approach. These may be inside or outside the existing Marine Protected Area network, and in inshore or offshore areas, recognising that HPMAs must be in the locations best able to deliver protection and recovery.
However, the Government recognises that the strict protections implied by HPMAs will cause some concerns with other sea users. In particular, the fishing industry will be concerned about further displacement from fishing grounds when they are already being excluded from some areas ear-marked for offshore wind energy development.
We recognise that there is a balance in supporting sustainable industries in the marine environment while increasing marine protection to ensure a healthy, resilient and diverse marine ecosystem. In developing our response to the Review we have engaged with a broad range of stakeholders. We will develop criteria for HPMA identification and create a list of potential sites this year, followed by designations of a number of sites in 2022. We will also set out how we will work with stakeholders, the governance and management of sites and how we will monitor and evaluate sites.
The Benyon Review did not cover Scottish and Welsh waters but did include Northern Ireland’s offshore waters. We understand that DAERA wishes to have executive competence transferred to it in relation to certain marine functions, including designation and management of MPAs, in Northern Ireland offshore waters. Amendments to the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 made by the Fisheries Act 2020 allow DAERA to make orders to protect the marine environment from fishing activities in the offshore region. We therefore do not propose identifying any of the initial HPMAs in offshore Northern Ireland waters.
Copies of the Government Response are being placed in the Libraries of the House.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords