UNDER new legislation signed into law by the Queen, the Wirral coast could be designated a marine conservation zone to protect native wildlife.
It is one of two potential Special Protection Areas which are designed to conserve bird species. It would be part of the Liverpool Bay zone, a special site for red throated diver and common scoter.
There are also plans for 10 new sites of possible Special Areas of Conservation to protect habitats such as cold water reefs and sandbanks, and Conservation Agencies Natural England, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and the Countryside Council for Wales are putting the proposed sites – which are in English, Welsh and offshore waters – out to consultation.
The designations could affect activities such as fishing, recreation, sand and gravel extraction, wind farms and the oil and gas industry.
“A lot of people use the Irish Sea, but it has to be looked after for everyone’s best interests,” says Peter Kenny, skipper and owner of the Iantha, part of Corporate Cruising Ltd, which is based in Liverpool Bay.
“The Irish Sea is a place of work for a lot of people, but it’s also just a beautiful place. The coast is absolutely stunning. You’ve only got to visit some of the coast of Anglesey – in the right weather it’s more beautiful than the Med.
“I’ve been sailing since I was a kid, my dad used to take us out. Now I’m a Yacht Master with a commercial endorsement which enables me to skipper vessels commercially.”
Mr Kenny sees first-hand the wonderful variety of species in the Irish Sea.
“A mate of mine took his boat to Hilbre Island a couple of weeks ago and the seals were everywhere, then on the way back he had dolphins riding the bow wave of his boat.”
So will this new legislation help keep our wildlife safe?
Dr Mark Avery, director of conservation at the RSPB, says: “The boundaries have been drawn in the right place to cover those areas most important to birds.
“However it is well known Liverpool Bay is also home to internationally important populations of little gulls and cormorants. At the moment the designations do not cover them.”
The Wildlife Trusts welcomed the announcement of the habitat sites, which range from Lizard Point and Lands End to North-West Rockall Bank, as an “important moment”.
Joan Edwards, The Wildlife Trusts’ head of the living seas campaign, says: “Until now, the UK’s Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have clung to the coast like a non-swimmer clings to the side of the pool.
“Now the agencies have finally ditched their water-wings and offered protection where it’s needed.”
The Irish Sea has lots of different habitats including honeycomb reefs made up of living worms and muddy beds home to sea urchins, Dublin Bay prawns and brittlestars. Other landscapes include rocky reefs, sea grass beds, and gardens made up of plant-like animals sea pens.
It is also home to important species such as over 30 species of sharks, plus leatherback turtles, whales, dolphins and porpoise, as well as the rare and endangered pink sea fan.
The Irish Sea is of great financial importance as it hosts the Port of Liverpool – a major container port – as well as oil and gas platforms.
The waters also support important fish and shellfish fisheries that were worth £42.5 million last year.
Rowan Byrne, Irish Sea Conservation Zones (ISCZ) project manager, says: “We’re at a pivotal point in our relationship with the sea.
“Marine protection has never before been attempted on this scale. Marine conservation zones are the first step in creating a new legacy for the Irish Sea.”
Have your say at www.irishseaconservation.org.uk.