Local rivers champion relishes battle victory

Echo: Local rivers champion relishes battle victory Local rivers champion relishes battle victory

NEW marine conservation zones have been implemented on local rivers to protect marine habitats and the species found within them.

The River Blackwater, River Colne, River Crouch and River Roach were awarded their new status by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, in order to protect them from extremely damaging activities.

Restrictions on the rivers will vary, depending on what is being protected at each site, although there is likely to be little impact on public use such as sea angling, yachting and diving.

Chairman of Leigh and Southend Fishermen's Association, Paul Gilson, is a member of the Balanced Seas team – a group which battled for two years for protection to be applied to these areas.

He said: “I’m really chuffed with this – we won over some quite stiff opposition. Balanced Seas was brought together to bring these zones into being.

“I put forward the idea of marine conservation zones 15 years ago and I was laughed at!

They said it couldn’t happen, but I felt then we needed to do something, so I’m pleased it’s finally in place.”

Paul says creating marine conservation zones in specially selected areas rather than across huge areas of sea is the best way forward.

He said: “People tend to look at the bigger picture and not actually closer to home.

“The other groups had grandiose ideas of blocking off half the North Sea, but what I was trying to put over was that there are specific places that are important, that we need to look after.

“The North Sea, for example, is so diverse – it changes quickly, and within two or three years the sea bed can alter.

“It’s no good putting a great big exclusion zone around a small island of material that in two years time won’t be there.”

Instead, Paul campaigned for protection of the Blackwater, Crouch, Roach and Colne estuaries, as well as the River Medway estuary.

According to the new guidelines, the zones will help to maintain the mixed sediments of the rivers, and will also recover the “favourable condition” of the native oyster and native oyster beds, which were shown to be under threat by recent research.

Paul said: “We were trying to bring some practical applications to local areas that need protection.

“The state of our rivers is actually quite good and what’s going on in them at the moment is sustainable, but if we upped the works, the boats, the dredging and anything else detrimental to the environment, it may not be sustainable.

“People were saying, ‘Oh, we must take it back to how it was’, but the thing is, we don’t know how it was.

“The whole idea of the zones is not to restore, because it doesn’t need restoration, but to protect the system we have.”

“We’re protecting a source of food too – it’s not just for the birds and other wildlife. We’d be a poorer place without the zones.”

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