SOS - have your Say on Our Sea Our Biosphere coastline, extending out half a nautical mile seawards between Brighton Marina and Newhaven, and eastwards beyond to the Heritage Coast of the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head, has been designated as a Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) since 2013. Now new measures are proposed to sustainably manage this iconic area of the Sussex coastline which we are consulting on, and we need your views! ‘Beachy Head West’ MCZ is one of five such marine sites in Sussex, and a total of just fifty in England currently. This spectacularly rich marine site encompasses extensive intertidal and subtidal chalk reef, one of the best examples of this rare and fragile marine habitat in the south-east. In a European context, the UK is very important for marine chalk habitats, with over half of Europe’s coastal chalk recorded from the southern and eastern coasts of England. If we visit nature reserves inland we can see how diverse the chalk downland is for wildlife, similarly chalk reefs under the sea are at least as rich in life but much more poorly known and appreciated. Chalk reef supports abundant wildlife, including rare and threatened species such as blue mussel beds and native oysters. This MCZ site also contains rare short-snouted seahorses and is known to be a key nursery and spawning ground for several fish species, especially flat fish including sole, plaice, turbot, brill, and dab.
Short-snouted Seahorse - Sussex SeaSearch (c) Gerald LeggIn amongst the abundant seaweed smothered gullies and rock pools, hide well-known favourites such as crabs, limpets and prawns. It’s possible to find and see a host of marine life including brightly coloured sponges, mauve and green snakelocks anemones, candy-stripe flat worms, odd looking masked crabs, sea toads (a species of spider crab) and large yellow sea slugs known as sea lemons – to list just a few fantastic and wonderfully named creatures. [caption id="attachment_1705" align="aligncenter" width="936"] Sponge & Sea Squirts - Sussex SeaSearch (c) Gerald Legg[/caption] The intertidal beach zone is enormously popular with the public, with both children and adults visiting to find the fascinating life present in the rock pools that are revealed at low water. Many of us have clambered over rocks with a net to explore the curious landscape and wildlife a spring tide reveals. We want to encourage this so children and adults understand how fantastically diverse Sussex marine life is and to value these biological treasures. Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) is the body responsible for managing sustainable fisheries and conservation of the inshore marine environment here. Since Beachy Head West was designated as a new MCZ, we have worked extensively with the community to develop appropriate fisheries management proposals for the site. Working with the Marine Conservation Society, earlier informal consultation was supported through a unique process called the ‘Community Voice Method’. This included the production of a short film showing how individuals are linked to the site and their views of marine protected areas. The film was shown at workshops to help participants understand one another’s views and to encourage discussion and selection of potential management options. [caption id="attachment_1706" align="aligncenter" width="625"] Sussex IFCA members at the MCZ at Birling Gap[/caption] Now the proposed management for Beachy Head West will protect the habitats and species within the site, and make it one of the first partially intertidal MCZ sites to be protected in the UK. We aim to introduce a combination of voluntary agreement and regulation of commercial and recreational fishing that promotes compliance and support from the community, while meeting the conservation requirements of the MCZ, as follows:
- All year round there are proposed restrictions on trawling activities that are considered damaging to the rocky reef within the site.
- For those who gather shellfish and species such as prawns and worms for fishing bait, prohibitions on the removal of particular species and bag limits on what can be gathered for personal use only are proposed.
- Two Education Conservation Areas are also proposed, one in the Biosphere area at Friar’s Bay just west of Newhaven, and the other at Birling Gap near Beachy Head in the Sussex Heritage Coast Area, which will be a valuable resource for schools and ecologists alike.