Zoning of activities

Zoning in marine SACs

Zoning of activities in marine SACs

Zoning within an SAC is a mechanism that can be used to define the location of conservation features and particularly sensitive or vulnerable areas, prioritising the ecological assets of the site. This allows specific conservation objectives and management measures to apply to these areas and more permissive, generalised management measures to apply to the rest of the site. Management schemes based on this zoning approach have been developed and implemented at various locations in the UK, including the Skomer Marine Nature Reserve where the ‘protection zones’ are based on the sensitivity of the marine communities to damage from human activities (Appendix J).

Zoning is also often used to manage human activities, keeping different types of users apart or outside particularly sensitive areas. This approach has been adopted in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park where the range of legislation controlling activities in the park are colour coded to form multiple-use zones which are summarised on charts. There are seven zones which range from a general use zone where virtually all activities can take place, through increasing levels of restriction, to a preservation zone which is most highly protected.

A similar approach has been adopted for the Lundy Marine Nature Reserve (Appendix J) and on a trial basis at two voluntary Marine Nature Reserves between Portland Bill and Selsey Bill. The multiple-use zoning scheme approach has also been applied to explore more effective ways of presenting information about marine management in Flamborough Head, Falmouth Bay and Estuaries, and the Severn Estuary (Gubbay 1996).

Zoning can play a part in ensuring both marine safety and environmental protection by keeping activities, such as those involving high speed craft (water skiing or power boating) or anchoring vessels, within suitable areas where the impact on wildlife will be least damaging, away from shipping lanes and shallow water. The Poole Harbour Aquatic Management Plan adopts this type of zoning for recreational activities (Appendix J), giving all recreational users their own areas of activity within a relatively safe environment (Poole Harbour Steering Group 1998). These zones are enforceable by harbour byelaw. The plan also identifies six ‘quiet areas’ where activities resulting in excessive noise should be avoided at particular times of the year, including principal bird nesting and roosting sites within the harbour. Within quiet areas there are advisory six knot speed limits, as a means of reducing engine noise.

Zoning in marine SACs

Essentially there are two types of zoning that may be used in the management of marine SACs:

  • Permissive zoning which seeks to allow an operation or activity to take place within a prescribed zone. This is non-exclusive and seeks to establish a ‘presumption in favour’ of an operation or activity without necessarily offering any view on the operation outside the permitted zone.
  • Restrictive zoning which seeks to prevent or regulate an operation or activity within a prescribed zone.

Greater consideration is being given to drawing up management schemes with permissive zones for particular types of activity. Permissive zoning may be the only way in which social and economic factors can be taken into account in developing the management scheme. The status of a zone is, however, difficult to determine. Intuitively there should be a ‘presumption in favour of’ the operation which is zoned and which does not damage the site. However, zones are not exclusive and cannot be made permanent within the existing law. The process of permissive zoning therefore would appear to have value only in the context described in Box 15.

Restrictive zones are usually imposed for reasons of human safety, such as areas where water-skiing, motor-boating or windsurfing are banned in order to protect swimmers. Restrictive zones are also used to protect habitats, such as speed limits within a harbour to reduce disturbance to areas of adjacent intertidal flats which provide important feeding areas for birds, and especially to protect species during breeding seasons. Such zones will usually command widespread public support if the positive reasons for the zone are clear and well understood. The impossibility of total enforcement in the marine environment means that zoning is unlikely to succeed if such widespread support does not exist. Restrictive zoning limits peoples freedom and will always be resented by some sectors. It must therefore be used only where they are needed to protect the designated marine features.

Zoning of activities in marine SACs

Zoning in marine SACs would appear to be of most value in the following management context:

  • A permissive zone is proposed by an entity carrying out an activity and/or a relevant authority.
  • Proposed permissive zone is examined by the country conservation agency to determine its likely to influence on the designated features of the site. If they conclude that there will be little or no effect on these features then the proposed zone will be endorsed. A permissive zone is only likely to be agreed where the impact of the operation or activity on the designated features are well understood, or possibly for a trial period associated with special monitoring.
  • The country conservation agency may seek to compensate for the possible impact of the zoning proposal by suggesting other restrictive zones in which the features concerned will be particularly well protected, although all areas of the site should be protected where possible.
  • Zoning schemes, like all management measures, need to be agreed by all relevant authorities before they can form part of a management scheme and consult with affected users.
  • Simplicity and clarity in the zoning scheme are likely to produce the best overall result.
  • There are benefits of seeking zones that meet both the environmental and commercial goals simultaneously. For example, speed limits in harbours set for navigational safety reasons will also have the effect of reducing disturbance and erosional effects. Additional speed restrictions should only be introduced where there is a clear demonstration that vessel speed significantly affects the marine features and their communities adversely, although temporary measures may be considered. It may be necessary for a port or harbour to apply for a Harbour Revision Order for the powers to create byelaws for this purpose.
  • Zoning schemes, particularly those based on voluntary agreement, are not necessarily cast in stone and may be adapted to changing circumstances.

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