Concluding Comments on the Application of Information for Conservation Management Relevant to Marine SACs.

Basic management guidance

Parallel conservation management activities

This report has covered an enormous amount of information on numerous topics associated with our present understanding of the biological and ecological structure and function of the kelp biotopes around the UK. As has been mentioned previously, for a variety of reasons little research data is available which can be specifically and directly applied towards the construction of management plans for kelp beds within marine SACs. Where such information has been available, specific attention has been drawn to it within the context of each chapter. The intention of this present chapter is to add a final perspective to this extensive review.

The Habitats Directive requires member states to identify and designate SACs which will eventually form part of a network of conservation sites across the EU It is expected that, where selected SACs correspond to areas previously designated as SSSIs or ASSIs, any management measures required will usually be implemented through the existing management. However, with kelp biotopes, this will generally not be possible. Most of the existing management structures do not contain adequate available skilled personnel to undertake the additional work load that will be needed. Even where a local authority has some jurisdiction over the seashore and seabed, recent court cases suggest that, due to common law and to historical practices, no effective protection of species with commercial value within a marine SAC will be possible in future without specific, scientifically supportable legislation to separate protected areas from the general shore and seabed areas in UK waters.

 

Basic management guidance

Time scales

The time scale over which a management plan for a kelp forest is to operate has to be decided. Unfortunately, political and biological time spans are often quite distinct. With the exception of direct harvesting of kelp, little is presently known about the long term effects of many present day human activities on kelp biotopes. The primary productivity of some kelp ecosystems is thought to be among the highest per unit area of all global vegetation (Mann, 1972b), but this is not reflected, as in tropical rain-forests, in accumulation of biomass. Much of the net production of kelp plants is exported from the kelp forest to coastal ecosystems as a whole, and is generally thought to sustain many inshore fisheries. Any deleterious impact of human activities on kelp production could, therefore, be translated into decreasing landings of fish before changes in kelp density or standing stock could be detected.

Maintenance and restoration

Kelp biotopes should be managed so as to contribute to the maintenance or restoration of the favourable conservation status of the natural habitat and species composition of the biotope. Each kelp forest, and possibly each area within a kelp forest, may have a different biological composition, and our knowledge about the associated flora and fauna is too sketchy to permit broad generalisations to be drawn. Amongst the other gaps in our detailed knowledge, are the time scales of the natural variability of the kelp habitat and the extent of temporal variation in species composition.

Integrity of sites of kelp biotopes

The conservation status of the kelp beds within SACs must be considered before any activity, plan or project is undertaken that is likely to have a significant effect on the kelp biotope. Effectively, this requirement of the Habitats Directive prohibits most activities, uses and changes in management practices as applied to kelp habitats, due to the paucity of applicable biological information that is available.

Monitoring requirements

As discussed in Chapter VI, monitoring the marine environment is a time-consuming and expensive task, requiring high levels of expertise in a wide range of techniques. Kelp biotopes are renowned for their species richness and diversity and, as such, present a challenge with regard to monitoring their status. The monitoring of kelp biotopes needs to be conducted in a manner that permits biologically significant changes to be linked to changes in local conditions, management practices or human activities, if any management plan is to be effective. Among the highest priorities in the management strategy for kelp biotopes should be the identification of the keystone species among the associated fauna and flora of kelp biotopes. Population levels of these species should then be monitored. In contrast to the rocky intertidal zone, where the dynamic relationships between the principal biota are well understood (because they are easier to study!), we do not yet have sufficient basic information on the ecological relationships within kelp biotopes to enable these species to be selected with any confidence.

Avoidance of habitat deterioration

This requirement of the Habitats Directive implies that whatever monitoring programme is implemented must be adequate to enable the present status, the optimum status and any changes in the status of kelp biotopes to be detected.

  • Physical parameters should be checked regularly, such as
  • the dimensions of the kelp forest or parkland
  • the degree of light penetration to the depth of the kelp bed
  • Water quality, salinity and temperature need to be monitored with sufficient regularity and accuracy to identify any natural or anthropogenic events which might be detrimental to the kelp biotopes.

Local human needs

Despite all the strictures within the Habitats Directive with regard to the conservation of the environment and the species that they contain, the economic, cultural, social and recreational needs of the local people are also to be taken into account.

  • International experience demonstrates that local co-operation and voluntary systems alone are, in practice, inadequate to protect habitats and the biota that they sustain.

Any management scheme will be dependent on the quality of the monitoring programmes to provide adequate scientifically robust data to support any legal cases which may arise in the course of defending the kelp biotopes against "local needs" prejudicial to the conservation of these biotopes.

Parallel conservation management activities

UK biodiversity action plan for kelp species

No information is available, although action plans are unlikely for these very abundant species.

Other networks that focus on kelp

None known

References