Existing Management Initiatives

EU Habitats Directive

UK Biodiversity Action Plan

National / strategic / policy level

SAC site level

Recent initiatives arising from the EU Habitats Directive and the Convention on Biological Diversity have led to eelgrass habitats being specifically targeted for conservation and restoration (Wynne et al., 1995). The key provisions and requirements of these two initiatives, as they relate to marine SAC management, are summarized below

EU Habitats Directive:

The Habitats Directive has five major requirements :

  • European marine sites should be managed in order to maintain or restore the favourable conservation status of their natural habitats and species.
  • In European marine sites, steps should be taken to avoid deterioration of the habitats, or disturbance to the species for which the site has been designated.
  • Activities, whether inside or outside the site, that are likely to have significant effects upon the conservation status of the site’s features shall be subject to assessment. Generally, such plans and projects may proceed only if it is considered that they will not affect the integrity of the site.
  • At each site, the condition of the conservation features of the site and the effectiveness of any management measures undertaken will be monitored.
  • Any management of the site should take into account the economic, cultural, social and recreational needs of the local population (SNH et al., 1997).

Under the Regulations, the conservation agencies have a statutory responsibility for developing conservation objectives, defined as a statement of the nature conservation aspirations for a site. They will be expressed in terms of the favourable condition of the conservation features for which the SAC has been selected. The set of conservation objectives that are developed for each site should be specific, attainable, measurable and regularly reviewed. They should help to identify the management needs of the site, and to determine whether the existing management measures are appropriate or whether new measures should be introduced to maintain or restore the conservation features of the site (SNH et al., 1997).

The Regulations make provision for the development and implementation of management schemes for European marine sites, to achieve the set of conservation objectives for each site. The Regulations suggest that Relevant Authorities (such as Local Authorities and Harbour Authorities that have statutory powers over the area) should work together within a Management Group / Forum. They will have a responsibility to undertake their duties to ensure the maintenance of the conservation features of the site, that the conservation objectives of the site are achieved and that the management scheme is reasonable, workable and appropriate to the site (SNH et al., 1997).

UK Biodiversity Action Plan

A costed Habitat Action Plan for seagrass beds has been prepared by the UK Biodiversity Steering Group. A South West Regional Biodiversity Habitat Action Plan for seagrass beds has also been developed. These provide a summary of conservation issues and management approaches being considered. Copies of both documents are included in the Appendices. The UK Biodiversity Steering Group has also prepared Habitat Statements for ‘Inlets and enclosed bays’ and Estuaries which both refer to Zostera species as key elements of these habitat types Estuary Management Plans are being prepared by the statutory conservation agencies and a number of these also refer to Zostera.

County Biodiversity Action Plans (BAPs) are also being developed and some are likely to refer to Zostera species. For example, the Kent BAP refers to Z. marina as a key element of the marine communities even though this species has not occurred there for some time (I. Tittley, pers. comm.).

As biotopes of high conservation importance, Zostera beds are recognized within a number of recent national and international nature conservation designations and international conservation agreements. Under these complimentary designations, a combination of commitments and management responsibilities can be used by site managers to reinforce the protection given to Zostera beds. For example, some of the UK Marine SACs Project demonstration sites are also designated SPAs and in the Birds Directive, Zostera beds are an important conservation feature. Some SACs are also RAMSAR sites, which gives international recognition of the site’s importance as a habitat for birds and requires the UK government to protect the site.

Each of the UK countries have their own national conservation designations, both statutory and non-statutory (National Nature Reserves, SSSIs) which can assist in the conservation management of Zostera beds. National management initiatives, such as ‘Focus on Firths’ in Scotland and Estuary Initiatives in England, will also assist in the conservation management of these biotopes.

Some practical management actions, developed from the costed and regional seagrass Action Plans are listed below (UK Biodiversity Steering Group, 1995 and RSPB, 1996).

National / strategic / policy level

  • Compile and publish an inventory of the distribution, extent and quality (e.g. species diversity) of Zostera beds in the UK.
  • Identify Zostera beds in the UK that are of particular significance (e.g. in extent and species diversity) and ensure that they are covered by the protected area network.

Ensure that the full range of variation within Zostera biotopes is adequately represented

within the network of European Marine Sites.

Consider listing Zostera sp. under Annex I of the Habitats Directive, if the opportunity for amendment arises.

  • Identify suitable sites, such as within the marine SAC network, where attempts could most successfully be made to restore Zostera beds, and draw up a targeted national strategy.
  • Identify/confirm the important natural and anthropogenic activities that affect the Zostera biotope in the UK.
  • Consider the conservation requirements of Zostera in the development of national or regional coastal zone management initiatives, to ensure that Zostera biotopes are not managed in isolation from other habitats and communities.
  • Provide appropriately targeted information and advice to the Relevant Authorities, local people and the general public on the importance of Zostera biotopes, the need for conservation management, the range of damaging activities and the action they can take to prevent or minimize such damage.
  • Consider the establishment of a national programme of Zostera biotope monitoring, to provide information on issues such as the incidence of wasting disease.

SAC site level

  • Confirm the distribution, extent and quality (e.g. species diversity) of Zostera beds in the SAC.
  • Identify/confirm the important natural and anthropogenic activities that affect the Zostera biotope in the SAC.
  • Identify particular local factors that may affect Zostera biotopes in the SAC.
  • Record natural stochastic events and, if required, monitor impacts and recovery.
  • Monitor changes in the types and intensity of human activities occurring within and adjacent to the site, particularly relating to fishing and recreation.
  • Be aware of other activities and coastal developments remote from the SAC that may have impacts on the Zostera biotopes.
  • Ensure that under Regulation 48 of the Habitats Directive, all new plans and projects, particularly coastal developments are reviewed and assessed so that the impacts on Zostera biotopes of the SAC are prevented or minimized.
  • Utilize other existing legislation, relating to pollution, water quality and fishing to prevent or minimize damage to the Zostera biotopes of the SAC.
  • Record major anthropogenic incidents and if required monitor impacts and recovery.
  • Link SAC management with any other management initiatives that may already apply to or include the SAC.
  • Increase awareness amongst the Relevant Authorities and local people of the importance of Zostera biotopes, the need for conservation management, the range of damaging activities and the action they can take to prevent or minimize such damage.
  • Seek to halt any declines in the Zostera biotope in the SAC.
  • Maintain and /or restore the Zostera biotope in the SAC.

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