On the 12th December, Wales Environment Link, the collective voice of Welsh environmental charities, welcomed the announcement by the Minster for Natural Resources Carl Sargeant, that Skomer will become Wales’ first Marine Conservation Zone. The announcement follows the commencement of the final part of the Marine and Coastal Access Act into Welsh law. The designation will not alter current management at the site and will not affect existing activities.
Dr. Iwan Ball, Chair of Wales Environment Link’s Marine Working Group, said “This is a step in the right direction, bringing Wales in line with the rest of UK in providing effective protection and management of our seas. Today’s announcement also enables new sites to be set up, where needed, to fully protect Wales’ most important marine features. Marine Conservation Zones, as part of the wider network of marine protected sites, are among the best tools to protect marine wildlife and effectively restore our seas to their full potential.”
Skomer, the first and only Marine Nature Reserve (MNR) in Wales, was designated for its exceptional marine wildlife in 1990 and was just one of three MNRs in all of the UK. Often described as the ‘jewel in the crown’ in terms of marine conservation, it is Wales’ oldest protected area, covering the waters off the Pembrokeshire headland and around Skomer Island. To this day Skomer is one of the best sites in Wales to see a dazzling array of creatures that make Welsh seas their home.
Species such as common eelgrass, an underwater flowering plant, provide food and shelter for other local plants and animals.
Grey seals, harbour porpoise, the lesser known, but equally amazing pink sea fans and the vastly colourful sea slugs, can all be found in the rich waters around Skomer.
The island itself is home to instantly recognisable puffins, razorbills and to Wales largest population of manx shearwaters. With over 300,000 breeding pairs of manx shearwater on Skomer alone, the island is of international importance – almost half the world’s population of manx shearwater is born on its shores! Given this global significance, appropriate management of the islands and their surrounding waters is critical to the species’ future success. The islands also hosts cutting-edge research by leading universities into the ecology of the manx shearwater and other species, that helps to ensure their long term conservation.
The island is owned by Natural Resource Wales (NRW) but has been managed by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales since 1959. The long-established NRW Marine Nature Reserve Team plays a vital role in the management and monitoring of the surrounding seas. This combination ensures the site is managed effectively on both land and sea.
As one of the most accessible islands in Wales, it regularly attracts over 15,000 visitors a year. Whilst there is a duty to manage and ensure the important wildlife is not harmed by visitors, it also brings in significant income to the local economy. The income from visiting tourists allows re-investment into conservation and monitoring ensuring a positive future for one of the great natural spectacles of Wales.
WEL welcomes this announcement, and looks forward to working with Welsh Government on the future management of Welsh seas. Coupled with effective management and protection of important marine sites in Wales, WEL hopes that this proves a vital first step in delivering a healthy marine environment that underpins a sustainable future for Welsh seas.