|Andrew R.T. Davies AM|
|Dai Lloyd AM|
|Jenny Rathbone AM|
|Joyce Watson AM|
|Llyr Gruffydd AM|
|Mike Hedges AM||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Dr Alan Terry||Blue Marine Foundation|
|Blue Marine Foundation|
|Emily Williams||Cyswllt Amgylchedd Cymru|
|Wales Environment Link|
|Gill Bell||Cyswllt Amgylchedd Cymru|
|Wales Environment Link|
|Mary Lewis||Arweinydd Tîm Polisi a Chynllunio Morol ac Arfordirol, Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru|
|Marine and Coastal Policy and Planning Team Leader, Natural Resources Wales|
|Professor Lynda Warren||Athro Emeritws, Prifysgol Aberystwyth|
|Emeritus Professor, Aberystwyth University|
|Rhian Jardine||Pennaeth Gwasanaeth Morol, Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru|
|Head of Service for Marine, Natural Resources Wales|
|Elizabeth Wilkinson||Ail Glerc|
|Marc Wyn Jones||Clerc|
|1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau||1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest|
|2. Ymchwiliad i ardaloedd morol gwarchodedig yng Nghymru - gwaith dilynol: sesiwn dystiolaeth 3||2. Inquiry into Marine Protected Areas in Wales - follow-up work: Evidence session 3|
|3. Ymchwiliad i ardaloedd morol gwarchodedig yng Nghymru - gwaith dilynol: sesiwn dystiolaeth 4||3. Inquiry into Marine Protected Areas in Wales - follow-up work: Evidence session 4|
|4. Ymchwiliad i ardaloedd morol gwarchodedig yng Nghymru - gwaith dilynol: sesiwn dystiolaeth 5||4. Inquiry into Marine Protected Areas in Wales - follow-up work: Evidence session 5|
|5. Papurau i’w nodi||5. Paper(s) to note|
|6. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o'r cyfarfod heddiw ar gyfer eitem 7||6. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 (vi) to resolve to exclude the public from item 7 of today's meeting|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:30.
The meeting began at 09:30.
Bore da. Good morning. Welcome to the meeting. We're expecting three others to be joining us shortly. We've had no declarations of interest so far. Are there any? No. We've had no apologies.
That takes us nicely into item 2: inquiry into marine protected areas in Wales—follow-up work. And our first panel is Professor Lynda Warren, emeritus professor, Aberystwyth University, and Alan Terry, Blue Marine Foundation. Croeso. Welcome. If you're happy, we'll go straight to questions. And if I can start, Dr Terry, you state that
'The post MCAA Welsh system centralised decision-making, creating a more remote, less responsive management structure than had existed previously.'
Could you perhaps expand on that?
Yes. Previously to the Marine and Coastal Access Act—I'll just call it the marine Act—2009, you had two sea fisheries committees. After the marine Act, the Welsh Government fisheries division, then the marine and fisheries division, set up three inshore fishing groups and the Welsh marine fisheries advisory group. In theory, that was a step forward, but the IFGs, which were subsequently disbanded in October 2016, had no statutory powers, and, basically, after studying in much detail the minutes of those meetings, it became obvious that they were operating really as talking shops so that, in the end, people were becoming extremely frustrated. In addition, they were highly exclusive in that they were dominated by the commercial fisheries sector. There was really only one independent representative from a conservation group, and it really demonstrated the approach that Welsh Government was taking, which was separating fisheries from conservation and giving fisheries a much greater say in what was happening, if you like.
I agree entirely with that. Going back years even before that, it's always been the situation that fisheries seem to be on one side and marine conservation is on the other. The two at one time very seldom came together and seemed to be in conflict. Then we had a situation where they all came under the same remit and were going to be looked at together, but everything seemed to be either much as before, as Alan says, where you had the fisheries doing their thing and marine conservation trying to actually talk to fisheries and failing or, worse than that, you had the marine conservation being looked at entirely through a fisheries lens.
Good morning, both. Moving on from what you've just said, would you think that progress has been made on the marine protected area management in Wales since the committee's 'Turning the tide?' report?
Do you want me to start first, or—?
Okay. I think the fact that there's been a network set up is good, I think. If we break it down into leadership, I think the problem there is that the first recommendation in 'Turning the tide?' was that
'The Welsh Government must provide leadership…ensuring that all management authorities, including the Welsh Government, are actively engaged in MPA management and fulfilling their duties and responsibilities.'
But this is where I think the Welsh Government’s marine and fisheries has a huge problem, because the way that the marine Act was implemented in Wales meant that, whilst it had the same powers as the inshore fisheries and conservation authorities, which had been set up in England, the Welsh Government did not accept the duties. Now, if you have powers without duties, that means that you don’t have to exercise those powers and that’s the Achilles' heel, as far as I can see, in Welsh marine management since 2009.
The reason that they didn’t impose those duties was because—and I have a quote by Elin Jones, when she was the Minister and she thought it was inappropriate for Westminster to impose duties on the Welsh Government, but since 2011, the National Assembly has had the power to impose those duties on the Welsh Government and, for some reason, has not done so. So, one of the things that I think needs to be done very quickly, as a matter of urgency, is for the National Assembly to look at the powers, which are the duties, which are being imposed on IFCAs in England and look at the rate of progress that has taken place in England—for example, I think there are 91 marine conservation zones now in England; we have one in Wales, and that was only because it was previously a nature reserve—and basically implement similar duties on marine and fisheries.
Well, I certainly don't disagree with any of that. Taking a different stance on it, the main thing that's happened, as far as I can see, is the production of this framework for Wales and the action plan, and the best thing I can say about it is, 'Isn't it nice to see all these names at the bottom signed up to it?' It does imply that people have spoken to each other and they've agreed something, but what is it? You have a document this long and there is not a framework in there. There's one page that says it's a vision and then it appears to repeat things that have been taken, more or less, from the water framework directive. There's nothing terribly novel there. The aim would appear to be, or is stated to be, the objective of sustainable management, but there's no indication of where the purpose is for this: why are we doing it? Are we doing it because we feel that, underneath it all, these marine protected areas are going to protect our marine environment so that we can keep it in the long term, forever? Or are they sustaining the use of our marine environment, which would be relatively short term because uses always change?
I was slightly appalled initially to look at the action plans, because the vast majority of the actions listed in here are things that you might have thought we've made quite a lot of progress with a few years ago. Now, a lot of them do say 'continue with', but I think it's worrying that so much of this is about gathering evidence. Now, as the regulation of marine protected areas is largely evidence based, it is very worrying that we have such a poor baseline of evidence on which to judge things. And there doesn't seem to be any great incentive to go out and tackle that problem. There's a lot that you hear from Natural Resources Wales and in these documents about collating information, presenting it in a better way, which is fine, but there's nothing that tells you whether or not that evidence in itself is going to be useful, or how it will be used, and I would like to see, more than anything else, a rethink as to what evidence we actually want when we manage marine protected areas.
Can I—? So, having listened to what you've just said and the fact that any MPA is based on evidence and we're still collecting it, I find that concerning, with alarm bells ringing, and also the fact that you said that we haven't really used any of the powers we might have done. In your view, does that set any future marine protected zones way back into the future, rather than now? Because I think this is what we need to do.
If we carry on in the same way, then, yes, it does. But I don't think we should. I think we need a more pragmatic approach. I refer back to when there was talk about doing scallop dredging in Cardigan bay. An enormous piece of research was undertaken, which, at the end of the day—. I haven't seen all the data; I've seen the summary data, which was that thick, and because I'm a marine biologist who happened to work on soft sediments, I could understand it. I bet there are very few people, other than the people who did it, who would've been able to look at that and understand it. Do we really need that level of evidence all the time to do things? Does it really take two years' work to know that if you dredge for scallops it's going to have an impact on the seabed, but that, if you then stop dredging for scallops, the seabed will recover, but we don't know whether it will recover back to what it was before we started because we haven't got a baseline? So, why are we wasting our time trying to find one? My argument is, 'Let's look at the original thesis behind marine conservation zones', which was that you identify broad habitat types, and if you manage to protect a good range of broad habitat types, regardless of what was in them, if you knew the habitat type, they would look after themselves, providing you controlled the activity within them. You didn't need to know the details of every little species or try and pretend you understood whether it was in favourable conservation status. I think we delude ourselves.
Yes, sorry—I indicated because I thought, initially, you were asking for more evidence and a stronger evidence base, and I was going to ask a question about the resources. So, that's been clarified now, but—
We still need resources.
—people are telling us that we don't have the evidence base that we need.
Yes. I agree, we don't.
So, isn't there a contradiction there? Sorry, I'm just struggling with that.
If you're going to do it this way and if you're going to carry on saying, 'We have to know whether something is in favourable conservation status', then you're going to have to get loads and loads and loads more evidence, but my argument is (1), we're only selecting very few species to see whether they're in favourable conservation status—
—and how do we know that they're the ones that matter? And (2), how do you know whether it's favourable when you haven't got a long-term monitoring scheme over many, many decades? I think it's the wrong approach. We'll never succeed.
Okay. I find that interesting, because it doesn't chime with some of the other things that we've been hearing, and it's probably refreshing that we're hearing that, actually, yes.
If I can just make the point that I think there's an awful lot of evidence that suggests that, 50 years after intensive commercial fishing, there's only about 10 per cent of whatever species were there before. So, that's widely known. So, we have to start from the premise that, because there are coasts of Wales that have been fished intensively for 100 years or so, what we've got is a highly degraded environment, and trying to maintain it is simply going to maintain that level of degradation. You have to move on from there and basically say, 'We've got to have some sort of aspiration that we're going to move towards where it was 100 years ago'. We may never get there, but if we simply manage degradation, putting money down there, it's going to be a waste of time.
Thank you. Can I ask you about the MPA management steering group? You've talked a little bit about it as you've answered questions up until now, but what are your views on it? Is it making progress? Is it scoped right? And, is it something that can be turned into something successful?
Well, I think all of the evidence that I've read—and this is something that I think Blue would go with in a big way, from the work they've done, for example, in Lyme bay—is that site officers make a lot of sense. They know their patch, they see how things are changing over time and they liaise with stakeholders, and so on, and monitor long-term changes. So, it does make a lot of sense to move towards an area base. But I don't think the MPA management steering group has implemented the investment in these officers to anything like the same extent. There's only one full-time and four part-time local MPA managers in Wales, and there are big variations in the amount of time that those MPA officers have got—from one full-time to sometimes only a half a day per week. So, I think there need to be a lot more funds.
The MPA officers, for example, need to begin to, I think, educate the wider Welsh public on the current state of the Welsh marine environment. If you go down to the Welsh marine environment on a day like today, it looks absolutely pristine, it looks fantastic—why do we need to do anything? And yet we know there are problems. I was down in Beer last week, and there has been a lot of effort to educate the local community and the wider public on the benefits of a recovering marine environment. And this is an area where Blue has been very successful, I think, in simultaneously enabling, through creating, if you like, a stakeholder co-management of an area that had been very, very highly degraded, particularly its soft corals and sea fans, overfishing, and so on. And since 2012, there's simultaneously been a major recovery of its marine environment. Fishermen have bought into the scheme because their incomes are going up, partly because Blue and other organisations have provided facilities so that they can keep fish fresher for longer, so they get better prices.
So, the best people to advocate for what I would consider to be proper sustainable management of a marine environment are the fishermen themselves, and I really would advocate that the Welsh Government either fund key Welsh fishermen to go down to Lyme bay to speak to their fishermen and/or bring their fishermen up to meet with Welsh fishermen to explain how that scheme is simultaneously improving the environment and the economy of the area. And there's massive buy-in now by these fishermen in the area, and it's very encouraging. If we can identify—. Remember, in Wales, there isn't one marine fishery; there are lots and lots of small ones, because the vast majority of Welsh fishing boats are small—they're day boats—and they fish very, very locally. So, identify local areas where you've got identifiable groups of fishermen and other stakeholders who are sharing that resource and begin that process that they've done in Lyme bay. To me, that would be a fantastic way forward.
Can I just comment on the marine steering group? It seems to me, from looking at the management framework— . This is produced by the steering group. I would like to see where the Government leadership of that group is. I would have expected to see a framework document that had been put forward on the advice that had come from the steering group. I worry a little bit that the composition of it is a limited range of management bodies and there appears to be no real input there from the third sector, from the many conservation bodies there are that are engaged. And that worries me a lot. I also think that this is a tier that's providing useful information, but it shouldn't be the bee's knees for the whole thing. If you really want—and this is where I would agree entirely with Alan—to get management that's dynamic and working and understood and you've got the public behind you, you need to do it locally. You need local engagement with a local officer who is dedicated to that area, who knows what his or her area needs and can engage the local community. I don't see anything in this framework or in the actions coming from it that is going to facilitate that, and I see no leadership in it either.
Thank you very much for those comments, and, clearly, you're both saying we need to work with local stakeholders, and that absolutely makes sense, but how are they and the Government going to resist the factory fishing that's going on further afield, which may make any local initiatives feel like, well, I won't say it, but, really, just as something tiny that isn't going to have any real impact on the degradation of the environment?
I think it will have an impact. I think saying that there's a bigger problem out there that you can't solve doesn't necessarily mean you can't have a go locally. And the problems with big fisheries' interests, mainly from overseas, to me is a political issue, and it comes back to saying here that there isn't the political leadership, and that's what I'd be looking for.
Okay. So, just looking at the framework for 2018-23, what do you think needs to change? You've clearly said that the Lyme bay scheme is something that we could learn from, and that we need to engage with local stakeholders. Clearly, the Government has to take the leadership, but what do you think needs to be in this framework?
The leadership that I would like to see is something that says, if I were writing it, 'We need to have a system of marine protected areas that will, in the long term, for future generations, provide opportunities to be able to fish. And if that means sacrificing fishing opportunities or oil exploration opportunities, or whatever, in the time being, so do it.' These are so important that we need to look at how we protect our marine environment as the No. 1. And that's what's not in here. It reads about how to sustain present practices.
Okay. So, you're basically looking at it in the wider climate emergency, biodiversity emergency.
Yes. And I would do it, not, as I say, by actually setting aside—. I go back to the old marine conservation zones plan that was originally put forward here, which was that you have a series of no-take zones, because it's disingenuous to say that we are covering all our waters and we've got plenty of coverage. Most of the areas listed in here are sites of special scientific interest, so they don't go below low water mark. They're hardly marine. And the marine ones, all apart from one, are European marine sites, and the European sites are only there to protect a very few species of particular types of habitat. It's not broad protection. We don't have it. MCZs would have done that, particularly if we'd had a few no-take ones.
I'd like to see—. Well, maybe post Brexit there will be a chance to do that.
Okay. So, we've obviously invested in more boats to enforce, because that's absolutely crucial. Are there other things that we need to be doing? We can't buy many more boats because we've got limited resources, but are we using modern technology cleverly enough to ensure that, wherever possible, we are detecting illegal activity?
I think there are probably more opportunities, but I don't know—and I think Alan will probably agree with me—what Natural Resources Wales are doing about any of these things and how much effort they're able to put in. And I've tried to find out. I won't go into details, other than to say that I couldn't find out. I have found—. I have gone through all their board papers, and the last time anyone at board level even spoke about marine was in a briefing paper about Brexit before Brexit was even really a possibility. It's not being discussed at that level. Whether it's being discussed at staff level, it would be good to find out, and whether the staff are given the opportunities to put forward ideas. I understand most of the marine conservation staff now come under the marine monitoring group. That could be really good news if it means that more resources are going to be put in for more innovative ideas like this, but I don't know the answer, I'm afraid.
I think one of the problems is that the Welsh marine fisheries are very good at the network level and looking at processes and projects, et cetera, et cetera, but they're not so good when it comes to actually doing things, like, for example, identifying specific activities that are causing harm, and then acting to prevent them. And just to give you an example: if you look at, say, the Devon and Severn IFCA, the other side of the Bristol channel there, they've got 12 marine conservation zones, they've introduced 50 management measures designed to restrict recreational and commercial fishing activity, to protect designated features and promote their recovery. This is a much smaller organisation than the Welsh marine and fisheries, and yet our nearest neighbour, if you like, is showing us how to do it, and we are not learning from it.
I'll just give you an example, I think, of one of the problems with the marine and fisheries. I undertook a study of the post-Welsh marine management, along with two other people, and a report came out in 2017, and a paper came out earlier this year. The head of Devon and Severn IFCA came all the way up from Exeter to Bristol, and his head of conservation, to see me. Nobody in Welsh marine and fisheries would speak to me for that report; nobody in Natural Resources Wales would speak to me. I was shocked at the end of my talk, or the interview, with the head of Devon and Severn IFCA, because he said that, as soon as he'd been appointed, because IFCAs have to liaise with their neighbouring IFCAs, or the Welsh or Scottish, wherever they are, he'd sent e-mails to his opposite number in the Welsh marine and fisheries, and had received no reply, not even an acknowledgement that those e-mails had arrived. And that had taken—I spoke to him in 2016, and he'd started that process in 2011. So, it gives you some indication, I think, of the isolation that marine and fisheries are acting in. They're not learning from good practice that is actually going on. The IFCAs in England share good practice with one another. They're very, very happy to share that good practice with marine and fisheries; marine and fisheries were not responding. It was a real eye-opener to me.
Okay. Well, these are important points we need to put to NRW and the Government.
I'm just interested to understand whether you think that's because they just don't have the capacity to do some of this. Because, clearly, we're in a difficult economic climate, but also, particularly Natural Resources Wales, they've seen a huge contraction of the resources available to them, as well as a huge increase in duties from the other side.
I would agree with that. I was on the NRW board at the beginning, and I know what's happened. But the point I made at the time—and I was their marine person, and their marine champion, as it were—was that more than 50 per cent of the area that NRW has to look after is marine. Ninety per cent of the species breakdown—90 plus per cent—is marine. All right, they have limited resources, and they have an enormous workload, but I would question whether they have the balance right. Now, that's not me saying that I think they should be putting more into doing marine research—back to my same question—because I think you manage the marine environment in a different way, as you were saying. But I don't think they think marine—that's the heart of it.
Coming back on your point, I think there are a number of things. If you look at the breakdown of staff in marine and fisheries, I think there are 100 members who are in fisheries, and there are four full-time who are in marine conservation, and one of those is seconded from somewhere else. But I also think that it's not really that transparent as to what percentage of the budget is being spent on fisheries, and what is being spent on conservation. But it's this separation of fisheries from conservation that is, again, another Achilles' heel. They've got to be looked at as essential elements, one with the other. So, it will be very interesting, for example, to see if those enforcement vessels are going to be used specifically for fisheries, or if they're going to be used to help to intervene in marine protected areas. Those crews who are currently being trained up should be trained up on both—they shouldn't see themselves just as fisheries protection officers; they should be looking at the wider marine environment. And that's what those resources should be being trained to do at the moment, I think.
Thank you, Mike. If I could just ask, on the evidence you just gave us, Alan, about your dealings with colleagues on the other side of the water—you said that there's a high level of engagement that you've had there. From Llyr's point of view, saying about maybe this being a question about lack of resources in NRW—public bodies across the UK have had issues around resources. It does seem very much more of a structural issue, i.e. prioritisation, within the organisation. Because if they can do it in the south-west, why can't it be done here? Am I simplifying it too much?
I think you missed one of the points I made at the beginning, Andrew, that, basically, when the marine Act was implemented, in England there was a series of powers that were given to the IFCAs, but there were also very clear duties, so duties for—
Yes. In Wales, we accepted the powers but we did not accept the duties. But, since 2011, the National Assembly has got the legislative competence to actually impose those duties. Therefore, that's the way I think you can move forward.
Okay. Can I ask more generally on my question about marine protection areas, MPAs, and, in particular, the state that they're in in the Welsh seas—what's your understanding of the current state of them? In particular, I believe NRW have just recently done an assessment of them as well. Do you have any understanding of what that assessment says? In particular, what's the likely outcome from it?
I have looked at the assessment. The interesting thing is looking at the evidence base that they've used. I'm very pleased to see that part of their evidence has been expert advice. I'm very pleased to see a return to actually trusting our experts. But when you look at their confidence levels, you get a bit of a view as to why, sometimes, it's difficult to see just how reliable the data can be. If you give me a second or two, I looked at one for Cardigan bay, which happens to be the marine special area of conservation where I live. Not surprisingly, they have high confidence—no, there are favourable conditions for the bottlenose dolphin, grey seal and river lamprey, but very different confidence. For the grey seal in particular, the confidence level is low. Why is it low? Because they actually haven't gone and surveyed it, and they're just basing it on what they've found from other areas in Wales—not there. If you look at sandbanks, that's down as being 'unfavourable condition' but low confidence of that. It's 'unfavourable condition' because they didn't look at any that were submerged—they only looked at the ones that were intertidal. Therefore, it's 'unfavourable' because they couldn't look at the other ones, but it's 'low confidence' because they think the ones at sea are probably fine, but they just don't know.
So, that's what's wrong with them—that's just to pick out a few. I think you can hide an awful lot behind data like this. The truth of the matter is that for an awful lot of these things we are, at best, guessing. They're intelligent guesses, but they are guesses.
Well, maybe it's the only way to proceed, but the question is: should we worry too much about these, if they're based on, basically, an expert guess? What worries me more is the report that was looking overall at the Welsh seas—that the Joint Nature Conservation Committee looked at for Wales—where it says that we have good coverage and that there are no real gaps in coverage in Wales. There are a few minor gaps. You look at those few minor gaps, and it's three soft-sediment areas, habitats that we're deficient in in Wales. Soft sediments are ignored always. If you look at the habitats directive, there's no protection, really, for soft sediments. I would argue, as a marine biologist who looked at soft sediments, that, actually, you ignore those at your peril, because that's where an awful lot of your biodiversity is. If it's fisheries you're interested in, some of your soft-bottom fish are there feeding off it, you've got your shellfish—a lot of those are there—and also you're providing the basis for food for things higher up, swimming around. So, that, I think, is also slightly disingenuous.
This thing about the evidence base and how much we need is really getting to me a little bit, because I'm just wondering—you mentioned earlier the Ceredigion dredging example and the work that was done—would the Government not have been open to legal challenge had they not done that sort of robust exercise? Because there are all sorts of practical things that come into this.
Yes, because we're talking about habitats directive, and habitats directive says you can't actually give approval for something unless you can demonstrate no harm, basically. And that is part of the reason why we're pushing and pushing and pushing more and more science. Now, you think about it—any schoolboy scientist, the first thing they're ever told is that you can't prove no harm. You can prove harm very easily, but you can never prove that there won't be harm. So, that's why I say it's spiralling on and on.
And this is EU derived, so that's what I'm getting at now, because my question is about leaving the EU and what advantages or otherwise that would have.
One of the big advantages for me in leaving the EU is that we—well, there are two advantages. One, we could rebadge the sites to protect more, not just those species that are being listed. For me, it would be: protect the broad habitat. Two, we could have a more realistic approach to how we judge whether they're doing all right, and how we assess things that are going to happen in them. I think that partly has to be on a political basis, and that will not be nice for people, that you're going to stop doing things, but sometimes you are not going to be able to get the evidence, and it has to be accepted that doing an appropriate assessment, using the terms in the directive or something—if you're going to apply the precautionary principle to it, really you should stop doing everything, because everything is going to have an impact. It's having that political judgment at the end of the day that says, 'We will allow this much. Okay, it might be damaging, but we think, on a broad scale of pretty general evidence, it can cope with it.' Or maybe we can cope with it because we've set aside that, that, that and that area where we're going to have no take. But at the moment, it's all drilling down, every time.
So, what if that approach had been adopted in Lyme bay? Or is that not a fair comparison? Because you've got to take your stakeholders with you, really, to make a sustainable, long-term arrangement. Otherwise you're shooting yourself in the foot somewhere else. That's a terrible analogy, but you know what I mean—I hope.
I think the Lyme bay example demonstrates that there comes a point—you have to identify that there is a problem, okay? I think, in Lyme bay, the conservationists and the fishermen had been at one another's throats for a long time. They didn't trust one another, so you have to establish a sort of—it takes a lot of time and effort to establish that trust, to begin to establish a shared vision, so I think this is something that can be built upon, but within a relatively small area in Wales. It isn't something that can be pushed out for the whole of Wales immediately.
No, naturally. 'Brexit and our land'—'Brexit and our Seas', sorry; I've flicked the switch in my head now. Initial views? Does that start us on the journey that you want to see us going on?
Well, I think there are a number of things with Brexit. I've got a couple of points here. I looked at the funding. For example, the European maritime and fisheries fund—there was about £2.25 million between 2007 and 2013. The European contribution was 75 per cent. The same fund from 2014 to the present was nearly £700,000, and the European contribution 79 per cent. The LIFE programme from 2012 to 2015 was £1 million, and the EU contributed 50 per cent, and the LIFE programme from 2015 to the present is £4 million, and the EU contributed 75 per cent. The EU has become more important, in other words. But there are no public reassurances by the Welsh Government that those funds are going to be made up once we leave, and I think that is a massive problem, given the massive reliance we have on these funds. So, that is one issue, and the Brexit seas and coast group also failed to—it was much too focused on fisheries and wasn't focused on marine conservation.
The things I see as favourable coming out of it are predicated on there being a strong political acceptance and will that we want to have marine conservation. Because what we will no longer have after Brexit is that fear of infraction. Now, I don't like a stick approach on any occasion, but my colleagues in marine conservation I think would all say that they think that the habitats directive has been wonderful and it's been wonderful because (1) it has introduced the precautionary approach and (2) it has meant that the Government have had to act, on occasions, because of fear of infractions. As I say, I think that's not a good tool to use. With the political will that wants to do the right thing, you could still achieve the same things. I won't go into details now, but the harbour porpoise issue I think demonstrates that well, where the UK approach was not to want to create those special areas of conservation, but had to for fear of infraction.
I fully support and always raise marine protection issues and I've challenged many decisions, but what I can't support—and I want to ask you—is leaving the EU, because it has put in the protections that we have and there would be none. So, if life is going to be so wonderful after leaving the EU, I'm not convinced, because it wasn't so wonderful before in terms of protecting anything. You talk about political will to do it, well, we've already seen that we've had to be dragged to the table by the EU to get what we've got, which, I admit and agree with you, is not enough. So, my question, therefore, is obvious. If they can do protected zones elsewhere while we're currently in the EU, it isn't necessarily being a member of the EU that's stopping us, but the political will to try and do something about it. You've given us examples about Lyme bay and you gave some examples in the Bristol channel; they're operating under these rules. What I'm afraid of that's going to come out of this room today is, 'Life is going to be wonderful afterwards', and I don't see it, quite frankly.
I would agree with what you're saying. The reason we do not have marine conservation zones in Wales is political, and one of the arguments that have been put forward is that, unlike England, we have enormous marine SACs, therefore we don't need MCZs. That's a complete non sequitur and it's not even the reason why we don't have marine conservation zones. We don't have marine conservation zones because the previous attempt to do it failed, because it was botched, essentially, and I was part of that so I can take some of the blame. But it was botched. The idea was a good one, it was a sound one.
I don't entirely agree with you that we wouldn't have had—. We would certainly still have had marine conservation zones without a habitats directive, because the move for those was because it was felt that marine SACs, under the habitats directive, were not actually providing adequate protection for the range of habitats and species that we have in our seas. So, that's why we needed it. And if you look at the details of the habitats directive, it protects a very small amount of our marine environment. They're labelled as protected, but what's in them that's protected is really quite small. I'd like to see everything in there protected. But you're quite right; it needs the political will to want to do it.
I think my question has been answered by some excellent answers this morning, and I'd actually congratulate you on your papers as well, which were presented beforehand—excellent. So, I think the way forward is clear: we just need to change the Government. [Laughter.]
Well, I think you've certainly given us some things to take forward with other witnesses we have. I've only got one final question. If I'm wrong, please tell me, but my understanding is that you want to protect different species, but if you don't protect their source of food, then you're not going to protect them, so you really need to protect the whole ecosystem. If you don't protect the whole ecosystem—. We're doing everything we can to protect the porpoises, but they've got nothing to eat.
Exactly. It's an ecosystem approach. That's what it's supposed to be and that's what the network's supposed to be.
Well, thank you very much. Can I thank you both for coming along? You've given us a lot of food for thought and a lot of questions to ask our next set of witnesses. Thank you.
Do you want to have a break for five minutes? Yes? People rarely say no to that.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:15 a 10:20.
The meeting adjourned between 10:15 and 10:20.
Can I first of all welcome Dr Mary Lewis, marine and coastal policy and planning team leader at Natural Resources Wales, and Rhian Jardine, head of service for marine at Natural Resources Wales? Thank you very much for coming along and talking to us today.
If I can start with the first question, what are your views on the progress made by MPA management in Wales since the committee's 'Turning the tide?' report? It's really relating to things like the strategic direction, the benefit of the steering group and what that's achieving and the implications of the framework and action plan of the Welsh Government.
Thank you. The task of securing effective marine protected areas management is complex, both the complexity of the organisations involved and the complexity of the marine environment. Assessing effectiveness of MPA management is also a long-term process. Obviously, there are delays in terms of the response times and also it can take us a long time to detect changes in the marine environment. But we can identify where informed action is taking place and, on that basis, we know that that will impact on the management of the marine protected areas and we, therefore, strongly are of the view that there has been progress since the last inquiry.
In terms of strategic direction, we've found the establishment of the marine steering group certainly a very positive step and having that focus around the network framework and action plan has actually been a real boon in terms of focusing our effort and brigading a focus in terms of priorities. I am of the view that most of the membership—well, all of the membership—are also clearly of that view that it is very positive and there has been progress.
In terms of the strategic steer, the framework, again, provides that focus to allow Welsh Government to provide leadership. And also, the framework itself—one of the objectives is around leadership and the fact that we need a shared vision, ambition and capacity to deliver. And that isn't just on Welsh Government, it's on all of the members of the steering group and we've all signed up to that.
The only other thing I would add to that is that one of the other things that the process has enabled us to do is to really focus our efforts collectively as a set of management authorities to, for the first time, come together and work collaboratively very effectively. It's focused our efforts; it's given us a lot of momentum, which, again, has been really valuable in the last few years, but it's also focused funding and that's really critical, because we've talked a number of times with yourselves before about the difficultly around resourcing some of this work, and to be able to focus funding around that action plan and other actions that support it has been a really valuable exercise as well.
We had previous evidence from the last panel that was very critical of the framework. You mentioned that the framework tells us that we need a vision. Surely, we should have vision before we have a framework—so what is the vision?
I think we are clear that there is a vision. So, there's a purpose for MPA management, which is obviously to secure a favourable condition, but the vision is in securing a favourable condition of sites and the network. We're actually making a direct contribution to the health, the resilience and the functioning of the wider marine environment. That in turn is then helping us to deliver sustainable management of natural resources and all the well-being benefits of a healthy marine environment. So, there's a much wider vision beyond simply securing effective management of individual sites and features.
Before I ask the question I'm going to ask, it was alleged that all we're doing, actually, is managing degradation.
I think we would agree with that sort of assessment. It is certainly the case that the condition is variable, and I'm sure maybe we're going to come on to talk about that as well. The condition is variable of features across the network, but over a number of years, I think a lot of work has consistently been done in relation to the planning, regulation and assessment processes to maintain condition. So, almost half of our features are in favourable condition, and a lot of that is the background work that is less visible to ensure activities that go ahead are actually not going to have a detrimental effect. So, condition has been maintained in some areas. We definitely have significant issues with unfavourable condition in other areas, but through the action plan, there's a whole series of different types of activity that is seeking to address that.
One of the really key issues for us is there so many things we could do to intervene in terms of MPA management and the condition of different sites and features, but we can't do everything, so we do have to focus on the key pressures and the key priorities. Sometimes, that means we've still got to spend some time working on the evidence for which features are most sensitive to which activities and where are they happening. So, some of the areas of work in the action plan—for example, there's a project around non-licensable activities—have actually been very successfully, over the last year, gathering that evidence to overlay the sensitivity of features with actual activity. And we're getting to the point now where we can identify for sure in relation to some of those activities where we need to intervene with management. But if we didn't take that step back and improve our evidence of where we should focus our efforts, we're going to spread ourselves very thinly and potentially have very little impact on those unfavourable features.
Of course, that leads me to the next question, following on from the previous witnesses: how much evidence do you need? Are we using this over-reliance on evidence after evidence after evidence just for inaction? Is it a case, really, that because we can't see what's happening in the sea, we ignore it?
I think that's definitely not the case. The amount of activity in NRW in relation to producing guidance so that we can more effectively regulate the activities and make the right decisions about activities that go ahead et cetera—. There's a huge amount of work that goes on in relation to sectoral planning so that when we bring out new development—whether it's windfarms or renewable energy or whatever it might be—it's happening in the right place. So, I actually think that the evidence that we do have, we need to continue collecting it, but it's being used effectively to steer the right kind of activity.
Okay. So, you've talked about the management steering group, and I want to know whether you need to extend who's included on that management steering group and if you think, particularly, that the scope is wide enough and, therefore, if it is actually effective.
The steering group currently has representatives of all the key management authorities of the MPAs in Wales. Therefore, they all have a role to play and have a responsibility. It's not one authority's responsibility, it's a joint responsibility, and we've tried to involve representatives, or the Welsh Government has involved representatives, of all those organisations with a statutory role in relation to management of the marine protected areas. Those include the SACs, the SPAs, the SSSIs, the MCZs and Ramsar. It's important to note that because there's a tendency just to focus on the larger SACs. So, I think the remit at the moment is quite good because it allows us a space to have that safe conversation and discussion around the responsibilities and remit of those authorities.
Okay. There is a suggestion, maybe, that it would be better if the evidence that we have in terms of moving forward to processing that—that we should be going to and area-based approach rather than the one that is currently, you know, 'Let's catch it all,' and perhaps not do enough. So, what is your view? Because, again, we've just heard evidence where there was a distinct area-based approach in Lyme bay, for example, that clearly has had good results.
It is right that the area approach was considered by the MPA steering group in the earlier discussions, and, in reviewing the final outcomes, we were of the view that it wasn't affordable but that we'd keep it on the table just in case funds allowed. But then, in a review of the final outcomes, we realised that we needed to look across all of the network, rather than just focus on the areas, and that was the only sustainable way to take the network forward. It's worth pointing out that, at the time the decision was taken back then—. Since then, the network has actually increased. We've had the additional harbour porpoise SAC extensions, and the area has actually increased by about 30 per cent.
In relation to NRW and the area approach, we have currently gone through an organisation design process, and we have reorganised such that we'll now have a marine operation service, supported by a marine advice and evidence team. We have, in that design process, organised that we've got area officers for each of the four areas in Wales who will support marine protected areas in those geographical locations on a day-to-day basis.
In the service itself, we'll have around 30, and in the area and advice team, again, similar—16 up to 18.
I think, probably, it's fair to say, isn't it, across NRW, through the redesign, we'll have around 60 dedicated marine posts. That isn't the case at the moment because we've got a certain number of dedicated marine posts and lots of bits of marine activity in different parts of the organisation. So, what we're doing is consolidating our efforts into this marine operation service and two strategic teams: the policy team, which I lead, and also a technical team, as well. So, we've got a strong focus on the strategic work we need to do and a much stronger focus than we've ever had before on the operational work we need to do, including these four area officers with two support officers. We feel, as an organisation, we're moving to a much stronger position to deal with both the network and the more area and local issues together, really.
And in terms of those officers, where is their focus? Is it on preservation?
It's on management in the round, so it's advice on management of sites in their area, and some of that would be preventative work, making sure that impacts don't occur in the first place through development, for example, but some of it, certainly, would be proactive work as well. There's an example in the action plan for next year—in the MPA network management action plan, there's a particular action in there that is trialling an assessment of the impact of grazing on salt marshes in Carmarthen bay estuaries, and that's been taken forward by one of the area officers. It's been trialled as a pilot so that we can understand the impact pathways of grazing on the water quality of the estuary features better and what management interventions would improve things. We can then roll out that approach to the five other SACs that have similar issues.
It won't do you any good if we keep getting slurry in the river. I want to—. It's a bit pointless, really, isn't it? So, what I'd like to ask here is, and to quote, that it has been suggested by Pembrokeshire marine SAC and the relevant authority group that,
'the Welsh Government and/or NRW should provide the lion’s share of the funding'
to deliver an area-based approach to MPA management.
I suppose the point again is that MPA management is a shared responsibility, and Welsh Government and NRW already do provide quite a significant amount of money for marine protected areas actions. And we've had the EMFF funding now, Welsh Government have allocated a ring-fenced pot for the action plan, and NRW have also funded a number of projects in relation to marine protected areas, as well as the time of our officers, who also support the SAC relevant authorities groups. So, in a way, you could argue that we already do provide the lion's share of the funding.
Yes, just back to the resource question, you said that you're consolidating the team into a team of 60. So, how much more is that, then? It could have been the equivalent of 60 dispersed across NRW previously.
That is a really important point. Because we're going through a process of organisation redesign—
It's redesigning what we have. We've not changed our resource envelope.
But what we've done is we've consolidated it, and it is quite a significant improvement.
But I would say, because I wouldn't expect you to comment, that you're probably woefully under-resourced in that respect as it is and things aren't necessarily going to get better, other than maybe being more efficient in what you have.
Well, yes, one example would be that we've created a single marine monitoring team in the operations service that will deal with our water quality and biodiversity monitoring. Hitherto, that's been carried out by lots of different bits of the organisation. Bringing it into one place, albeit with the same resource, is actually a far more efficient and effective way of delivering it.
And that doesn't need to be constrained to within NRW. So, I'm just wondering, picking up on a point made in an earlier evidence session, what kind of relationship you have with the Welsh Government's fisheries enforcement vessel people, for example. Do they not have a part to play in wider conservation work?
They certainly have a role to play in—
But do you have any formal relationship with them? Do you make sure that their staff are trained in some conservation areas?
The training, et cetera, will be done by Welsh Government themselves.
We have had a meeting with Welsh Government to talk about how we can take that forward with our enforcement staff—terrestrial and coastal staff.
Because the point made earlier was that they could potentially play a wider role than just fisheries enforcement, because clearly they're there at the coalface.
Yes, there is a wider potential.
Moving on to stakeholder engagement, we've heard that you're very good at engaging with the fishing industry and its representatives, but less good at engaging with the third sector and those who are involved in conservation. Do you think that's fair and do you think you do engage with those?
I think we do. It's almost 'Where do we start?', really. We are members of the Wales Marine Advisory Action Group, but I know that's not an NRW-led stakeholder liaison forum. It's led by Welsh Government, but we are members of that, and all the key stakeholders are represented there. So, we all come together twice a year under WMAAG.
As NRW, we do have a liaison group where we meet with stakeholders that have an interest in fisheries, but the non-governmental organisation sector is represented on that as well, and we do have informal liaison with all the different sectors, either around projects or across themes. But I think one of the important things—and I'm sure you'll have picked it up in our evidence as well—is that we have focused on the authorities with statutory responsibility in relation to MPAs in the MPA management steering group, and that actually has been a really important space, as Rhian talked about, to establish much more collaborative working with those with statutory responsibilities. But we have, now that we've really started—. We do really feel we're starting to get somewhere much more positively with that group. We recognise that we need to take that work out very proactively to a wider group, so that's why we've proposed a sub-group under WMAAG that will be jointly run by NRW and Welsh Government to take all of our ecosystem and biodiversity-related work streams to discuss with a wider set of stakeholders, which will include industry, the NGOs, academia, et cetera.
So, MPA management will definitely come to that group for some collaborative discussion about what more we might choose to do collectively. That does need to be something that's collaborative—everyone working together, not just scrutiny of the statutory authorities. We will also, as NRW, take the consultation in relation to our area statement to that group, for example, because the marine area statement that we're producing under the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 is—. Obviously a key pillar of improving sustainable management is the effective management of our marine protected areas. So, we will take the area statement to that group, delivery of the marine strategy framework directive, and a whole host of other work areas, so that we're working collectively across all the different work streams that could benefit marine environments.
Thank you. I read somewhere—and it might have been in your evidence, or it might have been somebody else's; they've all merged into one, I'm afraid, in my mind—that the group that involves NGOs and the fishing industry is overwhelmingly represented by the fishing industry. Can you give me numbers from NGOs and people from the fishing industry in terms of the membership?
The fishing industry has possibly two or three. We can send to you, if you like, the terms of reference. That group was set up with a very particular reason—to sort out some relationship issues and various areas of work that we need to explore, but, immediately, we realised we shouldn't do that in isolation, and that's why we widened out the membership. But we also do have—. In February, we met with all the NGOs and we're re-establishing much more routine liaison with different sectors as well. We meet with Marine Energy Wales—we go to their meetings. So, we do meet with all the different sectors and interests, just in different forums.
Okay, thank you. If you could send us that, it would be helpful, if only to me. Jenny Rathbone.
Thank you. In your paper, you talk about the duty to deliver an ecologically coherent network, but we've already had a bit of discussion about how you're actually just managing degradation. In light of the UN expert's report on the crisis in biodiversity, there's a real sense that there's lots of collaboration going on with the industry, but we're just rearranging the deck chairs, at some levels, and I just wondered what your views are on how we really up our game in terms of protecting our marine environment for future generations.
I would say that we have got such an extensive network of marine protected areas already, covering 69 per cent of our territorial waters and 50 per cent out to the midline, that we could put more focus on more sites and getting the ecological coherence even further down that line. Or we could focus all our efforts into managing effectively what we have. And I think that's very much our view in NRW—that that's really where we need to focus our efforts—because we know that we have much more work to do, we know that we've got features that aren't in good condition, so I think we need to focus on management.
We've already identified six key areas that we know are key pressures, and I think we feel very strongly that we need to focus on those six key pressures that, again, we've listed in our evidence, but we can go into them again if that helps—focus on those key pressures and put effort into that, where we can make the most difference to the features that are in unfavourable condition. But I think we also feel very strongly that what will make a difference is not looking at MPA management in isolation but actually considering it as part of all the wider work we're doing in Wales—so, area statements, for example, the drive for sustainable management and natural resources under the environment Act, implementation of the marine strategy framework directive, the policies in the Welsh national marine plan. We should be looking for beneficial impact and positive improvements in the marine environment in all those different areas of work. I think we're beginning to see that join-up happening. But you're right—it's just the time it's all taking for us to see the impact on the ground. And that's where the two different types of evidence are really important. We've produced our site condition reports now, so we need to carry on doing that. We need to understand condition, but the response times, as mentioned, can be very slow, and it can be quite hard to make the connection between the response or the change, be it positive or negative, and different activities and the different pressures that have caused that. So, it's equally important that we carry on, as we've already mentioned, with the evidence in terms of what impacts we need to manage and where to make a difference.
Okay. So, one of the strengths of your organisation is that you're in the same team as people who are responsible for managing the land. Joyce Watson has already mentioned the problem of the slurry going into the rivers that's then poisoning the seas. What can you do differently to stop that source of problem that is much more expensive and difficult to clear up once it's dispersed?
And that is one of the most recently added priority areas in the framework around land management and agriculture and pollution. We do need to work with our terrestrial colleagues in order to see how we can—
Okay. So, practically speaking, what are you now doing to stop that? Because it feels like a reasonably straightforward action is required to stop those who use the land inappropriately, to stop doing it, because the cost is enormous.
We're funding a project around the Milford Haven waterway around nutrients getting into the waterway, aren't we, through the SAC RAG in Pembrokeshire marine. And we're also deploying staff—walking, farms and advising—through the Wales Land Management Forum to try and deal with source pollution and also incident response—
'Try and'? I mean, why can't we just simply say that we are going to sort it?
Well, we're doing it. We've just employed a number of staff with a specific focus on doing that, in addition to our core resource, so those are additional staff in key areas.
So, when do you expect these 'never' events to actually be so rare that they become major headlines just because they are rare?
Again, it's quite a complicated picture, because it's not just about weather or farmers overloading the soils, it's about education, it's about the price mechanism around agriculture, the profit in—
Okay. Well, we could spread nitrate-protected zones to the whole of Wales.
Would that sort some of the problem out? You know, people chucking nitrate around like it was going out of fashion.
Can I have Jenny and then Andrew wants to come in and then I'll call you, Llyr? Carry on.
Okay. The previous witnesses were very impressed by the work that's been done in the south-west of England. They mentioned the Devon Severn and the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities working together and really pulling—not only had they been given the powers that we have in Wales, but they'd taken seriously the duties they had. And I just wondered what you think we could learn from the approach there. Places like Lyme Bay were also—you know, very much the work that's been done there to bring fishermen on board with the idea of the conservation work needed for future generations.
I think that, with all of that, that is just really about collaborative working around projects, so rather than NRW picking up and running with a project in isolation, it's doing it with others. An example in relation to fisheries, for example, would be the assessing Wales's fishing activities project, where we're working on the evidence base in terms of impact pathways, providing the evidence to Government, but the sector are very much part of the steering group that's part of that project and are very supportive, because they feel that it will give them, as well, the clarity of where there are and aren't impacts that need to be managed. So, I think it's just learning from the example that you're better, once you've identified that there's something that you need to do, to do that collaboratively with those either that have powers to regulate and manage it, or are undertaking the activity that you might want to look at managing slightly differently.
So, do you think you're frustrated by the inaction of Government, by the lack of leadership in Government?
I don't think that's fair to ask them that, because they are directly funded by the Government and they're not able to give their view on that without repercussions.
Well, no, but I think asking people who are Government employees to make a criticism of the Government, I don't think that's fair on them.
Okay. All right, Mike, I'll accept your suggestion.
Could you just give us a bit more detail on this ring-fenced Welsh Government fund to support this delivery of these six priority actions? How much difference is that going to make?
So, that fund was in the region of £150,000 last year and they're rolling that forward into this year. I think it needs to be seen in the context, alongside the other sources of funding. But that is the first time, since we've been working collectively on MPA management, that a fund has been directed specifically at priority MPA management activity. That, in itself, obviously is a really positive step. Some of the projects that that funding has supported are, for example, the project I mentioned before in relation to non-licensable activities, where we are now finally getting to the point of identifying where activities that don't need any particular licence to go ahead are having an impact, and we need to start scoping out what management we bring in.
So, I think the funding is really starting to help us focus our effort, because every action in that action plan is now funded either through that ring-fenced pot, which, as I say, gives us that focus and momentum, or through—. Just by having that action plan that's got other funding in it, it's enabled us to lever European maritime and fisheries funding and we've also used the priorities in the action plan to help us identify what projects that have come to NRW for application to give out grants as well. So, NRW has given out £250,000 of grants that support projects by other organisations that aren't statutory management authorities, which are all delivering MPA management benefits. So, that ring-fenced fund from Welsh Government is of value in itself to focus effort, but it's also helped to facilitate and target funding both into NRW, and for NRW to give out to other people. So, I think it's been really important, because we could produce that action plan but, without something to kick-start it, it's really hard to actually turn those actions into reality.
Okay. Before I go into the next area, do you want to bring in other colleagues?
I just wanted to touch on the questioning around agricultural pollution. Certainly, the figures that I've seen over the last 20 years show no dramatic increase in agricultural pollution and, in fact, actually, the numbers have remained relatively static, with some years up, some years down, but, if you take the average, they're relatively static. And within the numbers, obviously, there are varying degrees of severity of that pollution. I accept the point that one is one too many, but there's a danger, is there not, that the measures put in place are far too draconian and ultimately hinder some really good practice that the agricultural industry has adopted over recent years. Would you accept that?
The measures are draconian in relation to nitrate vulnerable zones?
Well, exactly, because there was an industry—and NRW, as well, involved—agreement that was brought forward, a voluntary agreement, that all participants signed up to that said that this was a far better way of dealing with the issue. And so, obviously, in the last six months that's completely been thrown out the window and Government has decided to go down NVZ routes. I'm just wondering, based on the evidence, why that decision would have been taken.
I'm sorry, it's not my particular area of expertise; we would have to find out. I—
Andrew, to be fair, that's a question you want to really ask to the Minister, isn't it?
Well, they're participants in the group. I mean, it's a line of questioning.
Just picking up on the same theme, actually, but a relevant question I hope. Clearly, there's been a reduction in the number of those kinds of incidents and we welcome that but, as Andrew said, there are still too many. So, what about the 30,000 sewage incidents that have happened, because clearly that's a huge contributor as well, isn't it, to some of the problems that we're having? Surely, that's registering and receiving as much attention as some of the slurry incidents that you're involved with.
It's one of the six priority impacts that we've identified, and our colleagues who work in water regulation, water quality, are very much working on that as well. And we've obviously got the river basin management planning process under the water framework directive, which will prioritise where we need measures to improve water quality. So, there's a huge amount of action going on. Some of it's driven by this action plan, some of it driven by a whole variety of other legislative and policy drivers that, collectively, should lead to changes over time in the condition of our—
So, do you have a role in terms of holding Dŵr Cymru to account in the same way, maybe, as the agricultural community is going to be held to account?
Yes, our colleagues that deal with water regulation certainly have that role.
Okay. I just wanted to talk about the current condition of marine protected areas and how we might be approaching this in the future, because the previous witnesses were strongly arguing that we need to have marine conservation zones because of the strength of the evidence that we are really at a tipping point in terms of the crisis in our seas. Could you just tell us what you think? Are we simply managing degradation, or is there something more that we can do to really turn it around?
I don't think—. We've touched on it already, haven't we, that we're not managing degradation. We're certainly looking to improve the condition and enhance the condition, and I think we've definitely arrived at the view that the network of MPAs might not be on paper 100 per cent ecologically coherent, but Wales, compared to almost any other north-east Atlantic state, really, or country, has actually gone further in terms of having a coherent network. So, we really feel, as we've mentioned before, really, that the focus is on those key pressures, and I think we are starting to make positive steps in that direction.
Okay. You put a lot of emphasis in your earlier answers on the importance of the evidence needed, and I just wondered if you could give us an example of how this has changed management actions.
Yes, okay. So, there are—. We can give different examples, from local to strategic, and I think that's quite important in relation to the MPA network. So, for example, Skomer, which obviously you're familiar with, is a marine conservation zone now. That's had a ban in relation to any form of taking of king scallops since 1990. And so that's a management measure for a marine protected area, and we have the evidence that the densities have significantly increased. So, where we have the resources to do intensive routine monitoring, we can really see the response, and that's a good example of where local condition has really been impacted.
At a national level, or a strategic level across the network, we start to get into the realms of pressures that aren't just derived from Wales. So, there are lots of things we can do, but we can only ever go so far. So, in relation to marine litter, there are all sorts of things that we are starting to look at doing, and some of our partners are looking at doing. But, in relation to the marine strategy framework directive, it's unlikely for the foreseeable future that we will ever be able to say we've arrived at good ecological status in relation to litter, because so much of the impact comes from outside of our seas. So, we can only ever take it so far at that national level.
But there are examples of things that we're doing. In other examples, we know that our marine mammal population—so, dolphins and seals—in relation to our site condition reports, are in favourable condition at the moment, but the most important thing is maintaining that favourable condition. So, instead of, potentially, those intervention actions like the scallop example we talked about in Skomer, the most important thing is having the right systematic guidance for developers and decision makers that any new activity, whether it's offshore renewables, or whatever it might be, can be facilitated without, for example significant noise disturbance, which is a key issue for mammals, actually deteriorating the condition. So, something we're working on in NRW is that standard guidance in relation to noise disturbance, so that we can maintain condition by managing that pressure that otherwise might actually lead to deterioration.
One of the things we learnt from our visit to Skomer was the action that could be taken to tackle ghost lobster pots. So, would it not be pretty straightforward, and a fairly quick win, to licence lobster pots, so that you had—? An admin officer somewhere would issue a number to the person who wanted to put down a lobster pot, and they'd be obliged to shove it on the lobster pot, so that, when it escapes, we know where the responsibility lies.
There are a host of management options exactly like that—
There are things that we tangibly could do; you're absolutely right. I think, with fisheries in particular, we are very much committed to the assessing Welsh fishing activity approach, and, again, I know we're coming back to the same things, but we've already done the high priority assessments; we're working on the medium ones. The next set of assessments we're going on to this year is potting. And we really do need to do that because it's so widespread around Wales. It's been identified probably as fairly low risk in relation to the whole of our network, but we need to do that assessment so we've got the clear evidence of the interaction of that activity with our features and the potential condition of our features, and then we can take a properly informed management, whether it's voluntary or statutory—whatever it might be—or not if it's not needed.
So, we're not far off doing those assessments and then providing them to Welsh Government, but it, again, often is just that step backwards—not for that long in that instance—to be sure that we're taking the right action in the right place, otherwise we get back into the realms of there are so many things we could do that we would spread ourselves across lots of small initiatives that actually don't collectively really help us achieve that wider vision we talked about at the beginning, which is actually the health and functioning of the whole of our seas.
Okay. So, you don't think that the licensing of lobster pots would have much of a strategic impact.
It could be an option, but I think we need to go through the process to arrive at whether or not it's a viable one to make a difference or not.
Okay. All right. I think—. This is obviously a huge area, which is quite difficult for a non-expert to understand. What are the quick wins that you'd like to see in terms of radically improving the features of our management action zones? You don't think that converting them into marine conservation zones would be the holy grail that you want to see.
Converting existing MPAs into marine conservation zones wouldn't particularly give us any significant greater powers for intervention and management than they already have as special areas of conservation and special protected areas. We see the marine conservation zone tool as an additional tool to potentially plug some of the gaps where we might not have protection, and that's what the project in relation to the coherence of the network is looking at. But converting existing sites into MCZs, as I say, wouldn't give us any additional tools to the ones we have now. And, in fact, SACs, in particular, we have to apply the habitats regulation assessment process to new activities, and that's a particularly strong assessment that helps protect sites and features against damaging activity occurring.
Okay. So I appreciate we don't spend time moving the goalposts. What are the things that you'd like to see that would radically improve the condition of our marine areas?
I think it goes back to what we were saying: it's actually around those six priority—
And understanding impacts better.
Understanding the impacts better.
Shall we move on? Joyce Watson's got a quick question, and then over to Llyr.
Just on evidence—and you like evidence bases—it seems that the scallop bed was opened in Cardigan bay based on evidence from Bangor University. But it was highly contested, because the time frame for doing it was contested in itself. So I put a question to you: is there further evidence that, when evidence supports opening up beds for fishing, as against the evidence that supports protecting the marine environment by not doing that, the fishing always wins out? And I'm going to link this now to the evidence, because I've been talking about lobster pots for a long time. There's sufficient evidence at the moment—we don't need any more evidence to know that fishing pots are creating ghost fishing, lobster pots are creating ghost fishing, that the biggest pollutant on our shores is fishing tackle that isn't being tracked and isn't being brought back. We don't need any more evidence—go down the seaside this week, and you'll find it for yourself. So isn't it time that we had some action now, and enforcement, and some forward thinking, before we roll down the road for another 10 or 20 years, with even more plastic in the sea, and more fish and wildlife dying as a consequence of ghost fishing?
It certainly is the case that litter is a significant issue. We've—
Yes, it certainly is. I think it isn't the case that marine litter from fishing is the key pollutant in our seas.
It's clearly a contributor to a whole range of sources of litter. And all of that does need tackling.
Diolch yn fawr. Dwi'n mynd i ofyn yn Gymraeg, os ydy hynny'n iawn. Un o'r elfennau sy'n mynd i effeithio'n drwm ar y gwaith yma, wrth gwrs, yw gadael, o bosib, yr Undeb Ewropeaidd. A byddwn i jest eisiau clywed gennych chi, efallai, beth ŷch chi'n ei ragweld fuasai'r anfanteision mwyaf a beth fuasai'r manteision mwyaf hefyd. Achos mi wnes i sylwi yn y papur roeddech chi wedi ei ddarparu eich bod chi yn gweld:
Thank you very much. I'll be asking my question in Welsh, if that's all right. Now, one of the elements that's going to heavily impact this work is the potential of Brexit. And I would just like to hear from you what you foresee as the greatest disadvantages, and what the greatest advantages would be. Because I did note in the paper that you provided that you saw:
'Exiting the EU will...allow even further integration of existing management regimes together with...domestic legislation...to create a stronger regime for the sustainable management of MPAs and marine natural resources.'
Felly, rŷch chi'n gweld bod yna elfennau positif, yn ogystal, efallai, â rhai negyddol.
Therefore, you do see positive elements, as well as, possibly, negative ones.
Yes. We definitely see challenges, and I think we've set those out, because of the potential—although we're saving all the European legislation, it potentially loses its impetus and its drive. So there are some serious challenges, because a lot of EU legislation absolutely underpins our designations and our drive for better MPA management. There are obviously serious challenges in relation to fisheries management, and serious challenges in terms of the loss of funding streams as well. So, we really do recognise some serious challenges.
We have to look at any change from the point of view of, 'Well, can we actually glean some opportunities from it as well?' So, we do need to do that. From the point of view of fisheries management, obviously there is the opportunity to take better control of more sustainable and evidence-based management of our fisheries, in the UK and Wales. There are challenges around bringing in new approaches because of shared stocks with neighbouring states, but there are opportunities.
But in relation to MPA management more directly, obviously now Welsh Government have jurisdiction over nature conservation out to the midline, which is a relatively recent addition, to go alongside the planning powers, fisheries management in terms of executive powers, and obviously marine licensing, which is a recent addition. So, there is the opportunity, once we're looking at domestic legislation, to start to look at, for example, the different European and Welsh legislation that asks us to take a whole-seas approach. So, the marine strategy framework directive and the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 both require sustainable use of all of our seas and sustainable management of natural resources. Is there a way that we can bring those frameworks together more effectively in Wales? In relation to how we designate and manage our MPAs, can we be more flexible to adapt to changes and big, long-term pressures like climate change that might mean we want more flexible spatial measures that can move? So, we haven't looked into the detail of that, because the real risks at the moment are obviously much more in relation to fisheries, because of the loss of the CFP. But, we are aware there are things that we'd be keen to explore with partners and with Welsh Government when the time allows.
What about the conversion of European marine sites into marine conservation zones? Because Professor Lynda Warren was particularly keen in seeing that as an opportunity to really ramp things up.
We just discussed that, didn't we? I think that obviously is an option, but at the moment, and if legislation is saved, and it has been saved, it's not necessarily particularly a different set of powers. It probably warrants looking at in a little more detail. They are differently drafted legislation. The MCZ legislation is more broad and flexible, so there's potential merit in looking at it. But I think it's less of a priority than being able to respond more adaptively.
Yes, okay. And then 'Brexit and our Seas', of course, has appeared. I'm just wondering what your initial thoughts are on that and whether you see it as setting us off on the right trajectory.
It really focuses very much on the fisheries side of things.
Well, it's to rehearse what we've just said really in terms of that's where some of the opportunities and challenges are, and maybe that's where the focus has been, but it also does set out the commitment of Welsh Government to ensure that existing legislation rolls over and that there won't be any rolling back from that commitment in relation to marine protected areas and the like. Therefore, there is that commitment up front that that is the case.
Does it strike the right balance then between fisheries and marine conservation? Because 'Brexit and our Seas' really is the future, isn't it, for these two policy areas? It really sets the tone for where we're going. Should we not be looking for a more equitable balance in future? I know the fisheries implications are quite obvious and could have a significant impact, but also as we've said in terms of conservation as well, it isn't without its effect, is it? Far from it.
We agree that sustainable fisheries management is only one part of marine protected areas and we will be responding in that regard in the consultation response.
And I think—oh, sorry.
One more thing. I think also the balance is obviously heavily in relation to fisheries for the reasons that we've discussed, but I think one of the other things in relation to the wider marine policy and legislative content is that actually, in the last 10 years or so, we've got a stronger domestic legislative and policy framework through the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, the UK marine policy statement, and the Welsh national marine plan that's due to be adopted at some point this year. So, actually, a lot has happened on the domestic front in relation to the framework that we need. In a sense, what the consultation is doing, although we've yet to dive into it in a lot of detail, is consolidating that, and it's reassuring that that is to be retained. It sort of makes sense.
Thank you, Chair. This committee and its predecessor committee have undertaken many reports and taken evidence. From your position, a recurring theme that comes back time and time again in those reports—. So, from your position, do you think that the evidence base that you work with, the resources and stakeholder engagement, have improved over time? Because in the evidence you've given us today, you've talked about the fact that the legislative landscape and the regulatory landscape have changed dramatically over the years. Very often, that does change, but stakeholders involved in the sector, and in particular the evidence that some of the decisions are based on, don't keep pace with some of the regulatory and legal reforms that go on.
I think the stakeholder base probably has continued, if anything, through the Wales Marine Advisory Action Group that's been expanded over the last few years to include far more stakeholders than there were in the past from industry, from landowners, from regulators and from NGOs and other fishermen and the like. So, I'm not sure whether—
But do they engage though? There's one thing having them on a list that says, 'You're involved in the group', there's another thing in them actually either coming or putting evidence in or whatever. So, the point that I'm trying to make, and maybe not making it very successfully, is: has that engagement process actually got better so there is genuine participation in the work that you're undertaking, the way that your responsibilities have changed?
Well, I would say through the steering group certainly that there are engaged people at that level, and I would argue as well that the development of the WMAAG has certainly meant that people do get engaged, because of the way that it's facilitated. It's not just a downloading of information any longer, it's more about getting people's views on specific topics and issues. So, I've certainly seen over the last three years, from the stakeholder engagement perspective—maybe you need to be asking the other stakeholders as well—an improvement in that engagement, and I think the work of this committee and in asking us back and continuing your interest in this area have also raised people's understanding and focus on marine protected areas.
Wel, rwy'n credu bod fy nghwestiwn i wedi cael ei ateb yn sylfaenol, so dwi'n ddigon hapus efo'r sefyllfa. Diolch yn fawr.
Well, I think that my question has already been answered, so I'm quite happy with the situation. Thank you very much.
One final question. The previous witnesses said that they couldn't see any mention of the marine environment in the board papers of NRW. So, if you haven't got the evidence now of when it was last the case that the management board of NRW discussed the marine environment, or a record of how often it's been discussed within the last two years, could you send it to us please?
Yes, and we have got a meeting—a bespoke meeting—during September, where marine issues will be a big focus for our board. But also, as well as the formal board meetings, sometimes sub-sets of the board consider specific work areas, and certainly a group was convened to scrutinise quite closely the draft Welsh national marine plan. So, in different ways, it does happen. But, yes, certainly we can document that.
Could I just add one thing in relation to the stakeholder engagement? Because I just wanted to mention as well, in relation to your question, that obviously we've described that definitely I think we see a trajectory of improvement. The one thing we'd like to flag from the point of view of NRW's remit is that we're working on developing area statements, which is obviously a statutory duty on NRW under the environment Act, and we're required—and we would anyway, but we're required—in terms of the sustainable management of natural resources principles and applying the well-being goals to absolutely do that collaboratively.
So, I feel that we're in the beginning of a process of actually working much more collaboratively with stakeholders on the wider risks and opportunities in improving the management of the marine environment, both marine protected areas and outside of those sites. And we're definitely going to be using that sub-group under WMAAG really, we hope, quite proactively. So, I think we're in the process of moving consistently further in the direction of working in a more engaged and collaborative way. I feel, for us as NRW, the area statements are a key vehicle for doing that.
And is it a natural read-through then to say that the evidence that you're getting from stakeholders, because of the greater participation, is far better now, which should ultimately lead to better policy and better implementation of the development of area statements, for example, and things like that? Is that a natural correlation with greater stakeholder participation that you're getting better evidence, or—
It allows us to discuss evidence with stakeholders, but we tend to find—and we found this in doing our site condition reports—that the lion's share of the relevant evidence to make the assessments that we need tends to come from the monitoring evidence programmes of NRW, not exclusively by any means, but that's just because of our particular remits in relation to evidence. But what the collaborative working with our partners allows us to do is identify work that other people are doing, and if we can collect it in the right way, absolutely it adds into the evidence base that we're all using.
Thank you very much. It comes to me to thank you for coming along this morning and answering our questions. You have promised to send us some information. If you have forgotten what it is, the clerks will write to you and remind you. Thank you very much. Shall we break until 20 past?
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 11:15 a 11:21.
The meeting adjourned between 11:15 and 11:21.
Good morning and welcome. We have got Gill Bell from Wales Environment Link and Emily Williams from the Wales Environment Link. Can I welcome you to the committee? I know you've both been here before, so it won't come as a surprise to you. Can we move straight to questions? What are your views on the progress made on MPA management in Wales since the committee's 'Turning the tide?' report, in particular strategic direction, whether stakeholders are engaged, especially those from the third sector, and any examples of good stakeholder engagement practice in Wales? And anything we can learn from things like a partnership model or the relevant authority groups.
I've got a little bit of an opening statement that covers that a little bit, if that's okay.
So, I want to say thank you again to the committee for covering this and revisiting it. We as well really wanted the 'Turning the tide?' report to be a wake-up call for Welsh Government to review how they undertook MPA management in Wales and I have to say, in general, we're a little bit disappointed to date. We think that Welsh Government need to still be made more accountable for their duties under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, as well all the other directives. We need them to take more responsibility, as they are a management authority—and the other management authorities—and therefore lead by example.
We haven't seen a fundamental shift in the way that Welsh Government are undertaking marine and fisheries. The fact that it is still the marine and fisheries department highlights one of the overall issues. And I don't want this to be made about marine conservation versus fisheries, because fisheries is just one of the activities that takes place. There does seem to be a disproportionate amount of resourcing and prioritisation given to fisheries. For example, things like coastal tourism we know brings in about 10 times the revenue of fisheries, and tourist visitors spend more than £17 million a day in Wales. There's an example from Pembrokeshire, as you're aware, of just St David's that brings in £50 million and 1.8 million days, and yet there doesn't seem to be that focus—. There hasn't been a focus on looking at the overall benefits of well-managed marine protected areas.
So, there's certainly been a focus on exploitation, rather than investigating the costs and benefits of a well-managed marine reserve. That, again, we think is done within the budget, but the budget isn't transparent, so we don't know how much of the budget is spent on improving and enhancing marine protected areas. And then, we also—. You raised it in the previous session as well about the area management approach, about the local site officers that we would still advocate, and the positive benefits that they would bring to that. And then, finally, we know that a well-managed marine protected area will bring social, economic and environmental benefits and, again, we don't feel that this has been properly addressed by the Welsh Government.
I think since the first inquiry, the main thing that has changed has been the publication of the framework and the action plan. In terms of strategic direction, I think that has given those involved in the MPA steering group direction, but it's a direction that is based on their current resources and capacity. It's a pragmatic view, rather than a strategic and ambitious vision. So, whilst I think there have been positives that have been talked about with regard to that group by those people involved, we don't know so much because we're not involved. I think what's still missing is that more strategic, holistic view. I think what would be really useful for us to make a step towards that would be to know all of the actions that have been considered as part of that process, rather than just the published final list of what's made the cut, if you like. Because without that, the other stakeholders and other parties in this sphere can't really hope to collaborate and find other funding mechanisms for those actions because we simply don't know what they are.
I want to ask you about your views on any progress or any outcomes as a result of the MPA management steering group.
It's quite difficult for us to answer that, if we're honest, because we're excluded from the group, as Emily has just pointed out. The group meets and they're the management authorities. We have requested even to be there as an observer status and that has been refused. So, as we've pointed out, we don't see the minutes, we don't see the papers that are presented, we don't have any evidence that's presented to them. And the previous witnesses, obviously, were talking about the fact that they prioritise and give weighting and have developed an action plan. There is expertise within Wales Environment Link that could contribute to that and yet we are not consulted. They had made plans to try to improve that through the WMAAG and we have requested this sub-group that they're talking about, so we're hoping to get a biodiversity sub-group and we hope that that will improve. But it's very difficult and we feel like we've been excluded from the process. We are not—well, the Marine Conservation Society isn't but RSPB is, with regard to some of their sites—not management authorities but they have management responsibilities, and yet the whole process of how we've got to these prioritised actions, how they've been weighted, is unknown to us.
I think, listening to the evidence sessions that were held with members of the MPA steering group here last week, it does sound as if it has provided a forum that's been useful for those people with statutory responsibilities to iron out certain things behind closed doors. So, I think there probably are some benefits that we've not necessarily been aware of. I think an observation that I've made of that group is that it tends to be the usual suspects in terms of the management authorities who go along and who are involved—so, Pembrokeshire national park authority, Milford Haven port authority; a lot of the people who you also see at a lot of the other stakeholder groups. But if you look at the MPA framework, there's an annex in there that lists reams of different management authorities, and it's not quite clear to me how those other management authorities are engaging in this group or what Welsh Government is doing to make sure that they are engaging. I think there was a letter to them around the time of the first inquiry to try and get those other authorities, who are perhaps less of the usual suspects, to get more involved in MPA management, but I'm not sure whether there's been much more proactive work to try and get more groups involved with the statutory responsibilities. So, I think more work on that would be really positive, if for nothing else because it seems very Pembrokeshire skewed at the moment in terms of remit, which is not great when you're looking at a network that's Wales-wide.
And I think, if I can come back to the point about Welsh Government needing to take the lead, they also need to make sure that all the other management authorities are accountable. And I don't believe that they—. If they're not doing their duties then they should be chased up, or they may not even be aware of them. So, perhaps they need to be reminded, they need training and they need to be aware. But that all requires funding and resourcing, and I do believe that Welsh Government should be taking the lead on that, because ultimately they are responsible for that.
So, moving on from the group that you're excluded from, maybe you might have some views on a decision that has been taken, and that being the process of moving towards an area-based approach for MPA management, or rather the decision not to do that, and the strength of evidence that underpinned that decision, and whether you think that ought to be revisited.
I certainly think it should. It's one of the things—. It was raised at the last WMAAG meeting, in the fact that it seems to have been put in the long grass and just forgotten about. We've requested that it is put on the agenda to be revised. Just because, at the time, there was insufficient resources dedicated to it doesn't mean that it wasn't, through consultation, the preferred option of all those consulted. And yet it seems to have just been sidelined and they've said, 'Well, actually, we've got these priority actions.' But that's not the point—the point is that we know that local area-based management will help solve some of these issues and, obviously, we do need to look at the network overall, but we still need fundamental people on the ground, in place, particularly the independent local site officers like the SAC officers who know the stakeholders, who know the issues and who, generally, know some of the actions that they can take to improve things.
I agree. I think, with regard to the approach to marine protected area management and the MPA framework and action plan, we've heard a lot that it's about taking a network-level approach and, ultimately, that's because NRW and Welsh Government don't have the resources and capacity, so they're looking at how they can prioritise. I completely agree—we need to be looking at network-level actions, but we can't forget local-level actions are needed as well. So, I do think that needs to be revisited, but also as part of a wider look at resourcing and capacity in this area.
And then, finally, on this particular area, what do you think about the approach that's currently taken by that group in providing strategic support and guidance to the management authorities? Do you think that it is sufficient?
I think that goes back to the point I was making earlier about it not being clear the extent to which all of the management authorities are involved. There was that letter that I referred to. I'm not sure what else has been done to make sure that more authorities are engaged. I know lots of the representatives on that group would say that they're representing a wider range of authorities, but I think that's probably an area for them to work on.
You did talk earlier about the 2018 to 2023 framework and the 2018-19 action plan. Do you think they're working effectively?
We haven't seen the revised one. We didn't have input, really, into the first one. Overall, it's a very strategic document. It talks about pan-Wales actions, it's very evidence gathering, it's very policy based and there are limited on-the-ground actions. We would hope—and certainly it was indicated in the previous evidence session—that that may be changed slightly. And we know that they've developed six new actions, which is great, but again, it would have been—. They're looking at developing incidental bycatch reduction of seabirds, but nobody from RSPB was there to help develop what those actions were. They're looking at community litter projects—the MCS weren't there to help. So, it's very difficult for us to know, because we've been excluded from the discussions, and they've already prioritised what they're going to do. They've already looked at how they're going to do it without actually involving the stakeholders who could provide that information.
I think we are in a place now where NRW and Welsh Government in particular have recognised that stakeholder engagement on this hasn't been ideal and are looking to try and make it better. So, one of the suggestions has been a biodiversity sub-group of the WMAAG marine stakeholder forum, which I think would be really positive. I think the key with that will be to make sure that it is a team collaborative effort where everybody suggests what should be on the agenda, rather than it being Welsh Government dictating what the meetings are about. But, certainly, I think this committee has helped to make Welsh Government and NRW realise that the engagement hasn't been brilliant so far. So, hopefully, that will improve. My greatest concern around the action plan comes down to the fact that it is based on very limited resources and capacity. So, currently, I think, there's about two core members of the marine conservation branch in Welsh Government. We can hardly expect them to be delivering much with only two people. So, if I said nothing else today, that would be my key message, that we need capacity and resources to be looked at.
Thank you. In your paper, you highlight the fact that 45 per cent of the MPAs are in an unfavourable condition and 9 per cent are in an unknown condition. What do you think can be done to improve the management of MPAs in light of the challenge of the unfavourable condition and the unknown quantity in relation to about 10 per cent?
I think the first step would be to address some of the unknowns. So, the Welsh Government are currently talking about having an evidence strategy. If you look at the 'Brexit and our Seas' consultation document, that's referred to both as a marine evidence strategy and a fisheries evidence strategy—it's not quite clear what the evidence strategy is going to cover. But, certainly, we think that that should look at unknowns with regard to MPA management so that we can then identify more management measures that are needed to help to address that.
At one level, seeking more evidence is as long as a piece of string. We could spend the rest of our lives trying to understand better the way in which the marine ecology works and is affected. We obviously haven't got time or resources to do that, so how do you think we could—? What are the things that we could be doing instantly to improve the management?
One of the key projects or areas of work that MCS in particular have been talking about for 10-plus years is the Assessing Welsh Fishing Activities project, which, essentially, looks at how fisheries are interacting with the protected features in protected sites. The evidence base for that is being developed by Natural Resources Wales, and the management, in terms of putting more protections in place as appropriate based on that evidence, comes down to the Welsh Government.
In England, a very different approach was taken, whereby for the highly vulnerable features they put protections in straight away. In Wales, they've been waiting for the evidence base. That evidence has been published for two years, I think, now, and we're still waiting for the management measures to be put in place. The reasons we've been told for that not happening is because of legislative capacity in the Government and Assembly.
That sounds a bit worrying, because, clearly, we should all be taking the precautionary principle, should we not?
I was just going to say that, in the meantime—. So, obviously, any activity that's deemed to be potentially hazardous under the habitats regulations needs to have an appropriate assessment. In England, as Emily as said, obviously, anything that was deemed red rated, as they called it—so, a site feature interaction—was banned immediately. In Wales, those activities could potentially still go on, and it's something on which we—MCS, ClientEarth and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation society—have been having legal correspondence with the Welsh Government for over 10 years now. I'm at the end of my wits about it, because the Welsh Government are in breach of the habitats directive. They're not doing it. They need to implement the precautionary principle and they need to stop activities that are potentially damaging until they assess them. They've done these assessments. Things like irreparable damage are mentioned in all of these assessments, yet they still haven't. As Emily points out, the reason we're given is because there isn't time. All of the legislative capacity is going on developing for Brexit—unacceptable. In the same time, Welsh Government have their duties to do their day-to-day business as well as dealing with the consequences of Brexit, so we need to push those forward.
So, the six priority areas that NRW highlight in their evidence, they're just dancing around the problem, is that right?
I wouldn't say they're dancing around the problem. They will, hopefully, help some of the things, but, as I said at the beginning, we really wanted the 'Turning the tide?', because of all the evidence and because of everything that was said by everybody—everybody agreed that we needed to do something dramatic. We've declared a climate change emergency. I was hoping that 'Turning the tide?' would be a wake-up call like that for Welsh Government. So, those areas will improve things, but I think we need a fundamental shift in the way that Welsh Government and the marine and fisheries team operate, and to be able to address these issues, because I do believe that they are addressable. We just need to manage the activities. We're not talking about on land, where you're doing all these interventions. All we need to do is manage the activities, because you can't do specific—. Obviously, you can do some species introductions and things like that, but generally, all we need to do is manage the activities and then the marine environment will recover itself.
What are the resources required for doing what you're suggesting, which is obviously to take the precautionary principle? And is there anything that we can learn from the approach that's been adopted in the south-west of England?
We need to get stakeholders involved. It's very important. We can't just go from the top down, because we'll just see a backlash against that, and that has worked quite well with the IFCAs. They have been very well—. Does everyone, sorry—? The inshore fisheries and conservation authorities. They've worked really well with the local stakeholders to explain why these measures are necessary and what activities will need to cease and why they're ceasing. So, we can learn from that, and I do feel that it is—. The resourcing is there. We've got these new enforcement officers. At the last WMAAG, I specifically asked, 'Are they being trained up in conservation?' 'No, not yet, we'll maybe get to that later' was the short answer to the question. They obviously need to get their legal duties for fisheries embedded first, and then maybe they'll move on to conservation. But to me, it's the ideal opportunity. We've got these new people in place, we need them to be the best use of resources. We do have some resources. We all acknowledge that they may be limited resources, but we can better use them.
Resources are limited. Are you arguing that therefore we could be taking much firmer action now, even without additional resources?
It's difficult for us to say, because we aren't privy to the budget. The budget isn't transparent. We've asked questions to find out how much is allocated to marine in the budget. It's even less transparent now. So, we don't know how much is spent, but as Emily has quite rightly pointed out, a lot of the staff from the marine division, which is much smaller than the fisheries division, have been moved over to work on Brexit. So, it's very difficult for them to deliver when there's so little capacity.
Okay. Obviously, the specific example you've given of how enforcement officers should be trained now in conservation is one very good example. That's not an additional resource; it's just an additional focus. Is there anything else specific like that?
Linking on to what Gill was saying about the marine and fisheries division, it has various different teams in there. There's the conservation branch, there's the fisheries team, there's marine planning—lots of renewable energy focus in there. One thing that I've noticed, sitting across all of the various different stakeholder groups—so, the fisheries ones, the Brexit ones, the marine ones—is because we work on everything that the division covers, it's quite noticeable sometimes that not everyone in those individual teams in the division is aware of the wider work programme. So, for example, fisheries officials might not necessarily be as well informed about the marine conservation considerations as you might expect them to be in the division, and probably vice versa. Often, we'll go to the fisheries meetings or the Brexit meetings and there will be no-one from the marine conservation team present. So, really, I think there's—. Whilst I think there needs to be more resource and capacity, one way to address some of the concerns would be to ensure that there are not siloes in the division, and making sure that that join-up is happening.
That's also relevant between the environment department in Welsh Government and the marine and fisheries division. Often, if you talk to people in the marine and fisheries division, they're not as familiar with the environment Act as their colleagues in the environment department, even though it's highly relevant. And I have the luxury of working with colleagues that work on land and terrestrial issues and see all this amazing stuff with the environment Act being embedded on terrestrial environmental issues, but trying to bring that more into marine policy discussions has been quite challenging. We have suggested a workshop on embedding the environment Act in marine policy as part of the 'Brexit and our Seas' consultation, and the Minister's agreed to us that that will happen. So, I think that would be a way of improving things.
We had a meeting early—beginning of this year with the Minister.
Okay. We're now in June. So, that should have happened by now, shouldn't it?
Well, the consultation launched a few weeks ago, maybe about a month ago. So, we're hoping it's going to happen this summer, but we're waiting to hear. But I think making sure that the environment Act is better embedded in marine would not only help with MPAs, but marine environmental management more generally.
Okay. What you're describing seems to indicate that the Welsh Government is in breach of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.
I'm not sure I would say it's in breach. It's just very noticeable when you're having conversations in marine stakeholder forums, for example, that the language of the environment Act isn't something that comes up as frequently as, perhaps, it would when we're having conversations, for example. So, it's something that we definitely think could be better improved.
Okay. But this level of silo working is what the future generations Act is designed to ensure doesn't happen.
In terms of the current condition of MPAs, what do you think should be the priorities in terms of targeting or improving the way we are delivering on this? Clearly, you've already given us some very clear indications.
Well, I've mentioned the independent site officers. I do think that they are vital and they provide so much. Not just, obviously, from a stakeholder—. Some of the things that they do, everybody wants them to be quantifiable, and they're very difficult to do that, but we do feel that the benefits of having them can't be underestimated, really. I also think it would be worth while—and I said this in the opening statement—to look at wider benefits of the marine environment and to take away this focus from exploitative goods and look at all the services.
So, there was recently a report published, actually, from the Intergovernmental Science–Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. That runs off the tongue, doesn't it? So, IPBES. It's a global summary for policy makers. So, it's a really good—. Within that, it talks about the study of the benefits of MPAs. It talks about the improvements to fisheries, for example, both economic and—. It actually does cite Lyme bay and it also cites Lundy and, for Lundy, it says that, overall, stakeholders perceived social, economic and environmental benefits from the MPAs to outweigh the perceived costs. This is a global report, and there's an awful lot more in there and things that Welsh Government could take to heart.
This is a wake-up call. We need to remove the silo working, which was something, obviously, we talked about two years ago. The cut-and-paste 'and marine' still exists. The resourcing for marine is still very—. Environment doesn't get a huge budget, but marine gets a very small budget on top of that.
And other things we need to look at wider. Talking about the well-being of future generations Act, there are massive studies now that show about the well-being benefits of being at the sea, both from a physical point of view, but also from a mental point of view. None of that has been investigated either, and, again, this report does talk about it and also there's other things. So, if you look at 'Brexit and our Seas', there's one little infographic and it talks about how much sea fisheries bring in. It doesn't talk about any of the other benefits. And, again, it's this focus. So, we need to break down that silo working. Marine conservation is a wide range of things, not just fisheries. Fisheries is one of the activities and there are more benefits that can be gained than just exploitation. There's all the non-use values and for the benefit of the Welsh people overall.
In terms of MPA management, and in addition to the other points we've made around site officers and the Assessing Welsh Fisheries Activity project and things like that, I think it's quite telling, listening to the evidence previously, there tends to be quite a focus on SACs as our marine protected areas, and, actually, we do have a whole range of other marine protected areas. So, we have our SPAs that protect our birds. The UK marine strategy that's recently been released has shown that we're failing to protect our birds. So, I think that's really important, as well, to make sure that we're managing all our protected areas, and, specifically on that point, we think there needs to be a seabird conservation strategy to address the fact that seabirds are declining more than any other marine species globally. So, making sure that it isn't just SACs that we're always talking about is really important as well.
Thank you, Chair. Obviously, the UK has decided to leave the European Union; what do you see the opportunities and the challenges are with our leaving the European Union, and, in particular, what are your thoughts on 'Brexit and our Seas' and the implications of that particular document?
So, I think previous witnesses have talked a lot about how we could look to have more of an ecosystem-based approach to MPA management and look at how we can embed the environment Act and well-being of future generations Act—all good things. One of my greatest concerns with Brexit, however, is a risk of opening up our existing legislation that we have from Europe, which is actually the best that we have. So, I'm not sure if it was inferred in what the other witnesses have said, but the opening up of the birds and habitats directives, for example, I think, would be a very risky move, even if it was done with all good intentions. There's no reason why we can't have an ecosystem-based approach and we can't utilise our Welsh legislation and maintain the legislation that we have from Europe, which is the strongest thing we have.
As marine policy officers, when we try and hold decision makers to account, we utilise all of the tools in our toolbox; we talk about all the different marine legislation that we have, all of our sustainability legislation. The thing that really gets decision makers to sit up and take note is the birds and habitats directives, because of the strength of the legislation, its requirements, but also the governance structures and the right to justice that exists around that as well. So, I would really caution around looking at a new legislative approach to MPA management post Brexit. Rather, what I would say is we need to look at maybe a policy change to MPA management. And, certainly, when we look at what's happened so far in the process, we're preparing to leave the EU, we've had the UK Fisheries Bill, and that's been looking at how the common fisheries policy from Europe could be changed. The signs, from an environmental perspective, haven't been very encouraging. We've seen, I would suggest, a weakening of the common fisheries policies; we've had duties taken out, targets taken out, so that's a concern for us.
I'd also suggest funding is—I feel like I keep talking about funding today, but—
—we have the EMFF funding, which I know lots of people have talked to you about. In the 'Brexit and our Seas' consultation, that's talked about from a fisheries perspective, and it's vitally important to fisheries and coastal communities, but it also is funding the vast majority of NRW's actions in the MPA action plan, and yet there doesn't seem to be much consideration going into how they will continue to fund actions like that going forward.
The other major funding pot, from our perspective, is the EU LIFE fund. Again, that's funded MPA work from NRW before, but it's also funded a lot of work that the third sector have been doing. A lot of our work around terns in Anglesey, for example, has been funded by that EU pot. So, we're very concerned about what's going to happen with that.
One thing that is a reality rather than a risk, I would say, is the movement of capacity in Welsh Government on to Brexit. From an environmental perspective, it's quite hard, actually, to think of positives, but I think—. Certainly, it's always a good thing to look at how we're doing things currently and to use it as an opportunity to flag up what could be better. So, that's a positive, but I'm going to leave you with quite a few risks.
But all those risks are predicated on politicians taking those actions, and those politicians have to stand before the electorate and so the electorate have to determine which direction they want to go in. That is correct, isn't it?
They don't just happen, those things—politicians have to take decisions over them.
Sorry, I don't think—[Inaudible]—but 'Brexit and our Seas'—. I'd say it's a relatively important document. [Laughter.]
So, 'Brexit and our Seas'—we had a period of pre-consultation that we were involved with with 'Brexit and our Seas'. I think it was in November. We were presented with a list of draft questions that were likely to be included. Those were largely focused on fisheries, but fisheries in an economic sense solely. Since then, it's really positive to see that the consultation now also includes questions on the marine environment. However, I think, linked to what I was saying about siloed working, a lot of the fisheries questions are still quite economically focused. There are some about fisheries and social benefits and coastal communities, which is really great, but the linkage of the environment questions in there and the fisheries questions could still be improved, and I think, when it's been presented, it has been presented as, 'These are the marine bits in here, and these are the fisheries bits there,' rather than, 'These are the marine management bits.' So, I think—. It's great that our initial comments had been taken on board to an extent; that's very positive. I would say, in terms of a policy document, it is the best example of language from the environment Act in a marine policy document I've seen so far. It could still be improved, but certainly there is some language about ecosystem resilience that I was quite pleased to see, because that hasn't come through as much in things like the first draft of the marine plan.
One specific point that I wanted to make with regard to the 'Brexit and our Seas' consultation, though, is that there are questions in there with regard to adaptive management of fisheries and a change to the way in which we manage aquaculture. But I think there are about two paragraphs and then the questions ask, 'Do you agree with our proposals? Yes. No. Don't know.' It's very difficult to know with that level of detail. My understanding is that these proposals are the same as what was in a former consultation in 2017, which is the taking forward sustainable management of natural resources consultation. But, again, that consultation was quite vague in terms of what was being proposed.
My understanding is that Welsh Government would like to—rather than introducing secondary legislation every time they want to open or close a fishery or change certain conditions around a fishery, they would like to be able to do that more rapidly. That could be very positive for sustainability, if, for example, you could be presented with evidence that something bad was happening and you could say, 'Okay, we need to stop this quickly.' That could be very positive, but it could also be quite risky as well. What we said in our response in 2017 was, 'We need to know what conditions you're going to put in place here. We need to know how you're going to ensure appropriate scrutiny of those decisions, how you're going to have consultation on these decisions.' Because, certainly, given that it's a political sphere in which marine management decisions are being made, that seems like quite a fundamental shift, which, whilst it could be a good thing, I think we need a specific consultation on that with more of those details.
If we talk about fisheries, and it seems that that's the biggest conversation in the seas, then we have to look at the types of fishing that happen in Wales. The type of fishing that mostly happens in Wales is done by lobster pots, in the main. Are you satisfied that, within this consultation and within the thinking of Government, NRW or anybody else, they're looking at the harm that can be the by-product of putting down lobster pots that (a) are not biodegradable, (b) do ghost fishing and also create significant plastic pollution in the sea? And I won't just pick on lobster pots, I'll go a bit further this time and talk about fishing nets as well. We've seen evidence of that—you've only got to go down the beach. So, are you satisfied that there is some thinking around that and how we might do something about it? There is plenty that can be done within the Welsh Government or NRW or anybody else.