Marine nature reserves plan off coast of Plymouth 'will go ahead'
PLANS which would see a series of marine nature reserves created off the coast of Plymouth and South East Cornwall will be rolled out from next year.
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman confirmed the first wave of sites will be designated in summer 2013.
She made the announcement after she was challenged at Westminster over hold-ups and concerns that the number of protected areas could be reduced.
The Government announced last year the plans would be delayed due to flaws.
An independent scientific advisory panel which examined proposals to create 127 "marine conservation zones" around the coastline, including 58 in the South West, identified "deficiencies, omissions, uncertainties and risks".
The aim of the zones is to develop a wider network of areas providing improved protection for marine life and habitats.
Of the suggested sites (MCZs), 13 are in offshore areas and 32 in the inshore waters of the region.
The list also recommends 13 so-called "reference areas", which could be afforded the highest protection – with activities such as fishing or dredging banned – to preserve species and habitats.
The proposed marine conservation zones, which will be in addition to existing protections such as European sites which preserve birds or other wildlife and habitats, include Whitsand and Looe Bay, and Upper Fowey and Pont Pill.
The Devon Avon, Erme, and Tamar Estuaries have also been ear-marked to become marine conservation zones.
Tackled over progress being made in setting up MCZs, the Secretary of State told MPs her department was due to be presented with formal advice by Natural England and the JNCC on July 18.
Mrs Spelman said: "We will then examine all the evidence before us and work towards a public consultation, which we plan to begin in December, with the first tranche of sites being designated in summer 2013."
Reports the Government planned to cut the number from 127 to just 30 should be taken "with a pinch of salt" she said.