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House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee: Marine Protected Areas

The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has launched a an inquiry into Marine Protected Areas. The submission produced by The Geological Society of London can be found below. Details of the inquiry along with the Terms of Reference can be found on the Environmental Audit Committee website.

Submitted 30th January 2014

1. The Geological Society is the UK’s learned and professional body for geoscience, with more than 11,000 Fellows (members) worldwide. The Fellowship encompasses those working in industry, academia and government with a broad range of perspectives on policy-relevant science, and the Society is a leading communicator of this science to government bodies, those in education and non-technical audiences.
2. We have not attempted to answer all the questions raised in the Terms of Reference for the inquiry. The main points raised below are:
i. The need not to lose sight of the importance of geology when awarding Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) status;
ii. That we agree with DEFRA on the importance of a holistic approach to environmental management but would reiterate the importance of following this through to designation;
iii. That we encourage the committee to keep an eye on the process to ensure the geosphere is given due consideration throughout.

3. The Geological Society is not best placed to comment on the designation of specific sites, but we have responded to previous inquiries and consultations regarding the site selection and designation process for MCZs. In light of concerns we have raised previously, we wish to reiterate here the importance of geology and consideration of the geosphere when awarding MCZ status.

4. A truly holistic approach to the environment is the key to sustainable environmental management. The subsurface plays an active role in environmental processes, providing key resources and services, and supporting others. It is fundamental to a holistic understanding of the environment and so its inclusion when identifying marine protected areas is essential if the health of ecosystems and the wider environment are to be effectively protected.

5. The geosphere acts as a first-order control on a wide range of ecosystem services and is inextricably linked to the atmosphere, biosphere and hydrosphere. We are concerned that abiotic elements of ecosystems are undervalued in comparison with biotic elements; and that the significance of the geosphere within the wider Earth system, and its interactions with the atmosphere, biosphere and hydrosphere, are not fully recognised.

6. We agree with the holistic environmental management approach espoused at a high level by DEFRA, but this model is often not carried through into detailed policy-making and implementation. For example, DEFRA’s June 2011 White Paper on environmental policy for England, ‘The Natural Choice: securing the value of nature’, set out an ecosystem services approach, but neglected abiotic aspects of ecosystems and entirely omitted any reference to the geosphere. The Geological Society wholeheartedly supports the designation and effective protection of MCZs. However, we believe that their efficacy is significantly diminished if the contribution of the geosphere and its interactions with other elements of the system are neglected or ignored.

7. We would therefore encourage the committee to keep a close watch on the designation process, particularly regarding the completeness of the evidence submitted and considered. The geosphere must be considered in the process of designating MCZs and other marine protected areas. We would be pleased to help identify suitably skilled and experienced individuals to assist with this process.