HL Deb 24 June 1992 vol 538 cc442-4

3 p.m.

Baroness Nicol asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps are being taken to investigate the source of the recent increase in siltation around the Skomer Marine Nature Reserve, and whether monitoring is being carried out on the dispersal of spoil from the designated dump site at the entrance to Milford Haven to ascertain whether this is causing the siltation.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, the Countryside Council for Wales, which is responsible for the management of the Skomer Marine Nature Reserve, has been monitoring the recent increase in siltation in the area. The council's investigations have established that the deposits are a combination of fine sand and dead organic matter derived from seaweeds. No final conclusions have yet been reached about the cause of the damage. But there is no evidence to suggest that there is a link between the siltation around the reserve and the licensed dumping site at Milford Haven. However, the council is continuing to monitor the situation and is working closely with the National Rivers Authority to identify the cause. I understand that the water around the reserve has now cleared and that the damage will not have a lasting effect on the area.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for that very encouraging Answer. However, does he agree that the problems at Skomer could have been avoided if we had had a system of integrated coastal-zone management which we have been pursuing for some time? Can the noble Viscount say whether any progress has been made in the Government's plans for such a scheme of integrated management?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, I can tell the noble Baroness that the Select Committee's report on environmental coastal-zone protection and planning is due in July.

Earl Peel

My Lords, notwithstanding the complexities of negotiating marine nature reserves, does my noble friend agree that there has been an attitude of "out of sight, out of mind" with regard to the conservation of nature reserves? Does he further agree that one of the major problems has been a lack of skilled divers with the necessary knowledge to implement the surveying and monitoring of such sites? If my noble friend accepts that view, will he please tell the House whether there are any plans to try to overcome the problem?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, my noble friend can only be speaking about the United Kingdom as a whole. I say that because I understand that the Countryside Council for Wales usually has in the region 40 applicants each time it advertises for a scientific officer with diving qualifications. The council is able to ensure that those it employs on such work are highly trained in terms of diving skills and in the scientific observations they are required to undertake.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, is it not a fact that the Wildlife and Countryside Act identified seven sites as suitable marine nature reserves in 1981? Is the noble Viscount aware that, so far, only Lundy and Skomer have been established and that both have had considerable difficulties? Can he tell the House what has gone wrong? What has blighted this excellent scheme? Further, when can we expect the next site on Anglesey to be set up? Will it be before or after the millennium?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, I must refer the noble Lord to the answers given to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, in January by my noble friend Lord Howe. However, I understand that the Countryside Council for Wales intends to issue a revised consultation document which, when formulated, will take account of some of the representations made during the first consultation period. In setting up marine nature reserves, we have to take account of many vested interests. We are trying to square the proverbial circle. I hope that we shall receive some guidance on the matter when the Select Committee reports in July.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware—or can he recall—that on two previous occasions when the subject has been raised, Ministers said that if progress was not more rapid the procedures for designating MNRs would be streamlined so as to speed up the process? That was said in so many terms by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, on 16th January 1986 and 18 months later, on 17th July 1987, by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. Can the noble Viscount say whether procedures have been streamlined and, if not, why not?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, as I said, the procedures are by their nature consultative and must take in a wide range of divergent views. It has not been possible to streamline the procedures. I hope that the Select Committee's report will enable us to change the methodology.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, will the noble Viscount be good enough to answer the question put by my noble friend Lord Morris; namely, when will action be taken in Anglesey? Is he aware that people there, including myself and the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, are becoming increasingly impatient in view of the pledge made some years ago that action would be taken? The central question being put to the noble Viscount is: why the long delay? His explanation that the procedures take time is inadequate in view of the many years that have passed since the matter was first mooted.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, I can only say to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition that we must await publication of the revised consultation document.