HC Deb 08 July 2002 vol 388 cc698-9W
Mr. Don Foster

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what(a) guidance and (b) legislation is in place with regard to benthic fauna; and if she will make a statement. [65501]

Mr. Meacher

The UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP) provides a framework for the conservation of species and habitats, including benthic fauna, as well as the integration of biodiversity into all areas of policy. The UK BAP has some 40 individual action plans for important marine and coastal habitats and species, including mammals, fish, molluscs, sea anemones and algae.

The EC Habitats Directive requires member states to protect areas that support certain habitats and species, including examples of benthic fauna. My Department is working with the statutory conservation agencies to identify and select special areas of conservation in and beyond the UK's territorial waters.

Under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985, a licence is required before any material can be deposited in the sea for either disposal or construction purposes. As part of the licensing process, a full environmental assessment is carried out taking account of all potential impacts on the marine environment, including benthic fauna.

Mr. Don Foster

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what changes there have been to benthic fauna since 1997; and if she will make a statement. [65502]

Mr. Meacher

Measurement of the diversity of benthic fauna is a key component in understanding the health of UK coastal waters. We have set in place a National Marine Monitoring Programme that, on an annual basis, assesses the benthic community at a network of sites in our coastal seas.

DEFRA's Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) has found that apart from some reduction in diversity in estuaries due to natural stressors and pollutants, the UK's coastal waters are generally healthy and support diverse benthic fauna showing no detrimental changes.

CEFAS is currently engaged in a repeat of a detailed 1986 survey of benthic communities across the North sea in association with European Marine Institutes under the auspices of the International Council for the Exploration of the sea. This survey will provide the most comprehensive study to date on changes in benthic communities in the North Sea.

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