What the 25 year plan says about our seas

Richard Harrington By: Richard Harrington
Date posted: 15 January 2018

The Government’s 25 year plan for the natural environment has been revealed by Theresa May.

The Prime Minister said she would be putting the oceans on the agenda when the Commonwealth Heads of Government meet in London in April. But is the plan ground breaking stuff or a document low on substance?

The team at MCS have been checking out what’s been promised in their areas – here’s what they’ve found:

Dr Chris Tuckett – MCS Head of Programmes


I’ve spent quite a few hours navigating my way through the 151 pages of ‘A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment’. I can’t remember a time when the Prime Minister has stood up and made a keynote speech as wide-ranging as this about the environment. So that’s great. We have the Government’s attention.

The plan itself is lengthy and gives a lot of high level promises but it is short on firm commitments and solid targets for action. For our seas, there is a commitment to sustainable fish stocks and to consult on further marine conservation zones. But there is nothing about implementing measures to protect marine sites that are already designated.

Plastics, as you might expect, gets a lot of attention. The key commitment is ‘Working to a target of eliminating avoidable plastic waste by end of 2042’. This is too long, and there are no firm actions in the short term. We have pushed the need for action on plastic for a long time, the public are behind it, so why not be bolder now? There are some good ideas though. The focus on natural capital – taking better account of the resources that we get from the environment – is positive, but this is far from being embedded.

And all of this is just a plan. It has no legal basis at all. So, for the environment, and our seas in particular, this is good news, but we have a lot to do with Government and business to see any of the promises become a reality. The hard work starts here…

Marks out 10 for the 25 year plan - 5 – could do better.

Dr Jean-Luc Solandt – MCS Principle Specialist–MPAs


Whilst government today says that 35% of England’s seas are designated in marine protected areas, MCS can reveal that the most destructive forms of fishing - scallop dredging, beam trawling and otter trawling are only banned from 3,819km2 of our expansive MPA network in England.

The vast majority of this protection lies within our 12nm zone of our territorial seas. Only 207km2 of our vast 39,485km2 MPA network that are outside our territorial sea is protected from such fishing – that’s 0.5% of our network that is effectively managed.

This is because we have to negotiate with other member states via the European Commission to stop such fishing outside our territorial seas. So of all of England’s waters, restrictive management of trawl and dredge fishing is only within 1.6% of our seas.

This is simply not good enough. A recent byelaw to stop such fishing in an MPA in Cornwall just got rejected by Defra after a year’s deliberation. How can our Marine Protected Areas really be considered ‘safeguarded’ when such activity takes place?

Marks out 10 for the 25 year plan – aspirational 10/reality 1

Emma Cunningham – MCS Senior Pollution Campaign’s Officer


At MCS we have been surveying beaches for over 25 years and we should not have to wait another 25 years for further long lasting change.

The time is now to make more long lasting changes happen and many of the action points in the plan can be done right now. Yes, some things might take longer but there’s no reason for some of the following items not being tackled sooner and more thoroughly

We have been leaders in influencing prior legislation on the carrier bag charges (UK wide) and mircobead ban to name a few. I’m of course delighted that we now have a ban in place to tackle microbeads but as always it needs to go further, certain products are not included, such as household and cleaning products and other make up like mascara and lip sticks and foundation, just because they are not meant to be washed down the drain it doesn’t mean that doesn’t happen, there is no excuse for microbeads to be in any product with all the natural alternatives available.

With regards to “extending the uptake of the highly successful 5p plastic bag charge to small retailers” - this should have been done in the first place in England, the same as was in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Extending it now on, and as rumoured, on a voluntary basis is just not good enough. Legislate and be done with it. Most of the smaller retailers came on board voluntarily anyway because they’d wanted to be included in the first place.

We know the levy has been effective so why do the government need to explore if compulsory options are needed, when we know it works already.

Just get on with it Mrs May. More teeth and action needed right now.

Marks out 10 for the 25 year plan - 4

Sue Ranger – MCS Education and Engagement Manager


The promise of £10 million investment in an environment programme for schools is cause for optimism. As it stands we know that most young people in the UK have access neither to learning about our ocean nor to coastal and marine spaces.

To make good on the promise that each new generation should be able to build a better future, when it comes to our seas, young people need more than access to a local ‘green space’, a school veg patch or bird feeder.

They need opportunities for meaningful learning about how the ocean makes our lives both possible and worth living. They need the opportunity to form the foundation of a future ocean- friendly society that values our seas and safeguards them for the future.

In short, the change we need to see in ocean literacy in the UK is nothing short of transformative. We would urge government to support innovative and impactful education initiatives to meet this challenge and not to forget our precious ‘blue spaces’ in shaping an environmental future worthy of the next generation.

Marks out 10 for the 25 year plan - If promises are delivered on – a strong 7. Let’s avoid a ‘could do better’ scenario

Bev O’Kane – MCS Fisheries Scientist


The 25 year plan aspires to adopt some good policies.

Notably using science-based management to ensure fish stocks can recover to sustainable levels in appropriate time frames, restoring and protecting the marine ecosystem and ensuring compliance, monitoring and stakeholder inclusion.

However, it has a lack of clear action points. We’ve been waiting the White Paper for months.

The most recent impact report was severely lacking in the expected outcomes of Brexit on the fisheries sector and so the recent track record of the government doesn’t instil confidence in their future approach to sustainable management, once we leave the Common Fisheries Policy.

Marks out 10 for the 25 year plan - 5

MCS is currently calling on UK governments to put a charge on single-use plastic throwaway items and demanding that big fast food chains stop giving out millions of plastic cups, stirrers, straws and cutlery but instead replace them with reusable or fully compostable alternatives.