Lundy lies off the north Devon coast in the Bristol Channel. The waters around the island are of special importance for their marine wildlife. They contain the finest examples of rocky reefs in Britain, with an amazing diversity of sea life including some very rare and fragile species.
The seas around Lundy Island are home to an impressive range of wildlife, such as grey seals, lobsters and eight species of coral (which include pink sea fans, red sea fingers and dead man’s fingers). Lundy is also the only place in the UK where five cup corals exist together. Above the sea the 5km long island is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), designated both for its plants and seabirds.
Lundy was Britain’s first Marine Protected Area. A voluntary marine nature reserve was established round the island in 1971. In 1986, it was designated as England’s first, and what turned out to be only, statutory Marine Nature Reserve (MNR) protected for its reef habitats and associated species which are protected by strict controls on permitted activities.
As a direct result of the 2009 Marine and Coastal Access Act, the waters around Lundy Island off the North Devon coast became England’s first Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) in January 2010. The aim of the Marine and Coastal Access Act is to protect England’s most important marine habitats and species. This new designation supersedes the MNR designation and establishes the site as the cornerstone of a new network of Marine Protected Areas that the Government aims to have in place around our coasts by 2012. Through the Finding Sanctuary project representatives from a broad range of interested parties are being asked to help define what ought to be protected under the MCZ designation and to specify the management necessary to achieve these conservation aspirations.
The waters around Lundy are a popular site for divers, yachts and fishermen and are managed through a zonation scheme allowing particular activities in certain areas.
Despite Lundy’s numerous conservation designations, there was concern that some of the important marine habitats and species were not adequately safeguarded from human disturbances, especially the potential impacts of commercial and/or recreational fishing. The principal commercial fishery within the Lundy MNR was potting for crabs and lobsters. The MNR already provided a ‘Refuge Zone’ around Lundy in which forms of trawling and netting were banned under a Devon Sea Fisheries Committee (DSFC) byelaw. In addition to allowing some forms of commercial fishing, the MNR also allowed various forms of recreational fishing and harvesting, including angling from boat and shore, and the collection of scallops, crabs and lobsters by scuba divers.
In January 2003 the legal protection of the MNR received a welcome boost, with the designation (through a Sea Fisheries Committee byelaw) of a 3.3 sqkm No-Take Zone (NTZ) off the east coast. The NTZ spans ~3.6 km (or ¾) of the east coast of Lundy and extends ~1 km east from Lundy’s shore.
Natural England and the Devon Sea Fisheries Committee are now working in partnership with local fishermen to further the protection of marine wildlife within this most sensitive part of the MNR. In the NTZ all fishing is now banned. Indeed no sea life of any kind can be taken.
NTZs have a very successful history elsewhere in the world but this was the first such area to be designated in UK waters for nature conservation reasons. The creation of the Lundy NTZ was supported by local fishermen who hoped to see an increased catch outside the area, demonstrating how commercial and conservation interests can work together for mutual benefit.
Natural England, in partnership with Dr Miles Hoskin (CMER), Associate Professor Ross Coleman (University of Sydney) and with support from the Marine Biological Association of the UK and WWF-UK, has been monitoring the effects of the NTZ over five years. It has produced some surprising results. A recent peer reviewed paper co-authored by a Natural England staff member explains the results of the monitoring. The scientists found evidence of a rapid and large increase (up 127% by 2007) in the abundance and sizes of legal-sized lobsters within the NTZ. There was also evidence of spillover of small lobsters from the NTZ to adjacent areas. The NTZ also appeared to cause a small, but significant increase in the size of brown crab and a decrease in the abundance of velvet crabs (which was thought to possibly be due to predation or completion from lobsters).
Natural England believe the zone will help Devon's lobster-potters by providing a refuge where young lobsters can grow to maturity, then migrate into areas where commercial fishing is permitted. Scientists are now putting tags on the lobsters they catch. Fishermen are being encouraged to report catches of tagged animals, in order to show how far they are migrating out of the NTZ. Lundy is starting to reveal how NTZs can benefit both wildlife and people that use and enjoy the seas around it.