Greenpeace UK has been forced to continue building its underwater boulder barrier to prevent destructive bottom trawling in almost 50 square miles of the Dogger Bank Special Area of Conservation after the UK Government failed to commit to properly protect the area. Some of the boulders, which will be deployed by Greenpeace activists on board the Esperanza today, have been signed by celebrities including Stephen Fry and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
The prime minister Boris Johnson has pledged to protect a third of the UK’s terrestrial environment at the UN summit starting this week. Greenpeace campaigners and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall have questioned the purpose of this new pledge to protect our terrestrial environment, when nearly half of England’s most important wildlife sites are already at risk after not being monitored for years, and most of the UK’s marine protected areas are failing to meet their conservation targets.
In a letter to Greenpeace UK, dated 25 September 2020, the UK Government made no tangible commitments to properly protect the Dogger Bank, and formally requested that Greenpeace make “no further deposits” of boulders. This would allow destructive bottom trawling to continue in the Dogger Bank, and leaves Greenpeace with no choice but to continue with the operation.
The UK Government has failed to protect the Dogger Bank, which was formally designated in 2017 to protect the seabed. The Dogger Bank’s seabed is one of the North Sea’s most important habitats, and underpins the North Sea’s ecosystem by providing a home to marine life including sandeels, crabs and flatfish, vital food sources for porpoises, seals and seabirds.
Greenpeace UK investigators discovered in summer 2020 that bottom trawlers in the Dogger Bank frequently operate illegally by switching their AIS positioning systems off, a breach of international and UK law which endangers the safety of other mariners. The Government has failed to take any action since Greenpeace brought this to light.
Chris Thorne, a Greenpeace UK oceans campaigner on board the Esperanza said, “If our Government is not willing to commit to proper protection for the Dogger Bank and the rest of the UK’s Marine Protected Areas, we are forced to continue doing all that we can to prevent bottom trawling from destroying this vital marine habitat. We can’t let bottom trawlers, which often operate illegally with their positioning systems off, continue to rip up the protected seabed while our Government does nothing.”
“We will not sit idly by while our oceans are destroyed. Our Government continues to hide behind vague statements about its desire to protect our oceans sometime in the future. Enough is enough. Even documentation of illegal and destructive bottom trawling in one of our protected areas set up specifically to protect the seabed hasn’t compelled our Government to act, so we are back with more boulders to continue with the creation of our bottom trawler exclusion zone.
“Boris Johnson has said more fine words about protecting our environment at the United Nations, committing to 30% protection on land, but nearly half of our most important wildlife sites are already at risk having not been monitored for years. He’s also already committed to protecting 30% of our oceans, but if the Prime Minister fails to lay out concrete plans for delivering on these targets, then his fine words at the United Nations are meaningless. They aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.”
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall said on Twitter, “Today @BorisJohnson is making a pledge to conserve UK nature yet his new #FisheriesBill has no duty to make fishing sustainable. @GreenpeaceUK is dropping a boulder with my name on it on the Dogger Bank which will do more for marine protection than his bill.”
There are no permanent restrictions on fishing activity in the Dogger Bank protected area. Destructive bottom trawlers operate extensively in the Dogger Bank, directly destroying the protected seabed. Bottom trawling in the Dogger Bank has increased in recent years. According to the Government, the Dogger Bank’s protected feature, the seabed, is in “unfavourable” condition.
The boulders pose no safety threat to passing marine traffic. Greenpeace UK notified all the relevant marine authorities immediately upon deploying each boulder to ensure safety for all mariners operating in the area.
The other celebrities who have signed their name to boulders which will protect the Dogger Bank are Bonnie Wright, Robert Lindsay, Alison Steadman and Alison Sudol.
The Dogger Bank scallop fishery is temporarily closed until early October to allow for scallops to spawn. This temporary closure does not safeguard the Dogger Bank’s protected seabed. Greenpeace UK commissioned an independent scientific agency, BioLaGu, to conduct a Natura 2000 Environmental Impact Assessment on the potential impact of the activity. This Assessment concluded the activity would not have a significant impact on the protected feature of the Dogger Bank.
Greenpeace is calling on the UK Government to properly protect all of the UK’s marine protected areas by banning industrial fishing activity inside them. Greenpeace will remove the boulder barrier from the Dogger Bank if the UK Government provides credible commitments to properly protect the area.