Protecting sea would bring £2bn to UK economy

CONTROVERSIAL proposals to establish a network of marine protected areas around Britain’s coast could be worth a one-off value of almost £2 billion to divers, anglers and other recreational users, according to a new study headed by researchers at a Scottish university.

The seabed in the Rockall Trough of the North West coast of Scotland
The seabed in the Rockall Trough of the North West coast of Scotland

And the economic benefits of the conservation zones would increase even further if “significant restrictions” are placed on commercial fisheries.

The study, led by researchers from Aberdeen University in partnership with the Marine Conservation Society, the British Sub Aqua Club and the Angling Trust, estimates there are up to two million sea anglers and around 200,000 divers in the UK. And there are proposals to set up 33 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Scotland, and 119 Marine Conservation Zones in England to add to the seven existing Marine Special Areas of Conservation in Wales.

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A spokeswoman for Aberdeen University said: “Designation of marine protected areas in England, Wales and Scotland would be worth a one-off value of £0.92 to £1.93 billion to recreational users, according to the new interim report of the UK National Ecosystem Assessment. These values would further increase if MPAs would put significant restrictions on commercial fisheries.

“The research also estimated the current recreational value of MPAs to lie between £148 to £248 million for divers and £1.86 to £3.38 billion for anglers per year, although there is considerable uncertainty around these recreational figures, because it is difficult to precisely estimate how often divers and anglers visit each of the 151 proposed areas examined in the study. Benefits would depend on most areas remaining open to diving and angling.”

Jasper Kenter, from the School of Biological Sciences at Aberdeen University, said: “This study clearly demonstrates how important these potential marine conservation areas are for divers and sea anglers.

“The way that divers and anglers relate to these places goes much deeper than just recreation. It an experience that is important on so many levels: physical health, stress relief, engagement and connection with nature, beauty, a sense of wonder. It is these profound bonds that makes divers and anglers very concerned about the future of these special places.”

He added: “Increasingly we are able to assess the economic value of nature conservation. But it is also tremendously important to look at the deep emotional connection divers, anglers and others feel for the places that they visit.

“When we talk about the value of recreation, we can recognise excitement that people feel when they see a creature they’ve never seen before, the bond that people develop when they go out together or the peacefulness that someone feels when they are alone with the immensity of the sea. It is because of these kinds of feelings that divers and anglers want to protect these places, and much of this report is about showing the significance of these values.”