Protection plans for a precious stretch of sea

What lies beneath the surface ... Beachy Head East has rare chalk cliff and marine life
What lies beneath the surface ... Beachy Head East has rare chalk cliff and marine life

The Government has announced that an important stretch of sea off the Sussex coast will go forward for consideration as a Marine Conservation Zone.

Known as Beachy Head East, it stretches from the towering clifftop to Hastings Pier.

It is one of 40 new zones proposed across the UK – safeguarding almost 12,000 square kilometres of marine habitats and marking the most significant expansion of the UK’s ‘Blue Belt’ of protected areas to date.

Lewes MP Maria Caulfield said: “This announcement marks an important step towards completing our Blue Belt. We are creating safe havens for our cherished wildlife and putting the UK at the forefront of marine protection.”

Beachy Head East covers an area of 193 square kilometres.

The consultation period lasts six weeks and a decision will be made within 12 months.

If approved, it would result in conservation of rare chalk reefs and marine life, including the short snouted seahorse, stalked jellyfish and peacock’s tail seaweed.

Ms Caulfield said: “The UK is surrounded by some of the richest and most diverse sea life in the world.

“We must protect these precious habitats for future generations.”

No activities deemed damaging, such as dredging or coastal and offshore development will be permitted in Blue Belt areas.

Existing harmful activities will be minimized or stopped to allow vital habitats to restore over time.

Fifty zones have already been designated around the UK as part of the Blue Belt programme.

The first 27 zones were designated in 2013, followed by 23 sites in 2016. They currently cover a total of 209,000 square km around the UK.

If the new designations are approved, two fifths of the UK’s coastline will be protected. Ms Caulfield added: “I am delighted that part of our coastline is included in this new list that are set to become Marine Conservation Zones.”

Former Eastbourne MP Caroline Ansell has also expressed her delight that Beachy Head East is likely to become a Marine Conservation Zone after she lobbied for the designation when she was in Parliament.

She said: “This is exciting news and I hope as many people as possible get involved in the consultation to make the case for Beachy Head East.

“I will certainly be doing so because this is perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime chance to protect the sea off our town for future generations.”