Seas At Risk, together with the Marine Conservation Society and ClientEarth, is empowering its members with a series of legal tips to encourage Member States to ensure effective management measures are put in place in marine protected areas.

In marine protected areas, human activities are supposed to be restricted for conservation purposes.  However, in reality marine protected areas often are mere ‘paper parks’, lacking concrete management measures. Damaging activities, in particular linked to fisheries, are still taking place. Proper control is often lacking and ensuring real protection of ecologically sensitive areas and endangered species living there is a real challenge. NGOs often lack the legal capacity to convince their governments to meet the minimum protection levels required by European legislation.

The partnership between ClientEarth and the Marine Conservation Society has been a winning matching. Together, they explored possible legal steps offered by European environmental legislation in order to encourage the English government to develop effective management plans in those marine protected areas that are part of the Natura 2000 network. The European legislation protecting habitats and species – the Habitats and Birds Directives – is a powerful instrument to make pressure on governments. It requires Member States to take appropriate conservation measures to maintain and restore the habitats and species for which the site has been designated to a favourable conservation status and to avoid damaging activities that could significantly disturb the species or deteriorate the habitats. In addition, governments can be referred to the European Court of Justice if found in breach of the EU legislation. Legal steps taken by the two NGOs in a UK context proved to be quite successful, in particular in setting limits on harmful fishing activities in Natura 2000 marine sites.

The Marine Conservation Society and ClientEarth turned this successful experience into a toolkit, which explains step-by-step the actions NGOs can take to encourage governments to better manage the protected areas. In order to build capacity in NGOs across Europe, the Marine Conservation Society and ClientEarth teamed up with Seas At Risk to share lessons learnt and success factors with Seas At Risk members coming from all over Europe. This sharing of experience took place in a workshop in Brussels on 20-21 September. Seas At Risk will widely disseminate and promote the use of this legal toolkit within its European network. This will empower those NGOs facing the same challenges in other Member States with a powerful and successful tool to achieve real environmental safeguard of marine protected areas.

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