Thousands of seabirds off the Isles of Scilly could be given greater protection.
A consultation has been launched of Government plans to extend the Isles of Scilly Special Protection Area by almost 13,000 hectares.
Thousands of seabirds including Manx shearwaters, European shags and great black-backed gulls are to be offered greater protection under the proposals announced by Natural England on Tuesday.
The seas around Scilly are home to a greater diversity of breeding seabirds than anywhere else in England and the existing Isles of Scilly Special Protection Area (SPA) supports over 8,000 pairs of 13 different seabirds.
SPAs are sites designated to protect populations of rare and vulnerable seabirds from human activity while minimising disturbance to birds’ open water feeding areas. There are already 47 such sites designated in English waters.
The consultation has been welcomed by West Cornwall MP Derek Thomas.
Mr Thomas is the Parliamentary champion for the Manx Shearwater (Scilly is one of only two places in England where it breeds) and last summer he received an RSPB award trophy on behalf of the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust and the many volunteers on Scilly who have ensured that Manx Shearwaters can succeed by clearing litter and eradicating all the rats on the islands of St Agnes and Gugh.
Natural England say the extension of the SPA will help to maintain healthy and productive breeding colonies for generations to come. The extended boundary recognises the importance of additional species for the first time, including the European shag and great black-backed gull, and includes not only seabird nesting sites but also nearby sea areas used for feeding, resting and preening.
Mr Thomas said “The coastline around Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly is home to some of the most magnificent wildlife in the world and these proposals are aimed at ensuring the UK remains a world leader in protecting our marine environment.
“I hope that these new protections will provide thousands of birds on the Isles of Scilly with a safe haven for foraging and feeding, safeguarding precious marine habitats for future generations.
“However, I also recognise that the extension of the SPA could impact on other users of this area and so I welcome the consultation that has been launched and would encourage local residents to give their views.”
The consultation will run from 26 February until 21 May and seeks the views of all interested parties on the proposed boundary change. The public can view the consultation details at https://consult.defra.gov.uk/natural-england-marine/isles-of-scilly-potential-special-protection-area/gov.uk and can respond online, by email or by post.