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UK

Crab fishing boat

Reforming the Common Fisheries Policy

After failing our seas and our fishermen for the last 40 years, the European Common Fisheries Policy has been reformed to give a more sustainable future for fisheries, following our long-running Europe-wide campaign.

Handline fishing

UK Marine Act campaign

After 10 years of calling for new legislation, WWF is very pleased that at last we now have a UK Marine and Coastal Access Act on the statute books.

The UK’s 20,000km of coastline has incredibly diverse coastal and marine habitats. These range from sheltered lagoons and coves, deep sea lochs and muddy estuaries to wave-lashed rocky coasts and deep waters off the edge of the continental shelf.

We've been saying for years that many of these habitats and species are in severe decline and in urgent need of protection. The passing of a UK Marine Act represents the pinnacle for the WWF Marine Act Campaign, and a significant win for the environment, as the government now has a legal duty to protect our seas.

Sandy bay

More about the issue



  • In 2005 WWF published a Marine Health Check report to gauge the health of the UK’s sea life. This revealed that 13 out of 16 key marine species and habitats were in decline in UK waters.
  • To date, estimates show that nearly a quarter of the UK’s sea bed has been affected by human actions such as trawling and other industrial activities.
  • Currently, only around 2% of the UK’s sea have been designated as marine protected areas (MPAs) under EU and UK law in order to protect marine biodiversity. Alongside this there are three marine nature reserves that have been designated (Skomer Island in Wales, Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland and Lundy Island in England) under UK law. These provide some legal protection from damaging activities, but only one of these sites receives the highest level of protection in our UK seas, Lundy Island, where fishermen have agreed to limit their activities in a designated area to restore fish stocks and marine wildlife. The benefits of Highly Protected Marine Reserves are being increasingly recognised. Another example of an MPA encompassing strict protection measures is Lamlash Bay, Isle of Arran. However, this still means that only 0.001% of our seas are highly protected in the UK.
  • The marine economy contributes nearly £50 billion to the UK's annual GDP, or some 6 to 6.8% of the overall economy. The sector provides 890,000 jobs in areas as diverse as shipping, research, oil and gas production and renewable energy.
  • The UK government is committed to international agreements and laws to regulate marine activities and to protect wildlife. These include a commitment to achieve a reduction in biodiversity loss by 2010 (under the World Summit on Sustainable Development and the Convention on Biological Diversity). The UK aims to establish a network of protected areas by 2012. There are also several EU Directives relating to the protection of the marine environment; in particular, the Marine Strategy Directive requires the UK to achieve “good environmental status” in its seas by 2020.
  • As part of the EU energy targets (which set out proposals to achieve a reduction in EU greenhouse gas emissions of 20% by 2020) the UK government has its own national target of generating 15% of energy from renewable sources. The seas provide significant opportunities for wind, wave and tidal energy generation – but development must be located sensitively to minimise damage to the marine environment.