The 50-square mile Dogger Bank area was designated a Special Area of Conservation in 2017 – but environmental campaigners Greenpeace have accused Boris Johnson of failing to take its importance seriously. Consequently, a spokesman said the decision had been taken to drop another 16 massive boulders in addition to 15 it already placed using its ship, the Esperanza, last week in a bid to deter bottom trawling vessels from operating in the area.
Greenpeace is calling on the UK Government to properly protect all of the UK’s marine protected areas by banning industrial fishing activity inside them – and has emphasised the massive opportunity presented by the UK’s decision to quit the bloc.
Research carried out in the summer suggested bottom trawling vessels in the Dogger Bank frequently operate illegally by switching their AIS positioning systems off, a breach of international and UK law.
The “boulder barrier” will be removed if the UK Government provides “credible commitments” to properly protect the area, Greenpeace has pledged.
Esperanza drops more boulders into the sea
A Greenpeace lowers a boulder into position
Chris Thorne, a Greenpeace UK oceans campaigner on board the ship, said: “If our Government is not willing to commit to proper protection for the Dogger Bank and the rest of the UK’s Marine Protected Areas, we are forced to continue doing all that we can to prevent bottom trawling from destroying this vital marine habitat.
“We can’t let bottom trawlers, which often operate illegally with their positioning systems off, continue to rip up the protected seabed while our Government does nothing.”
Mr Thorne added: “We will not sit idly by while our oceans are destroyed. Our Government continues to hide behind vague statements about its desire to protect our oceans sometime in the future. Enough is enough.
The boulders will deter bottom trawling vessels from targeting Dogger Bank
“Even documentation of illegal and destructive bottom trawling in one of our protected areas set up specifically to protect the seabed hasn’t compelled our Government to act, so we are back with more boulders to continue with the creation of our bottom trawler exclusion zone.”
Urging Britain’s Prime Minister to act, he said: “Boris Johnson has said more fine words about protecting our environment at the United Nations, committing to 30 percent protection on land, but nearly half of our most important wildlife sites are already at risk having not been monitored for years.
“He’s also already committed to protecting 30 percent of our oceans, but if the Prime Minister fails to lay out concrete plans for delivering on these targets, then his fine words at the United Nations are meaningless.
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Sixteen more boulders are being dropped in a 50 square mile radius
Greenpeace’s Esperanza in the North Sea
“They aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.”
In a letter to Greenpeace UK, dated September 25, 2020, the UK Government made no tangible commitments to properly protect the Dogger Bank, and formally requested that Greenpeace make “no further deposits” of boulders, Greenpeace revealed, claiming it had been left with “no choice” but to continue with the operation.
Some of the boulders have been signed by celebrities including Stephen Fry and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall tweeted: “Today @BorisJohnson is making a pledge to conserve UK nature yet his new #FisheriesBill has no duty to make fishing sustainable. @GreenpeaceUK is dropping a boulder with my name on it on the Dogger Bank which will do more for marine protection than his bill.”
European Fisheries mapped
According to the Government, the Dogger Bank’s protected feature, the seabed, is in “unfavourable” condition, Greenpeace said.
Greenpeace UK notified all the relevant marine authorities immediately upon deploying each boulder to ensure safety for all mariners operating in the area.
Speaking last week after Greenpeace dropped the first 15 boulders, Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO), told Express.co.uk: “First and foremost we fear for the crews of our vessels should their gear become entangled in what Greenpeace are describing as ‘massive granite boulders’.
“Secondly, AIS is not a fisheries enforcement tool – that is provided by the VMS (vessel monitoring system) – a satellite system that is mandatory for fishing vessels over 12 metres. So vessel monitoring for enforcement purposes is not an issue.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is one of the celebrities to have signed the boulders
Greenpeace is urging the Government to act to protect the conservation area
“Thirdly, bottom trawling is not illegal on the Dogger Bank.
A Defra spokesperson said: “We are putting sustainable fishing and protection of our seas at the heart of our future fishing strategy.
“We have already set up a ‘Blue Belt’ of protected waters nearly twice the size of England and the Fisheries Bill proposes new powers to better manage and control our Marine Protected Areas and English waters.
“The Common Fisheries Policy currently restricts our ability to implement tougher protections, but leaving the EU and taking back control of our waters as an independent coastal state means we can introduce stronger measures.”