A WILDLIFE charity has said it is bitterly disappointed at a government decision not to include any areas around the Isle of Wight in plans for Marine Conservation Zones (MCZ) to be created next year.
The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) today released the details of 31 areas around the UK which it is to consult on ahead of their possible designation as MCZs in 2013.
It is hoped MCZs would protect marine life and habitats by restricting potentially damaging activities.
More than 120 areas, including 30 in the south east, were recommended to DEFRA ahead of today's announcement, following a two-year consultation that cost £8.8m, according to the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust.
Jolyon Chesworth, Head of Marine Conservation at Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, said: "We are yet to read the document in full, but at first inspection it appears deeply disappointing and woefully inadequate.
"From the recommended 30 sites in South East England only nine sites are now suggested for designation in 2013 and incredibly, none of these is around Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, despite there being strong evidence that these are some of the best sites for marine life in the region.
"Once again the government has failed to listen to its Big Society – in spite of spending £8.8 million to hear our views – and as a result our local seahorses, corals and other marine life remain vulnerable."
A spokesman for the trust said: "Failure to designate all but a very small proportion of the recommended sites would mean that we lack the effective, ecological network that our seas so badly need to recover."
There was further criticism from the Marine Conservation Society.
Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, MCS Senior Biodiversity Policy Officer, said: "Designating just 31 sites in 2013 shows a complete lack of ambition and no duty of care to the 59 sites that are at severe risk of damage, let alone the 127 sites that Government was advised would create a network of marine conservation zones.
"It’s pitiful. We cannot delay protection. We wouldn’t stand by and let wildflower meadows and ancient forests be dug up and cleared, and yet heavy fishing gear is dragged across all kinds of habitats, destroying large swathes of the seabed with very little control."
Dr Solandt told the County Press it was particularly concerning that Bembridge, one of the areas identified by Natural England as being at risk, was not chosen.
According to the Balanced Seas report, produced following consultation with groups in the south east and submitted to DEFRA: "Perhaps the most diverse of all the recommended MCZs proposed in the Balanced Seas area is that of Bembridge rMCZZ 22, where seagrass beds, rocky ledges and reefs provide particularly productive habitats for a large range of species, such as seashorses, lagoon worms, stalked jellyfish and rare seaweeds."