A CUMBRIAN conservation group has welcomed a long-fought-for commitment to the first ever sea sanctuaries where all damaging activities will be banned.

Last year the Benyon review of Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) was published by Defra and included in its list of recommended sites for protection, some in the Irish Sea, both inshore and offshore.

The Wildlife Trusts backed its recommendations that HPMAs should be an essential part of the UK network for protection and recovery of the marine environment, and that the government should introduce HPMAs as soon as possible.

Last month Defra announced it will begin the process for designating HPMAs by the end of 2022, setting an ambitious commitment to protect our seas.

The Wildlife Trusts believe there is an overwhelming case for the designation of HPMAs across our seas which would see a ban on all damaging activities, offering the strictest possible protections for the marine environment and giving nature the best chance of recovery.

They have called for HPMAs for the last three years and launched a petition urging speedy implementation which was signed by more than 10,000 people.

Local marine officer Georgia de Jong Cleyndert said: “This is fantastic news for our seas. Highly Protected Marine Areas will be an essential tool to protect our precious underwater wildlife on a large scale and a massive step in the right direction for ocean recovery.

“At Cumbria Wildlife Trust, we have been campaigning for HPMAs for the last three years.

"The Benyon Review has a list of recommended sites for such protection, including some in the Irish Sea, both inshore and offshore.

“Whilst we are unsure which sites will be designated, The Wildlife Trusts will be calling for designations to encompass a range of habitats in all regional seas. HPMAs will help to tackle climate change and will lead to healthier, more abundant seas.

"This really is a momentous announcement.”