RIGHT now, a network of Marine Protected Areas is being developed around our shores, with protection from the most damaging activities such as gravel extraction and scallop dredging.

Most types of fishing, commercial and recreational activity will still be allowed, but there will be some new marine reserves, called Reference Areas, which will be protected from all damaging activities, giving them a chance to return to the rich seas of our grandparents’ days.

These highly protected Reference Areas, small though they will be, are vital to the success of the network as a whole. They allow wildlife within them to return to a near-natural state, acting as benchmarks for understanding how human activities affect marine life, showing us what a healthy and undamaged sea is like – something we can hardly imagine at the moment.

Older Dorset residents remember seeing schools of harbour porpoise from Dorset’s cliffs and catching large angel shark and common skate, both of which are now critically endangered. We hope that by setting aside some areas of the sea purely for wildlife we will see a return to the marine environment our great-grandparents enjoyed.

Reference Areas (sometimes called No Take Zones or Highly Protected Marine Reserves) are a proven way of safeguarding important habitats and wildlife and result in significant increases in the number, variety and size of plants and animals within them.

In the tiny No Take Zone at Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel, after just four years there were over six times more lobsters within the zone than outside. A study on European marine reserves shows that on average there is over 21/2 times more marine life within them than was there before.

As these areas reach capacity the burgeoning populations spill out into the surrounding sea. In such areas, where marine life is thriving, there is a built-in resilience, strengthening it against global pressures such as climate change, ocean acidification and pollution.

If we are to halt the centuries-long decline in our seas we need to establish Reference Areas that are purely for the recovery of wildlife. They will undoubtedly affect some people who use the sea for their living or recreation and tough decisions will be needed. But if we do nothing, no one will benefit, least of all our local Dorset fishing communities. If we don’t act now there will be very little for our grandchildren to enjoy.

To find out more about the campaign for Marine Protected Areas, including Reference Areas, both in Dorset and throughout the UK, visit wildlifetrusts.org and click on Living Seas. Look out for the Petition Fish campaign this summer at Dorset Wildlife Trust centres and events and sign a scale to show your support for marine wildlife. It’s now or never for the future of our seas!

A date for your diary: Saturday, May 14: Launch of Weymouth and Portland marine volunteers, from 10am to 1pm. Indoor session followed by seashore discovery on the beach.

Booking is essential so call 01929 481044 or email jhatcher@dorset wildlifetrust.org.uk for details.