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European Marine Sites Management Schemes

Establishing management schemes is optional for relevant and competent authorities under the Habitats Regulations. However, the Regulations place a general duty on all statutory authorities exercising legislative powers to perform these in accordance with the Habitats Directive. A European Marine Site management scheme can be the best means to achieve this through providing a framework for management and promoting cooperative working with other relevant/competent authorities, especially on large or complex sites. Experience has shown that many Relevant Authorities and bodies with an interest in managing MPAs and other natural assets are unable to deliver their statutory functions on their own; at an individual level funds would not have been available either for employment of a co-ordinator, or for elements of monitoring or specific action. This is what has happened in the Solent with the establishment of the Solent European Marine Sites Management Scheme; the Solent Forum provides the Secretariat for this Scheme.

Whilst only relevant authorities have the responsibility for establishing a management scheme, government policy recommends that other groups including owner and occupiers, users, industry and interest groups be involved in developing the scheme. To achieve this, it suggests the formation of advisory groups and a process for regular consultation during the development and operation of the scheme.

The primary focus of a management scheme is to manage operations and activities taking place within a European marine site, promoting its sustainable use. However, it may also provide guidance for the assessment of plans and projects, particularly those of minor or repetitive nature. A plan or project is any operation, which requires an application to be made for a specific statutory consent, authorisation, licence or other permission. Not all types of plan or project fall within the statutory functions of relevant authorities, but are consented or authorised by other statutory bodies, termed competent authorities (e.g. central government departments).