Divers welcome dredging ban which is 'rewilding the North Sea'

Rob Spray, chairman of Marine Conservation for Norfolk.

Rob Spray, chairman of Marine Conservation for Norfolk. - Credit: Archant

Protecting vast underwater sand banks off the north Norfolk coast could lead to a regeneration of underwater life and a rise in 'ecological tourism' such as diving expeditions, it is hoped.

The government has outlined plans to ban 'bottom trawling' and dredging in areas including Inner Dowsing, Race Bank and North Ridge off the Norfolk coast, as well as the vast Dogger Bank area which is around 60 miles off the east coast of Yorkshire.

The measures are intended to protect delicate underwater habitats from damaging fishing practices and have been described as "the beginning of the rewilding of the North Sea".

Rob Spray, chairman of the action group Marine Conservation for Norfolk, said it was unlikely the ban would lead to a boom in diving at Dogger Bank, due to its distance from the coast and its challenging depth of 20m-30m. 

But Mr Spray, who also runs a marine environment project called Seasearch East, said the measure would help the overall environment of the North Sea, which would become more attractive to low-impact "ecological tourism" as it recovered. 

A diver explores a wreck off the north Norfolk Coast. Picture: Supplied by Cristal Seas Scuba

A diver explores a wreck off the north Norfolk coast. There are hopes a new dredging ban on sandbank areas in the North Sea will help marine life recover. - Credit: Supplied by Cristal Seas Scuba

"Dogger Bank would still be an advanced dive as you have to travel so far from shore and need to be prepared for an exposed area," he said. "But by protecting a big enough area you create that kind of biological momentum for environmental recovery."

Charles Clover, executive director of the Blue Marine Foundation, said: “We are delighted that the government has finally got round to protecting the Dogger Bank and the three other sites, which it promised to do a year ago.

Most Read

“The Dogger itself is the size of the Bristol Channel, so protecting it from damaging activities is an enormous and welcome precedent for the protection of all our UK offshore marine protected areas which were formerly, almost all, ‘paper parks’.

“It is the beginning of the rewilding of the North Sea.”

Karl Elliott, from Wymondham-based Scuba Libre diving - which runs diving outings off the north Norfolk coast, also welcomed the ban. 

Mr Elliot said: "The action of the trawling gear scraping across the floor causes extreme damage, and there's an awful lot of gear that gets lot and causes hazards to marine life." 

John Davies, Cromer fisherman and North Norfolk Fishermen's Society chairman, said the coast's crab and lobster fishermen should not be affected by the ban as they used pots, which did not scrape along the sea floor.