The European Natura 2000 project attempts to balance conservation and exploitation by permitting activities that do not affect the conservation status of designated sites. Given the scale of Natura 2000, guidelines are needed to facilitate the drafting of simple site management plans. This need is particularly acute for traditional harvesting methods for which there is usually strong local opposition to the imposition of controls. These issues were examined in Strangford Lough, a special area of conservation where cockles have traditionally been harvested by hand-raking. Raking was found not to affect the ability of cockles to rebury. There were significant reductions in Zostera biomass when raking was carried out within eelgrass beds (a 90% reduction in biomass available to winter migrant birds from summer raking). Traditional harvesting methods could therefore be accepted in Strangford as long as Zostera beds are avoided. A relatively low intensity of harvesting activity in Strangford Lough probably reflects low cockle densities (average 91.8 m(-2)), with the most economically valuable individuals at some distance from points of access to the shore. An economically feasible management plan could sanction traditional harvesting and result in the implementation of more resource-intensive management only if increases in cockle stocks and market prices stimulate large increases in harvesting activity.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Aquatic Science