top of page

The blue belt - Britain's unsung, most successful nature story?

When voters head to the polls in just under a month they will be asking what 14 years of Conservative government has achieved. One of the policies we don’t talk about enough is the world-leading Blue Belt. 

Fin McCarron , International Programme Manager at CEN

The Blue Belt is a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) around the UK’s Territories (OTs). These areas can vary from complete no-take zones - where fishing, except for scientific monitoring, is completely banned - to areas which will allow for fishing to be done as part of a leisure activity but not industrially. The cumulative effect is that we have protected an area of ocean the size of India, allowing marine life in British waters to survive, thrive and recover. We shouldn’t stop now.

Creating the Blue Belt was popular with the public, following the TV programme Blue Planet II, which encouraged voters to tweet #BacktheBlueBelt at their MPs. During the final episode, voters tweeted this at their MP once every seven and a half seconds. This programme focused on the dangers of ocean plastic, much of which comes from industrial fishing nets. The Blue Belt is an important response to this issue as well as other issues like damaging fishing practices like bottom trawling or overfishing. 

Yet the Blue Belt hasn’t reached its full potential. The most recent expansion of the Blue Belt - around South Georgia and the South Sandwich islands - happened at the beginning of 2024. Over time, new OTs have joined after careful discussions with the people and governments of the OTs who have wanted to be part of this incredible community. More OTs, particularly in the Caribbean, could join the Blue Belt in the next parliament with government support and careful consultation with the people and governments of the OTs. 

The Blue Belt is so effective at protecting nature because many of our OTs are small islands in incredibly varied and nature-rich oceans. So the number of species that we can protect around these islands far exceeds the numbers we can protect around our shores. Indeed, over 90% of the UK’s biodiversity comes from our overseas territories. Much of this is marine life and rare birds whose diets require the marine life in the oceans around them, like the five separate species of penguin on South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands or the rare albatross species on Tristan Da Cunha. 

The protected areas are monitored: some MPAs have beacons to warn ships that the area is protected, and some are monitored by satellites or by long-frequency radio masts. All of these serve to identify and turn away vessels which illegally fish in these waters - even those which have their tracking signals turned off. This has led to direct changes like the return of humpback whales to some OTs where krill fishery was stopped. 

This isn’t just great for nature restoration; it is also extremely cheap for the British taxpayer. It was revealed last year that, though the Blue Belt protects over 4.3 million square kilometres of ocean, since its launch the government has spent barely £1.86 per square kilometre protected. And what do we get for this money? The Blue Belt has led to the discovery of new species like anglerfish in the deep waters around South Helena; it has grown our knowledge around coral reefs at a vital time for their conservation; and it monitors and prevents illegal fishing. And all this for less than half the price of a meal deal per kilometre.

In fact, for the cost of funding the NHS for a whole two hours, the Conservatives could commit to funding the Blue Belt for the next five year spending period, including space for the Blue Belt to expand and for the existing Blue Belt to maintain the high quality of protection. This is something that the government could commit to now, and in their election manifesto later this year. 

After all, for this price, why wouldn’t we?


If you are a CEN supporter, councillor, or parliamentarian and would like to write for the CEN blog, please email your idea to


bottom of page