AN AREA of the River Fowey has received protected status after the Government designated it a Marine Conservation Zone.
The zone encompasses the upper Fowey estuary extending to Lostwithiel's medieval bridge and its important salt marsh habitat, and includes the Pont Pill tributary.
The new zone is among 27 announced for the UK, of which 4 are in Cornwall.
The Cornwall Wildlife Trust, which welcomed the announcement, said the upper Fowey was particularly valuable as it was a rocky estuarine habitat, rare in the South West. The majority of estuaries in the region are fine mud and sand habitats.
Estuaries are nutrient-rich habitats and provide food and shelter for many marine species. They also act as nursery grounds for young fish.
Not only is the salt marsh important for the rare wasp spider and the short-winged conehead grasshopper, but the area also forms a migration route for the endangered European eel into the river network, where it matures.
Terry Eisler, from the Friends of Fowey Estuary, said the group was thrilled at the new protected status.
"It's a beautiful area and a haven for wildlife and plants, which we will be surveying next year," he said.
"The Friends are delighted it is has been chosen as a Marine Conservation Zone."
Along with the upper Fowey and Pont Pill, Whitsand and Looe Bay, Padstow Bay and the Manacles on the Lizard are the other Cornish areas designated.
Ruth Williams, Living Seas manager for the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, said: "Marine Conservation Zones as part of a network of protected areas are one of the best tools to protect marine wildlife and restore our seas to their full potential following decades of neglect and decline. We welcome this news that finally our coastal marine wildlife will be provided with the recognition and protection it deserves."
She said it was the first step in creating a network of conservation zones to help make marine life more secure and aid the areas' recovery.
The Government has announced 27 conservation zones for the UK, and the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations said although the Government had been criticised for not supporting the initial 127 zones planned, it was pleased at the more considered approach.
NFFO's chief executive Barrie Deas said: "The fishing industry welcomes the announcement.
"Decision-makers received 40,000 responses to its consultation, many of them from fishermen and fishing organisations worried about their livelihoods. The decision confirms the Government has balanced information on vulnerable habitats with data on the socio-economic consequences of applying management measures within each zone to find a solution which brings benefits to all."