Judge’s ruling on Greenpeace boulder action: An ‘absurd’ prosecution

Judge requires the UK’s Marine Management Organisation to review wasting public money and resources on ‘absurd’ prosecution of Greenpeace


Last year, the UK government’s Marine Management Organisation (MMO) launched a private prosecution against Greenpeace over its action to protect part of the Offshore Brighton Marine Protected Area (MPA) from bottom trawling in February 2021 [1]. Last December, at Newcastle Crown Court, the judge heard legal arguments on whether the MMO has jurisdiction over Greenpeace’s action.

The Judge’s ruling, delivered this morning, states that the MMO are legally entitled to pursue their prosecution, but the Judge required the MMO to conduct a review of their decision as to whether the case was in the public interest, which the MMO will now do, and report back by the 19th of January, saying ‘It touches on the absurd that this litigation is happening at all’[2].

Last February the government committed to better protect the Marine Protected Area in the Dogger Bank from bottom trawling after Greenpeace blocked bottom trawling with natural rock placements there, but no significant action has yet to be taken. Earlier this week, the Environment Secretary, George Eustice, met with Greenpeace and representatives of fishing communities to discuss their proposed emergency measures for greater marine protection.

John Sauven, Executive Director at Greenpeace UK said:

“The Marine Management Organisation’s role is to protect our marine ecosystems, so why they think wasting public time and money prosecuting us for doing exactly that is a bit of a mystery.

“Our action was designed to safely protect nature from destructive fishing in an area designated as protected but where the MMO is miserably failing to do the job. We’re facing a climate and nature crisis and in response the MMO chose to bury its head in the sand, ignore the threat and prosecute Greenpeace.

“This is a clear signal for the Environment Minister to take the urgent action needed to protect our oceans from industrial fishing and ban destructive ships from all of the UK’s Marine Protected Areas”

Greenpeace installed the natural rock protection in the Dogger Bank in 2020 and Offshore Brighton MPAs in 2021 to close parts of these protected areas to destructive bottom trawling. This fishing method ploughs the seabed destroying marine habitats, disturbing vast stores of blue carbon and endangering the long-term health of fish populations. It also endangers local fishing communities, who’s sustainable fishing methods can’t compete with such heavy extraction. On the other hand, Natural England found that Greenpeace’s boulder barriers caused no damage to nature.

Both MPAs exist specifically to protect seabed habitats, but there were no restrictions on fishing activity in either MPA when Greenpeace constructed its boulder barriers. In 2019, bottom trawlers spent 60,000 hours ploughing protected areas of seabed. This figure rose to 68,000 hours in 2020 [3]. Offshore Brighton, one of these MPAs which exists to protect seabed habitats, was ploughed by bottom trawlers for 3,099 hours in 2019. In addition, Greenpeace, along with the Marine Conservation Society, revealed last year that 26.5 million tonnes of carbon is stored in the seabed of the UK’s offshore protected areas alone [4]. Damage to the sea bed is a significant source of damage to the climate.

The MMO’s previous Director of Operations, Phil Haslam, who decided to prosecute Greenpeace has since moved from the MMO to industrial fishing company North Atlantic Holdings, as their Managing Director.

Since installing the natural rock protection in both MPAs, the UK government is consulting on closing MPAs to bottom trawling [5]. These include the Dogger Bank, where Greenpeace’s first boulder barrier was constructed. The outcome of these consultations, and whether these will be full closures of the entire MPAs to bottom trawling, has yet to be seen.

Lawyers acting on behalf of Greenpeace argued that the MMO has no jurisdiction over the actions of the Greenpeace ship, Esperanza, and was abusing its licensing powers to prohibit Greenpeace’s actions when they should be used for marine preservation.

Greenpeace is calling for the UK government to take urgent action to protect our oceans from industrial fishing by banning bottom trawlers and supertrawlers from all of the UK’s MPAs.



Greenpeace UK press office – press.uk@greenpeace.org / 07801 212 960

Photo and video of the boulders being deployed, and the defendant, John Sauven, are available here.



[2]For a the full text of the judge’s ruling, please email press.uk@greenpeace.org




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