Scotland’s iconic marine species and habitats will be better protected following the designation of 30 Marine Protected Areas. Sites will protect a range of habitats and species including flameshell beds, feather stars, the common skate and ocean quahog, a large mollusc which can live for centuries. They will also protect sandeels – a small fish that many seabirds and marine mammals depend on for food – and black guillemot, a species of seabird found in Scotland’s seas that has striking black and white plumage and bright red feet. One of the sites – the North East Faroe Shetland Channel – is estimated to be the largest Marine Protected Area in the EU.
Scotland’s seas are the fourth largest in the EU and support many habitats and species including cold water coral reefs, 22 individual species of whales and dolphins and almost half of the European Union’s breeding seabirds. The Marine Protected Area (MPA) network in Scotland’s seas is designed to conserve a selection of marine species and habitats and offer long-term support for the services our seas provide to society.
These 30 new sites will contribute to a network to conserve rare or representative species and habitats allowing them to remain healthy and productive as well as to recover more sensitive species and habitats to a more natural condition. The network will be managed to protect the features for which they have been designated. Where possible that management will also allow sustainable use of the sea by marine users including the fishing industry.
The new sites are in addition to the existing protected areas in our seas. These range from Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for seabirds such as puffins and kittiwakes, Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) for features such as bottlenose dolphins, coral reefs and seals, and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) which protect a range of coastal habitats and species including seabirds, seals, sea caves and rocky shores. This means that approximately 20 per cent of Scotland’s seas are now in protected areas.
Ministers have also announced they are considering 14 new areas to protect sea birds and a further 4 locations to protect basking shark and species of whale and dolphin. These areas have been identified by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) through a programme of research and survey. Ministers will consider this advice in detail and hold another consultation in due course.
Scottish Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said:
“Scotland’s seas are fundamental to our way of life. Environmentally, they are hugely significant in European and global terms. They are a vast and vital natural resource which also provide energy, food and recreation. These MPAs will help protect and enhance our marine environment so that it remains a prized asset for future generations.
“Our waters support a huge diversity of marine life and habitats, with around 6,500 species of plants and animals and are among the richest in Europe for marine mammals. Many of these sites will provide protections for our seabirds like the black guillemot and sandeels which provide a vital food source. It is our duty to protect these species and habitats for the present as well as the future.
“I would like to thank all those who contributed to the consultation and the development of the network from across a wide variety of interests; environment, fisheries, energy organisations and the many individuals who enjoy and appreciate our waters.”
Ron MacDonald, SNH Director of Policy and Advice said:
“Today’s announcement is the culmination of a huge amount of work by a great many people. Along with Marine Scotland we have carried out numerous detailed surveys of marine habitats and species over several years. The input we have had from so many groups and individuals to the consultation has been invaluable in shaping our advice on marine protected areas.
“All of this work has highlighted just how important Scotland’s seas are to the country’s future prosperity and just how passionately people care about the sustainable management of this vital resource.”
JNCC’s Marine Director John Goold said:
“JNCC welcomes the introduction of these new MPAs and the important contribution they will make to the emerging UK, European and Global networks. We thank our project partners, and all those who contributed, for their hard work over the past four years to get to this point. A comprehensive program of survey work has been undertaken to support the identification of MPAs, which has involved working collaboratively with a number of project partners, such as Marine Scotland Science.
“At the same time, we welcome the announcement that Scottish Government are considering proposals for possible new marine SPAs, which would further extend the contribution the UK makes to marine conservation.”
Stuart Housden, Director of RSPB Scotland said:
“RSPB Scotland warmly welcomes today’s announcement of 14 draft Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for seabirds and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) which will protect black guillemots, sandeels and a number of other important marine species. RSPB Scotland and its supporters have been campaigning for better protection for seabirds for over a decade and regard the 14 draft SPAs announced today as an important first step towards achieving this.
“We look forward to continuing to work with the Scottish Government to ensure that seabirds and other marine life thrives in Scottish waters.”
Calum Duncan, Convenor of Scottish Environment LINK’s marine taskforce and Scotland Programme Manager for Marine Conservation Society said:
“This is a landmark decision for Scotland’s emerging marine protected area network. After many years of unchecked decline, we have now started to recognise that our nationally important sealife and neglected marine habitats need better protection. If well-managed, these MPAs will also work for the public interest.
“They will help to recover our damaged seas and benefit everyone who depends upon their health. This is one of the most significant decisions Scottish Ministers will ever make and we trust that political commitment will last until we achieve true recovery of our seas.”
Bertie Armstrong, Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive said:
“The fishing industry recognises the importance of protecting vulnerable marine ecosystems and we are pleased that our fishermen have had the opportunity to use their knowledge and experience of our seas to help influence the designation of the final chosen sites. We have demonstrated our support already by introducing with immediate effect our own voluntary protection measures in 11 specific sites covered by the new designated MPA network.”
Alistair Sinclair, Chairman of the Scottish Creel Fisherman’s Federation said:
“The vast majority of fishermen operating around the Scottish inshore waters are creel fishermen. We support a well-managed network of MPA’s as forward thinking creel fishermen recognise that practical steps are required to take better care of our inshore waters. Properly managed, the creel sector has a very low environmental impact and we acknowledge the need to enhance and protect area’s from destructive fishing methods.
“We all have our part to play and if the whole industry embraces MPA’s we will without doubt start the process of enhancing our marine environment creating more opportunities for communities around our coastline.”