Marine protected areas to be set up around Scottish coastline

Flame shells The 30 sites are aimed at protecting Scotland's marine species

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A network of 30 marine protected areas is to be established around Scotland's coastline to protect marine species and their habitats.

The Scottish government is also considering the creation of 14 special protection areas for seabirds.

Further plans would include four new areas for the protection of basking sharks, whales and dolphins.

One site, the North East Faroe Shetland Channel, is estimated to be the largest marine protected area in the EU.

Scottish Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said the plans would "enhance our marine environment so that it remains a prized asset for future generations."

He added: "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."

'Right decision'

RSPB Scotland director Stuart Housden welcomed the plans.

He said: "RSPB Scotland and its supporters have been campaigning for better protection for seabirds for over a decade.

"We regard the 14 draft SPAs announced today as an important first step towards achieving this."

Lang Banks, director of WWF Scotland, said ministers had made "the right decision for our seas and the many wonderful species and habitats that live in them."

But Shetland MSP Tavish Scott was critical of the government's timing of the roll out - and claimed it was discourteous to local fishermen.

He said: "The government certainly hasn't been shy with its major announcements in the past.

"And an announcement of this magnitude, which will have a profound impact on Scotland's fishermen, could and should have been made either before the Commonwealth Games started or postponed until afterwards."

Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, said: "A significant area of the seas around our coasts are now protected, and we firmly believe that rather than falling into the temptation to deliver even more MPAs, there now needs to be a period of reflection and assessment to see how effective this current designation is in delivering overall ecosystem benefits and the impact they may have on our fishing fleets."

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