Scottish Marine Protected Areas scheme to be unveiled

Survey boat
Image caption The protection network is designed to protect the ecosystem around Scotland's coast

Plans to create a huge network of Marine Protected Areas around the coast of Scotland have been published.

The Scottish government is considering protecting 32,000 square miles of seas, an area roughly as big as the country.

The network is designed to safeguard the future of rich and diverse coastal habitats and maintain a healthy marine ecosystem.

Some opposition has been put forward by fishermen, and the scheme could also impact on offshore renewable energy.

The Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 included new powers to select and manage Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

In a report to the Scottish Parliament, Scottish Natural Heritage and UK-wide advisory body the Joint Nature Conservation Committee have put forward 33 MPA proposals.

A further four areas have been identified to protect dolphins, whales and basking sharks, along with proposals for black guillemot, sandeels and tidal fronts to enhance protection for seabirds.

'Important milestone'

Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said: "Accounting for 13% of Europe's seas and 61% of UK waters, Scotland's seas include many diverse habitats, with rare and beautiful species that it is our responsibility to protect.

"That's why the Marine Act included ambitious commitments to safeguards our seas.

"Not only that but a healthy marine ecosystem underpins the nursery grounds for the species our fishermen rely on, the reefs and kelp forests that protect our coasts by buffering against storms - as well as the clean waters needed to absorb carbon dioxide and help in the fight against climate change."

Image caption Scotland seas and coastal areas are home to a wide variety of marine and bird life

Scottish Natural Heritage called the report an important milestone.

Chief executive Ian Jardine said: "Scotland's seas are a fantastic asset that contributes enormously to our quality of life and our economy. Managing them in a sustainable way is a complex task."

RSPB Scotland said the proposals were a step in the right direction, but represented a "massive missed opportunity".

Director Stuart Housden said: "Despite Scotland being globally important for these species, seabirds have been almost completely marginalised in the identification of Scotland's new Marine Protected Areas.

"These proposals offer precious little protection for Scotland's seabirds - iconic species like the puffin, razorbill and kittiwake.

"The government claims seabirds will be adequately protected by Special Protection Areas designated under European legislation. Let there be no confusion - these promised SPAs are essential, but they cannot and will not protect nationally important concentrations of seabirds feeding at sea."

Fishermen in the Western Isles have campaigned against the creation of a Special Area of Conservation in the Sound of Barra.

The new Marine Protected Areas could also have an impact on the positioning and design of offshore renewables.

Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of Scottish Fishermen's Federation, said they would study the proposals.

He added: "It is absolutely essential that science guides the process, which must serve the requirements of the marine environment and of sustainable harvesting of seafood.

"If MPAs in Scottish waters are properly organised, the objectives should actively support each other."

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