Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)

Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas Designations

As of 24 July 2014, 30 MPAs have been designated under the Marine (Scotland) Act and the UK Marine and Coastal Access Act. These have been incorporated into the National Marine Plan and represented in National Marine Plan interactive alongside existing protected areas.

Of the 30 MPAs, 17 fall under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 in Scottish territorial waters and 13 in offshore waters under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. These 30 have been recommended by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) for inshore waters and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) for offshore waters. These designations fulfil duties in both the Marine (Scotland) Act and the UK Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, as well as furthering commitments to form part of the wider UK contribution to the OSPAR North-East Atlantic MPA network.

Special Areas of Conservation Designation

Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) are designated for a range of habitats and species defined in the EU Habitats Directive.  There are currently 47 SACs for species and habitats such as bottlenose dolphin, coral reefs and seals.  One of these, Hatton Bank for reefs, is the largest in Europe.

On 18 June 2015 the Scottish Government received advice for four draft SACs for harbour porpoise from Scottish Natural Heritage and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee.  Following a review of the advice by Marine Scotland Science, Scottish Ministers wrote to SNH and JNCC, on 15 December 2015 to advise them not to proceed to consultation with these proposals.

The Scottish Government remains committed to having harbour porpoise SACs in Scottish Waters, where they are fully justified and supported by the evidence.  A new selection process led by Marine Scotland is now underway.  Further information on this new process will be provided in January.  There may be opportunities for stakeholders to participate in the new process.  Please send an email to with “harbour porpoise” in the subject line if you are interested in participating.

What are MPAs?

The MPA Network

By protecting rare, representative and productive species and habitats on the basis of sound science, the rich diversity of life in the waters around Scotland and the benefits they bring can be enjoyed in the future.

Scotland’s seas are extraordinary and provide nurseries and feeding grounds for species that are critical to the marine ecosystem, including fish species that are relied upon for food. Kelp and seagrass forests and offshore reefs help reduce the effects of storms by acting as a physical buffer. Healthy seas also assist in protecting us from climate change. It is therefore important not just to protect rare, threatened, declining, or nationally representative species and habitats for their own sake, but also for these benefits that are taken for granted.

SNH has completed a series of interactive dives at various sites around Scotland which allows the viewer to experience the rich diversity in Scotland's seas first-hand. This is also available as a lower bandwidth version if the high-quality version is not supported.

What is a Marine Protected Area (MPA) Network?

A Marine Protected Area network in Scotland’s Seas is designed to conserve a selection of marine biodiversity (species and habitats) and geodiversity (the variety of landforms and natural processes that underpin the marine landscapes), offering long-term support for the services our seas provide to society.

Marine Scotland has now identified Nature Conservation MPAs in Scotland to either protect a range of biodiversity or geodiversity features in their current state for the future, or to allow them to recover to the state in which they should be in order to remain healthy and productive.

Nature Conservation MPAs have been identified for features (the collective term for species, habitats and geology that is looking to be protected in the MPA network) that Marine Scotland believes require more protection than that offered by existing protected areas.