4. Comments on key themes
In this section, written responses (through email and Citizen Space) have been categorised according to the major themes. This section is intended to provide explanation or background to the Scottish Government's decision making process, JNCC's advice or the assessments produced as part of the consultation. Numbers of responses under each theme are not quantified as this is covered under section 3 of this report. As with section 3, a single response may include multiple themes. Most comments raised by one or more response have been included, as long as the comment was relevant to the consultation and requires clarification or answer. General comments with no specific theme or query have not been included.
4.1. Science and data
4.1.1. Respondents were concerned about the baseline evidence supporting the proposal being insufficient across the region, resulting in difficulties in assessing the current condition of the proposed protected features of the West of Scotland pMPA. The partial confidence indicated by JNCC (notably in relation to the extent of the proposed protected features) resulted in respondents querying the suitability of evidence to underpin their proposition as proposed protected features and in establishing conservation objectives, as well as concern around use of the 'precautionary principle'. Responses highlighted the need for further monitoring and research to understand the impact of proposed management and track recovery.
A lack of baseline evidence and challenges facing regular data collection in the deep sea are a recurring theme in deep-sea conservation globally. Despite new advances, our understanding of deep-sea ecosystems is still limited with many questions yet to be addressed. Some of the key knowledge gaps include the ecology, taxonomy and distribution of deep-sea sponges and corals in the Scottish waters (McIntyre et al., 2016), the effects of climate change on deep-sea biodiversity, and how deep-sea ecosystems are connected (Chaniotis et al., 2019).
The Data Confidence Assessment for the West of Scotland pMPA establishes our levels of confidence in the presence and extent of the proposed protected features of the site. Whilst a prescriptive methodological approach was not used to establish the level of overall confidence for each of the proposed protected features, confidence was assessed based on two broad parameters for all proposed protected features: 'presence' (assessed based on three sub-parameters relating to age of the data, source or provenance of the data and appropriateness of survey technique to detect records of each of the proposed protected features) and 'extent' (based on data coverage within the site). Overall, JNCC considers there is sufficient evidence to support our understanding of the presence of all the proposed protected features of the West of Scotland pMPA due to considerations based on the age, source and appropriateness of survey techniques employed for the data records used to support the proposal as documented in the Data Confidence Assessment. However, with the West of Scotland pMPA being of significant size and deep-sea surveillance work still in its infancy we have needed to rely on data products such as predictive habitat models and point records of some features (notably deep-water fish) to determine our understanding of the extent of the proposed protected features of the West of Scotland pMPA. Accordingly, we have only been able to affirm partial confidence in the extent of numerous proposed protected feature records and note that further surveillance work is required to build on this understanding should the West of Scotland pMPA be designated.
Evidence suggests that despite their remoteness, deep-sea ecosystems are highly vulnerable to human activities and many features are considered under threat and subject to decline as a result of anthropogenic activities such as fishing practices (OSPAR, 2008). Fishing activities such as trawling can cause mortality to some deep-sea species (Kaiser et al., 1996; Jennings et al., 2008; Clark & Tittensor, 2010; ICES, 2010) and recovery from such damage is estimated to be measured in decades (Clark et al., 2010; ICES, 2010). Similarly, impacts can arise from hooks, lines, nets and ropes becoming entangled with corals and other fragile species, including 'plucking' them from the seabed during hauling (ICES, 2010; Mortensen et al., 2005; Muñoz et al., 2010; OSPAR, 2010). The proposed protected features of the West of Scotland pMPA are exposed to pressures associated with activities taking place to which the proposed protected features are considered sensitive. Moreover, there is direct evidence (through OSPAR and ICES datasets) to support regional decline in many of the proposed protected deep-water fish species. Therefore, on a precautionary basis, JNCC have recommended a 'recover' conservation objective for all the proposed protected features of the West of Scotland pMPA (using evidence such as that highlighted above) with the exception of blue ling, where JNCC have greater confidence that the species is in favourable condition.
The proposal has been based upon the best available scientific evidence and understanding of regional and global deep-sea ecosystems. However, building the evidence base to support effective conservation measures in the deep sea is an ongoing challenge, in order to address knowledge gaps and ensure high-standard evidence-based management. Moving forward, should the West of Scotland pMPA be designated, partnerships between policy makers, scientific advisers, research and academia should be expanded to continue to further our understanding of deep-sea ecosystems located in the West of Scotland site and enable monitoring to evaluate measures and track recovery.
4.2. Protected features
4.2.1. Respondents highlighted the need for further clarification on the formation of the proposed protected feature list and the thresholds for assessing the sufficiency of evidence. In particular, concerns were raised around the omission of mobile species and areas such as the Hebrides Terrace Seamount from the proposed site boundary. There is also a specific query around omission of the inclusion of the recently discovered cold-water seep feature to the west of Scotland. Some respondents strongly supported the addition of pelagic deep-water fish species and cetacean species to the list of proposed protected features.
The methods document produced to underpin the consultation on West of Scotland pMPA outlines JNCC's approach to shortlisting the proposed protected features for consideration for the main feature types known to be present within the area under consideration: habitats (such as cold-water coral reefs), low or limited mobility species (such as northern feather star), large scale features (such as seamounts), geological/geomorphological features (such as Rosemary Bank and adjacent sea floor key geodiversity area), fish/elasmobranchs (such as Orange roughy and Leafscale gulper shark), marine mammals (such as long-finned pilot whale) and seabirds (such as northern gannet). The key question considered (for mobile species in particular) was the sufficiency of evidence supporting the ecological significance of particular areas of the deep waters to the west of Scotland to the life history traits of these features, and namely would spatial protection and associated management under an MPA deliver value to the conservation of these species. By ecological significance, we mean spatially important areas for the life histories of the species, e.g. important breeding or nursery areas. The results suggested insufficient evidence for the majority of mobile species to be considered further at this time, with the exception of a number of deep-water fish/elasmobranch species. The majority of all other feature categories did however pass through this initial screening exercise. The resulting proposed protected feature shortlist was then taken forward and considered further under the data confidence assessment process.
None of the 14 species of marine mammals assessed met the evidence standards set to be considered as proposed protected features of the site. This was due to insufficient evidence of persistent use of the area or its importance to the life history of these species to merit inclusion. However, if data became available (from further monitoring for instance) to support inclusion of these species, the feature list can be reassessed and possibly revised.
Data from a variety of sources were reviewed to assess bird species, including the seabird maps generated from boat-based data and used before for the identification of possible SPAs (Kober et al., 2010), more recent tracking data (Wakefield et al., 2013 and 2017; and Cleasby et al., 2018), and data on foraging ranges during the breeding season (Thaxter et al., 2012). Following the precedent of the Birds Directive (2009/147/EC) within the UK and the identification of MPAs for black guillemot (Cepphus grylle) (SNH, 2012), MPAs would only be considered for seabird species if they occur with more than 1% of their populations on a regular basis in the proposed area. When analysing all available data for the site, none of the considered seabird species met these guidelines and consequently, none of the seabird species became a formally proposed protected feature of the site.
The cold-water seep referred to be one of the respondents discovered by Marine Scotland is situated beyond British Fisheries Limits in the Hatton-Rockall Basin (see Neat et al., 2019) and is outside the scope of the West of Scotland pMPA.
Finally, the boundary of the West of Scotland pMPA has been drawn to compliment and not duplicate existing protection measures within the same geographical area. As such, areas such as the Hebrides Terrace Seamount, which are already afforded protection within existing MPAs (in this case The Barra Fan & Hebrides Terrace Seamount MPA), were omitted from the proposal.
4.3. Environmental benefits
4.3.1. Many respondents noted that contribution that the designation of the site would make to Scotland's MPA network.
The Scottish Government believes that these proposals will help achieve the Scottish Government's vision for clean, healthy, safe, productive and diverse seas; managed to meet the long term needs of nature and people, as well as making a significant contribution to the coverage and representativeness of the Scottish MPA Network.
Designation of the site as an MPA would make sure that activities which the protected features are sensitive to can only proceed where they are shown to have no significant impact.
4.3.2. Respondents recognised the importance of the West of Scotland pMPA in safeguarding fragile deep-sea ecosystems, including the role of seamounts as refugia for cold-water corals against ocean acidification, but some requested further detail be included in the supporting site documentation on the benefits of conserving the deep-sea ecosystems.
The biodiversity within West of Scotland pMPA performs key functions that subsequently provide important ecosystem services. This includes climate regulation, habitat provision, and food provision in the form of deep-water fisheries. Large-scale features such as seamounts are known to disrupt the oceanographic currents to create dynamic hydrographic environments increasing food availability to suspension feeders such as sponges and corals. Fox et al. (2016), found coral on seamounts and offshore banks within the West of Scotland pMPA may play a critical role in connectivity and maintaining larval supply, and act as refugia from ocean acidification for cold water corals (Tittensor et al. 2010). Deep-sea ecosystems also support biotechnological advances, for example, a microbe taken from deep-sea sediment samples has been shown to fight the antibiotic-resistant disease MRSA (Kurata, 2017). Willingness to pay for deep‐sea species protection and the option to harvest medicine in the future has been estimated at £70–77 per person in Scotland (Jobstvogt, et al., 2015). In addition, less tangible, educational and research services, aesthetic services, and the sense of 'awe' towards the deep sea (cultural and spiritual services) are also of importance (Chaniotis et al., 2019) and should be considered when evaluating the value and benefits of conserving the deep sea. We thank the respondents for raising additional potential data sources to help improve our understanding of the ecosystem services provided by the biodiversity associated with this deep sea area. We have contacted NatureScot (the operating name of Scottish Natural Heritage) and SAMS in response to this and both organisations have indicated we should look at the EU-funded ATLAS project (A transatlantic assessment and deep-water ecosystem-based spatial management plan for Europe); specifically work package 5 of deep-sea ecosystem services. JNCC have used resources produced by the ATLAS project, as well as additional literature, to enhance the content of the Ecological Overview document as one of the underlying materials supporting the West of Scotland pMPA.
4.4. Site selection
4.4.1. Respondents from the fishing industry identified an error in the eastern boundary of the site, where it did not follow the 800m depth contour as intended.
As there are already measures in place across European waters (including Scotland) to prohibit trawling below 800 metres. Following discussions with the Scottish Government, records of fishing activity were supplied which showed fishing activity within the proposed site boundary, suggesting the site included areas of depths shallower than 800 metres along an area with steep seabed slope. As inclusion of areas shallower than 800 metres, other than vulnerable seamount habitats was not the intention of the proposals, the fishing records were used to amend the site boundary. The change has had very little effect on the size or extent of the site overall, in fact the areas removed are 2km at their widest part and the size of the site is still 107,718km2, only 55km2 smaller than the original proposal.
4.4.2. Respondents noted that there are no marine mammals included as proposed protected features of the site. It was noted that certain species, in particular beaked whales and Risso's dolphin, are likely to be present within the site, utilising area for foraging, and could be impacted by underwater noise created by various activities.
Scotland's seas are internationally recognised as being important for whales and dolphins (which are collectively known as cetaceans). Cetaceans are protected under national and international legislation wherever they occur throughout Scottish waters. Cetaceans are European Protected Species (EPS) meaning they are protected by the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 which makes it an offence to deliberately disturb, capture or kill any cetacean in Scottish waters. Work is also ongoing on the UK Dolphin and Porpoise Conservation Strategy which will provide benefits to small cetaceans in Scottish waters.
Scottish Ministers recently consulted on four MPAs including the North-east Lewis MPA, of which Risso's dolphin is a proposed protected feature, which was chosen due to the long-standing data demonstrating the importance of this area for key life stages of Risso's dolphin. At present, there are insufficient data to determine if the site supports important life history stages of any cetaceans (JNCC, 2020). However the environmental benefits of a healthy ecosystem from the designation of the site would be likely to benefit any cetaceans present.
4.4.3. Some respondents asked why the Faroe-Shetland proposal was not being consulted upon and whether this will be progressed in the future. Others noted that the consultation documents were confusing where the Faroe-Shetland proposal was included in the assessment but not part of the consultation.
The Faroe-Shetland proposal was identified, alongside West of Scotland, as an area of search for the deep sea marine reserve due to having waters below 800m in depth. Following an assessment of the habitats and species within each site, JNCC provide advice to Scottish Ministers. The Faroe-Shetland site contained four habitats and species suitable for protection (with one on the OSPAR list), of which all four are already represented in the Scottish MPA network. The West of Scotland site contained 14 habitats and species (with 10 on the OSPAR list). Over half the Faroe-Shetland proposal is already covered by the North East Faroe-Shetland Channel MPA. The Scottish Ministers are therefore no longer considering the Faroe-Shetland area.
4.4.4. Respondents asked why the decision was made to include waters 800 metres deep or greater and exclude shallower areas and the species and habitats which reside in these shallower waters.
The Scottish Government asked JNCC to consider proposals for a site below 800m due to the existing ban on deep sea trawling below these depths. The site does include shallower areas such as Rosemary Bank and Anton Dohrn Seamounts, but follows 800m on the continental slope.
4.4.5. Respondents noted that the boundary of the proposed site does not extend to the edge of UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) limits and should be larger to include all UK offshore waters.
The site extends to the limit of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) (200 nautical miles) because from the end of the EU Exit transition period (01 January 2021) the UK will have competence for all activities in the site. Going beyond this would limit Scotland's powers for fisheries management, although there is already considerable restriction on fishing in the region between UK EEZ and UKCS limits within the NEAFC regulatory area.
4.4.6. One respondent suggested that the site should be extended to the Scottish west coast and encompass the Western Isles.
Scotland already has 116 MPAs in inshore waters covering 24% of the seas within 12 nautical miles of shore. The west coast and Western Isles are some of the most protected of Scotland's seas. The purpose of the West of Scotland pMPA is to provide additional protection to the important deep sea areas of Scotland's water which is why all the waters of the West of Scotland pMPA are greater than 800 metres deep. Therefore bringing the boundary to the coastline would not meet the objectives of the site and also would overlap with a large number of sites already in place.
4.4.7. One respondent queried why there was no option to keep the Rosemary Bank Seamount MPA in place until management measures were implemented with the West of Scotland pMPA.
There are currently no management measures for fisheries at the Rosemary Bank Seamount MPA, except more general EU wide deep sea fisheries regulations. Existing protections as required under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 relating to the regulatory decisions will be in place if the West of Scotland pMPA is designated so the features within the Rosemary Bank Seamount MPA will receive the same level of protection as is currently in place.
4.4.8. One respondent noted that no seabirds are included as protected features of the site where they may be at risk of bycatch from long-lining.
When analysing all available data for the site, none of the considered seabird species met the guidelines for inclusion as protected features and consequently, none of the seabird species became a formally proposed protected feature of the site. The Scottish Government is leading on the development of the Scottish Seabird Conservation Strategy. The strategy is looking to optimise the conservation prospects of seabirds in Scotland through effective management of existing and emerging threats. Bycatch is one potential pressures that is being considered through the developing strategy. The Scottish Government is also working with the UK Government and the other devolved administrations on a national Plan of Action for bycatch. At the moment the plan is reviewing fisheries observer data to identify areas where bycatch is a potential issue as well as the gear type being used. Actions taken forward by the Scottish Strategy will be informed by the plan of action.
4.5. Conservation objectives and management advice
4.5.1. Respondents highlighted the importance of considering supporting features within the conservation objectives in order to inform accurate assessments, as well as a definition of 'natural processes' within the context of the conservation objectives themselves. It was also suggested that the wording around objectives for Leafscale gulper shark, Gulper shark, Orange roughy, Portuguese dogfish, and Round-nose grenadier are phrased more explicitly as supporting population recovery in the first instance and sustaining populations in the future. Respondents raised concerns that the conservation objectives are too open-ended and need to be better quantified to ensure that change can be assessed consistently and objectively. Respondents also noted that there is a necessity to collect baseline information from which area, structure, function, community composition and trend objectives can be set in a more quantifiable and consistent manner.
JNCC would agree that further refinements are needed to articulating the conservation objectives of the site and this is part of ongoing work following designation. Supplementary advice on conservation objectives is produced after the designation of a site such as West of Scotland pMPA as part of JNCC's statutory conservation advice package development. This best ensures that any ecological characteristics, including supporting processes of a feature or 'attributes', are considered when assessing impacts (to condition and progress towards the conservation objective) from an activity. In addition to this, information is provided about the factors which influence a habitat or species' capacity to recover from impacts. The current objectives will be amended to include text on sustaining populations into the future. Moreover, further clarification will be made in the context of sustaining/recovering populations within the context of the West of Scotland pMPA versus the wider environment and range of the species themselves.
Quantitative conservation objectives and associated thresholds would be beneficial, however the current evidence available is insufficient to develop thresholds. The complexity of the marine environment, including species-habitat interactions, species-species interactions and behaviour make it difficult to predict how, when and to what degree species will respond to management. Difficulty disentangling the impacts of human activities and natural processes further hinder this. As suggested, better baseline data would support more quantitative objectives, but this is not currently available. The conservation advice and objectives will be further refined as the evidence-base develops (such as after a period of monitoring).
Although we agree that further information on natural processes and supporting features is required, a high level conservation objective is set only at this stage of the designation process. In the context of deep-sea ecosystems, natural processes could be processes such as movements in the deep-sea thermocline, for example. This level of detail is typically provided as supplementary advice on the conservation objectives as part of JNCC's statutory conservation advice should a site such as the West of Scotland pMPA be designated. It is also important to acknowledge that the impairment of any of the supporting processes on which a feature relies can result in changes to its overall condition and progress towards the conservation objective. As such, should the West of Scotland pMPA be designated, supplementary advice on the conservation objectives is produced to ensure that any ecological characteristics, including supporting processes, of a feature, or 'attributes' are considered when assessing impacts from an activity. JNCC's conservation objectives and management advice describes the ecological characteristics or 'attributes' of the site's qualifying feature(s) and the ecological characteristics or 'attributes' which define condition as set out in the conservation objectives for the MPA e.g. extent, structure and function and supporting processes. This is provided to support users in better assessing the duration and therefore significance of any impacts associated with their proposed activity.
4.5.2. Some respondents requested a ban on all bottom trawling within the West of Scotland pMPA and fisheries targeting deep-sea pelagic fish species. Proposals for an extension of a ban on demersal trawl gear from below 600m as opposed to 800m were also received including calls to exclude pelagic gear. It was also suggested that a licensing regime could be explored, for pelagic gears solely targeting what are considered to be continental shelf species, which are not as vulnerable as true deep-sea species. Concerns were also raised about future potential industrial activities and mining.
Demersal trawling is already prohibited across the entirety of West of Scotland pMPA in waters deeper than 800m (Regulation (EU) 2016/2336). The same regulation also restricts bottom trawling below 400m where Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs) are present or are likely to occur. Fishing with bottom-set gillnets, entangling nets and trammel nets below 600m is also prohibited, and there are restrictions on their use between 200m and 600m, according to Regulation (EU) 2019/1241. Moreover, JNCC advise in the context of the West of Scotland pMPA that there is a prohibition of demersal mobile gears in areas shallower than 800m within the site, and the prohibition of all bottom-contacting static gears where aggregations of VME features occur. To support recovery of the sedimentary features of the West of Scotland pMPA, JNCC advise that bottom-contacting static gears should also be restricted or more ideally removed from the extent of these features. An existing suite of proposals for offshore fisheries management within existing MPAs is due for development and public consultation in due course and, if designated, measures for the West of Scotland pMPA will be considered alongside these.
Statutory advice on management of pelagic fisheries will only be considered where there are risks to achieving the conservation objectives of the proposed protected features of the West of Scotland pMPA. Extractive activities operating in the water column would not be expected to impact the habitat features of the proposal such that the conservation objectives for these features would not be met.
In JNCC's advice on Conservation Objectives and Management for the West of Scotland pMPA, it is recommended that a precautionary approach is taken towards managing deep-sea mining, whereby no licenses should be granted for deep-sea mining intended to take place within the West of Scotland pMPA should there be interest in the future; essentially recommending a moratorium on any deep-sea mining activities. Similarly, the proposal also recommends significant restrictions on any further industrial activities. JNCC's advice on management of oil and gas exploration stipulates that additional mitigation measures may be required on a case-by-case basis to avoid hindering the achievement of the conservation objectives for the West of Scotland pMPA. However, it is notable that limited activity currently takes place.
4.5.3. In contrast, other respondents stated that none of the proposed protected feature conservation objectives provided a rationale that referred to vulnerability towards pelagic fisheries, and thus suggested the need to disregard the upper management scenario proposed in the Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment (SEIA). Concerns were also raised around the current understanding of distribution and impacts of bottom-contacting fisheries on proposed protected features. The need to gather further evidence to increase understanding and inform management measures was highlighted recurrently.
The management scenarios assessed under the SEIA are for all sectors and are intended to look at the range of possible impacts on management to industry. These can help inform management decisions but are not formal management options. JNCC have provided management advice for activities operating/likely to operate in the pMPA, with recommendations to limit or remove pressures on the proposed protected features. Although the upper management scenario does not correspond directly with this advice, it represents a worst-case scenario of precautionary measures. JNCC share the same views as the respondent with regards to the importance of gathering more evidence to inform our own advice and management going forward should the West of Scotland pMPA be designated.
4.5.4. Respondents also raised concerns about the impacts of military activities on marine mammals in the area.
Underwater noise resulting, for example, from military activities and possible exploration of deep-sea resources may pose a threat to the conservation status of marine mammals in the region. However, marine mammals are not a proposed protected feature of the West of Scotland pMPA, due to insufficient evidence of persistent use of the area or its importance to the life history of these species (as foraging areas, or important breeding grounds for example). If data became available to support inclusion of these species, the feature list could be reassessed and possibly revised. As such, the current management advice does not consider the impacts of noise on marine mammals. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Defence seeks to manage its activities in a manner that minimises environmental impact. As part of its Marine Environment and Sustainability Assessment Tool (MESAT), the Royal Navy produce a layer for its electronic charts to provide advice to personnel on how military activities in the vicinity of designated MPAs may impact features. These electronic charts are used by Navy Commanders and other operational planners to ensure that military activities in the marine environment minimise their environmental impact. In addition, all cetaceans are strictly protected throughout their range under Annex IV of the EU Habitats Directive.
4.5.5. One respondent noted that the management advice and future site management should take into consideration the potential future impacts of climate change upon the site.
The Scottish Government recognises the role our ocean plays in mitigating and adapting to climate change. It is important to recognise the need to protect key marine carbon stores, but this can only be achieved by recognising the existence of such stores and implementing the appropriate management measures.
4.6. Management scenarios and future management
4.6.1. Respondents noted that the intermediate and upper management scenarios included exclusion of oil and gas activities within the site. Some noted that this is not in line with the management advice from JNCC and others noted that management advice on for oil and gas suggests a risk to the proposed protected features without evidence. In general, respondents from the oil and gas industry were opposed to these scenarios being implemented. One respondent was in favour of oil and gas being excluded from the site.
The management scenarios are indicative to allow appraisal of the socio-economic and environmental impacts from the designation, relevant to the different levels of management. For oil and gas, the lower management scenario represents the 'status quo'. The intermediate and upper scenarios are generalised approaches where all activities impacting the seabed and water column, respectively, are removed. If the site is designated, management of oil and gas activities will continue to be managed on a case by case basis by the regulator, as is currently the case, however regulators and developers will be required to take the advice from JNCC into account and take part in early discussions with JNCC regarding proposals for oil and gas exploration and exploitation.
4.6.2. Respondents supported the intermediate management scenario (exclusion of bottom contacting fishing gear) with regard to fishing but some did not support the upper scenario (exclusion of pelagic fisheries) due to the migratory nature of pelagic fish species.
Fisheries management measures for this site will be considered in future and will take into account the potential risks to the protected features posed by different types of fishing activity, and existing management measures (for example the existing restriction on demersal trawling below 800 m). If fisheries measures are considered necessary, proposals will be based on best available scientific evidence and socio-economic factors will be taken into account. We will engage with stakeholders on the development of any fisheries measures and proposals would be subject to a public consultation.
While measures will be considered more fully as they are developed, it is likely that further monitoring will inform our understanding of the risk to pelagic species. At this stage, there is no evidence to indicate that pelagic measures would be required.
4.6.3. Respondents asked that the sites should be appropriately monitored for compliance with management measures.
Trawling at depths below 800m is already prohibited within the site, however the need for any further management measures will be considered after designation. The Scottish Government takes the enforcement of sustainable fisheries management and protection of the marine environment extremely seriously. We recognise the enforcement challenges that exist in covering a significant area of sea and large number of fishing vessels, therefore a risk-based approach is used to prioritise monitoring activities. MPAs are consistently a high priority.
4.6.4. Some respondents queried the advice that no further management would be required for Ministry of Defence (MOD) activity within the site, particularly noting the potential for disturbance to marine mammals from underwater noise created by these activities.
The MOD uses the Maritime Environmental and Sustainability Assessment Tool (MESAT) to implement its agreed guidelines on environmental impacts at sea. These protocols are referred to within JNCC's Management Advice. In addition, regular liaison occurs between all Statutory Nature Conservation Bodies and the MOD to discuss any additional mitigation that may be required.
4.6.5. One respondent queried how the Management Advice would be translated into management of activities other than fishing within the site.
Before consenting any activity with the potential to have an impact of the protected features of the site, regulators and developers will be required to ensure that the activity will not hinder the conservation objectives of the site. Regulatory authorities may consider JNCC's Management Advice when applying conditions to regulated activities.
4.6.6. One respondent welcomed the advice from JNCC on deep-sea mining within the site.
JNCC advice noted that deep-sea mining would be capable of damaging the proposed protected features of the site although it is not thought that any mining currently occurs within the site. The advice advocates a precautionary approach to deep-sea mining whereby no licences should be issued within the site.
4.7. Social and economic impacts
4.7.1. Respondents noted that despite the intermediate and upper management scenarios including complete exclusion of oil and gas activities, the cost impacts to the industry from these scenarios were estimated as nil.
The potential cost impacts for the oil and gas industry were calculated based on the number of active or licensed blocks within the West of Scotland pMPA which overlap with an 'undeveloped discovery'. In the West of Scotland proposals, there is one licensed block which overlaps with an 'undeveloped discovery'. Based on the assumptions of the assessment, which are based on the likely timescales of oil and gas development, this block is unlikely to reach exploitation within the assessment period. The assessment does note that there may be costs associated with lost opportunity under the intermediate and upper scenarios however these costs cannot be quantified due to the multiple sources of uncertainty. It is however recognised that these costs could be significant. As explained in section 4.6.1, the scenarios represent worst-case for the industry and in reality, oil and gas development would continue to be considered on a case-by-case basis by the regulator and JNCC.
4.7.2. A few respondents noted that designation of the site could boost the tourism industry within Scotland.
The Scottish Government recognizes the importance of marine tourism as part of the Scottish economy and to the livelihoods of coastal communities. National designations such as MPAs are thought to have a positive impact on tourism by increasing visitor awareness of the local wildlife.
4.7.3. Several respondents noted the potential economic benefits which could arise from designation of the site, and highlighting that although these benefits are potential large they have not been quantified in the assessments.
We recognise the value that marine habitats and species can provide in terms of ecosystem services, particularly regarding functions they provide, e.g. habitat for commercial fish species, and opportunities for wildlife tourism and research. MPAs also provide benefits through the non-use value which is the value which people derive from simply being aware of the marine environment. Although it is very difficult to quantify these values it has estimated that the benefits to people from MPAs outweigh the costs (Brander et al. 2015).
4.7.4. A few respondents queried the reason for economic impacts being considered at all. These respondents felt that economic interests should not come above environmental protection. One respondent felt that the economic impacts had been overstated.
The Scottish Government assesses a number of factors as part of proposals to designate new MPAs. This includes having regard to the social and economic impacts that the designation could have (both positive and negative). These factors are taken into account alongside other considerations including environmental impacts (positive and negative) and our legal obligations to protect the natural environment.
The cost impacts in the SEIA represent a worst-case scenario for each of the levels of management possible (lower, intermediate, upper). The need for and scale of any future management measures has not yet been decided and will be subject to future discussions with stakeholders and public consultation. In general the cost impacts are considered to be low in comparison to the value of industries assessed. Ecosystem services and other benefits from MPAs are assessed in the SEIA. The final decision on the designation of a site is made based on these economic costs and benefits, the environmental benefits and stakeholder views. The SEIA represents only part of the supporting evidence which forms the basis of the site proposal.
4.7.5. One respondent noted that non-use value for deep sea habitats has not been quantified in the BRIA with reference to a study which has quantified this value.
The BRIA is informed by the SEIA undertaken for the proposal. The SEIA does include reference to the paper suggested and reports the findings of that study alongside many others. As outlined in the SEIA, the lack of public familiarity with deep sea systems and their services is a serious challenge for conducting, and in particular interpreting, the results of stated preference surveys.
4.7.6. One respondent noted that the environmental assessment found that there would 'no immediate benefit' to the environment under the lower scenario, despite cost impacts to the oil and gas industry.
The SEA states that there will be no immediate benefit under the lower scenario (designation alone) however there is potential for future environmental benefits, depending on site management. The potential costs to oil and gas are based on increased assessment costs for future consents under that scenario. Increased scrutiny under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 and in EIAs for future activities will provide the potential future environmental benefits described in the SEA.
4.8. Site monitoring
4.8.1. Respondents raised concerns that the proposed monitoring of the West of Scotland pMPA outlined in the supporting documentation is not sufficient in order to assess features and identify temporal patterns. The need for more detailed and specific survey plans was highlighted.
Difficulties around a lack of baseline evidence and challenges to regular data collection are a recurring theme in deep-sea conservation (Chaniotis et al. 2019; Levin et al. 2019; Vinde Folkersen, Fleming & Hasan 2018). These constraints result in the partial confidence in proposed protected feature extent throughout the West of Scotland pMPA, which is something that will be advanced and improved through future research and monitoring. Overall, there is a need to improve our capacity to monitor the deep sea but the costs of new technologies and a limited ability to share data in a timely and efficient manner across sectors, are a barrier to furthering understanding. Difficulties can be overcome by supporting collaborative research efforts and engagement with industry to share knowledge and resources (Chaniotis et al., 2019). Utilising such solutions will be essential moving forward to ensure advancement in the understanding of deep-sea ecosystems and to develop evidence to support advice and management. JNCC fully support this aspiration for the West of Scotland pMPA if designated.
The Scottish Government, in partnership with NatureScot and JNCC, has developed a Scottish MPA Monitoring Strategy. This ensures the necessary information is collected from the Scottish MPA network to underpin assessment and reporting obligations. The strategy details the methods and principles for monitoring the MPA network as well as details of planned surveys when available. If designated, the West of Scotland pMPA will be incorporated into the rolling offshore MPA survey plan. Every six years, Scottish Government reports to the Scottish Parliament on the status of the MPA network which includes the results of MPA monitoring.
4.9. Other environmental issues
4.9.1. Respondents raised concerns about the presence of toxic chemicals, specifically Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the West of Scotland pMPA possibly resulting in killer whale infertility and further management was requested to reduce the impacts on killer whale breeding.
JNCC's advice does not consider the risk of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) including Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) as these are outwith the scope of MPA management.