Loch Carron flame shell beds designated as Marine Protected Area.
An endangered seabed habitat off the north west coast has been designated as a Marine Protected Area (MPA) by the Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham.
The protection for Loch Carron’s flame shell beds follows an investigation by Scottish Natural Heritage and the Scottish Government into claims the vulnerable habitat had been damaged by scallop dredging.
The inquiry confirmed damage to the flame shell beds was consistent with the impact of scallop dredging.
The investigation also found there was a viable prospect of recovery because part of the bed had survived and another nearby bed had remained intact.
Flame shells are orange coloured molluscs which hide in nests they build on the seabed, providing a rich and diverse habitat for other creatures.
The MPA means any proposed development or use of the sea will have to take the need for recovery into account. To manage fishing activity, an urgent Marine Conservation Order will be put in place to prevent mobile gear fisheries, such as dredging, in the area - initially for one year.
Ms Cunningham said:
“We take our duty to protect Scotland’s rich marine environment extremely seriously and recognise the importance of safeguarding vulnerable habitats like flame shell beds.
“By introducing a Marine Protected Area and putting in place a ban on dredging we hope to ensure the recovery of the flame shell beds in Loch Carron.
“While we recognise there are concerns around scallop dredging in coastal waters, we must balance environmental concerns with the need for legitimate and sustainable fishing.
“The Scottish Government will now begin work immediately to identify if there are other areas which should be protected.”
Katie Gillham, Head of SNH’s Coastal and Marine Unit, said:
“The evidence collected by recreational divers, and by Marine Scotland Science and SNH, clearly shows the damage that was done to the flame shell bed.
“Alongside protecting the flame shell bed, this new MPA will help us learn more about the recovery of this Priority Marine Feature as it happens.”
Flame shell beds are a nursery habitat for scallops and other commercial species.
The National Marine Plan provides a framework for ensuring sustainable development and use of the seas.
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