Highly Protected Marine Areas

The Scottish Government is designating at least 10% of Scotland’s seas as Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs). Work will begin in 2023 to find the most appropriate locations for HPMAs before sites are designated in 2026.

HPMAs will significantly increase the overall level of protection we afford Scotland’s seas by building upon our existing network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

What an HMPA is

HPMAs will provide high levels of protection to important marine ecosystems by placing far stricter restrictions on what you can and cannot do within their boundaries.

Once in place they will:

  • place strict limits on some human activities, such as fishing, aquaculture and infrastructure construction
  • allow non-damaging recreational activities to take place at carefully managed levels
  • protect all the marine biodiversity within their boundaries, not just specific habitats or species

HPMAs will add value to Scotland’s existing MPA network and may overlap with current MPAs to increase protection beyond that already in place.

The aims of HPMAs

The world faces twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. This requires us to work with nature to secure a healthier planet.

The Scottish Marine Assessment 2020 showed that a number of marine species are in decline. If we do not address this loss, there is a risk that the marine environment will not be able to continue to provide the food and the other benefits we gain from it.

One of the main aims of HPMAs is to protect a balanced representation of Scotland’s ecology from the coast to the deep sea, including both inshore and offshore environments.

HPMAs will provide the best possible chance of protecting and restoring marine ecosystems so they can continue to support marine industries and the communities that depend upon them.

Policy framework

More details on what HPMAs are and what their aims are can be found in our draft Policy Framework.

How sites will be selected

Our statutory nature advisors, NatureScot and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), have developed draft ecological site selection guidelines to guide the site selection process. The guidelines include the natural functions and resources HPMAs will be aiming to conserve, such as blue carbon habitats and essential fish habitats.

Potential sites will be selected using the best available evidence. We will work closely with stakeholders throughout the selection process to so we can assess the socio-economic impacts of any proposed sites. Final site proposals will be consulted on before being designated by Scottish Ministers.

Stakeholders will also be able to suggest potential sites as HPMAs through a third-party proposal process. This process will allow stakeholders to put forward suggestions for where to locate HPMAs and provide evidence and data to support this.

Get involved and keep updated

Stakeholder engagement plan

We want to your hear your views.

We have developed a Stakeholder Engagement Plan which tells you how you can get involved during the process.

HPMAs will have an impact on how we all interact with our marine environment and we know that different individuals and businesses will be impacted in different ways.

Engagement opportunities

We launched a public consultation on a number of key documents that describe our proposed approaches to designating a suite of HPMAs in Scottish seas in December 2022. The closing date for responding to the consultation has been extended to 17 April 2023. This gives an additonal 4 weeks to respond.   

Responses to the consultation will help to inform and shape our overall approach to delivering HPMAs in Scottish inshore waters (up to 12 nautical miles from the coast) through primary legislation.  

We are running online information sessions in February 2023 where you can hear more about the HPMA consultation process and the documents we are seeking views on, as well as having the opportunity to ask questions to help you respond to the consultation.  

There are limited spaces for these sessions. See more information, including how to sign up to a session, on the event page. 


We produce a quarterly bulletin with updates on the progress of HPMAs and upcoming opportunities for engagement.

If you would like to receive it, please email HPMA@gov.scot

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