Designation of four Marine Protected Areas in Scottish waters: consultation analysis
Summary of the analysis of responses submitted on the designation of the four possible Marine Protected Areas; North-east Lewis, Sea of the Hebrides, Shiant East Bank and Southern Trench.
5. 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, NatureScot’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 4 of this report. As with section 4, 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.
5.1. Science and Data
5.1.1. Respondents emphasised the importance of the precautionary principle when scientific data are lacking for underpinning site designation
We acknowledge the complexity of the marine environment and the need for the precautionary approach to be applied in certain situations. However, NatureScot is confident that there is sufficient evidence underpinning each pMPA as described in the Data Confidence Assessment (DCA) document for each site.
5.1.2. Respondents disputed the presence of minke whale in the Southern Trench pMPA.
As described in Paxton et al. (2014), effort-corrected sightings data indicate that relatively high numbers of minke whale (compared to other parts of Scottish territorial waters that have been surveyed) occur within the pMPA, with higher numbers observed during the summer feeding season. Habitat modelling is an internationally accepted tool used to identify areas of importance for mobile species. The habitat modelling for the site also predicts that the area supports persistently above average densities (number of animals per km2) of the species compared to other areas in Scottish territorial waters. This is summarised in the DCA document for this site.
5.1.3. Respondents highlighted the importance of strict scientific requirements when proposing new MPAs, whereas another commented that sites should not be put forward on scientific criteria alone.
The Scottish MPA Selection Guidelines sets out the selection process. Before applying the more detailed stages of assessment, the guidelines require that a series of reviews should determine:
- The potential contribution that existing protected areas could make to the protection of MPA search features.
- What other area-based measures could contribute to the network by offering protection to MPA search features.
- Which parts of Scotland’s seas could be considered Least Damaged/More Natural, and whether they could potentially contribute to the network.
Each possible location is then assessed against the guidelines for the presence and quality of MPA search features, whether management of those features could be effective, and what contribution the area would make to the wider MPA network. Only locations that pass through all stages of the assessment are considered for inclusion in the Scottish MPA network. The Detailed Assessment Against the Guidelines document provides details of this for each site.
In making the decision to designate a new MPA Scottish Ministers may have regard to any social or economic consequences of designation.
5.1.4. Respondents noted uncertainty about the distribution of burrowed mud within the Southern Trench pMPA and suggested that further data collection should be carried out to inform future management measure decisions.
NatureScot is confident about the understanding of the extent of the burrowed mud feature within the Southern Trench pMPA which has been informed by existing data from grabs, drop-down video, ICES Functional Units for Nephrops in Scottish waters and Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) data.
5.1.5. Respondents contested the use of citizen science data with the assertion that the data were not of appropriate quality.
As set out in the DCA documents, a wide variety of data have been used to underpin NatureScot’s advice on the four pMPAs. These data have been subject to data collection protocols as well as individual data quality assessment before publication and incorporation into NatureScot’s advice. For example, all data feeding into the habitat modelling of mobile species adhered to Joint Cetacean Protocol data requirements, which included six specific data tests and a process of effort-correction. This allowed survey data from multiple different surveys including citizen science projects, and from different areas, to be compared and combined.
5.1.6. There was support for continued community-led marine monitoring, suggesting that this be used to assist in monitoring the MPA network
The promotion of collaborations with local coastal communities, industry, academia, and other marine stakeholders to deliver better co-ordination of monitoring activities is a key purpose of the MPA Monitoring Strategy, to which NatureScot and Scottish Government are committed.
5.2. Site Selection
5.2.1. Respondents highlighted that mobile species such as whales and dolphins do not stay in specific areas, and another respondent questioned the rationale for mobile species protection in MPAs.
As stated in the Scottish MPA Selection Guidelines, sites must be “essential areas for key life cycle stages of important mobile species that persist in time, including habitats known to be important for reproduction and nursery stages” and/or areas where there are “significant aggregations or communities of important marine species in Scottish waters”. The sites have been assessed against these criteria in the supporting documents for the proposals, namely the Detailed Assessment Against the Guidelines documents. The evidence as set out in the DCA documents meets one or both of the criteria stated in the MPA Selection Guidelines. This approach recognises that mobile species may not be in the MPA at all times but it aims to provide protection to areas where there are significant aggregations or where key life-cycle activities are being undertaken. This process also considers areas where large-scale features such as shelf deeps, fronts and shelf banks and mounds have a functional role in supporting mobile species in specific areas, i.e. concentrating their prey species.
5.2.2. Respondents said that the data underpinning the Sea of the Hebrides site was not accurate or verifiable and that both mobile species are much more prevalent in other areas. Respondents highlighted that there are a number of other areas identified as being important for mobile species by the habitat modelling that have not been included within the pMPAs, e.g. immediately west of the Outer Hebrides.
There is a range of accurate and verifiable scientific evidence which shows that the Sea of the Hebrides pMPA has persistently higher than average densities of minke whale and basking shark compared to other parts of Scottish territorial waters, as detailed in the DCA documents for each site e.g.:
- Habitat modelling undertaken to identify areas of importance for mobile species based on effort-corrected survey data shows that the area persistently supports above average densities of both minke and basking sharks in the summer.
- Results from basking shark tagging studies carried out by NatureScot and the University of Exeter provide evidence that basking sharks spend a considerable amount of their time in the Sea of the Hebrides pMPA during the summer and that many sharks return to the same area in consecutive years.
Information on the behaviour of basking shark and minke whale in the area shows that the pMPA is important for feeding for both species and potentially key life cycle stages e.g. breeding, and courtship for basking shark.
The habitat modelling results predicted some areas to persistently support above average densities of animals where there are either no or few survey data. For example certain areas off the west coast of the Outer Hebrides were highlighted in the persistence maps for minke whale, Risso’s dolphin and basking shark. It is reasonable to expect that these areas may be important for these species. However, in these areas there is a lack of survey effort and/or effort-corrected sightings and the model evidence alone was insufficient to progress these areas for further consideration as MPAs.
5.2.3. Respondents felt that the sizes of the sites were in excess of that required to protect the features and one suggested the areas should be of the minimum size required for the features.
The process of developing site boundaries has the primary aim of producing a boundary which reflects the extent and distribution of proposed protected features and is suitable for maintaining the integrity of those features.
The size of the four pMPAs reflects the nature and scale of the proposed protected features. As the sites contain multiple protected features including large-scale features, mobile species and geodiversity interests, each of the pMPAs reflects the distribution of combination of these features. This means that they may be larger than if one feature alone was being considered. The combination of features proposed for protection in the pMPAs have been put forward also because of the functional links between them. This is particularly true for fronts (a large-scale feature in the Sea of the Hebrides pMPA and Southern Trench pMPA), which by their very nature cover a large expanse of water. They are important as they underpin processes such as the enhancement of primary productivity which boosts the food supplies available that subsequently support mobile species including minke whale and basking shark.
The four pMPAs have passed assessment against the MPA Selection Guidelines. Stage 3 of the guidelines gives consideration to the scale of each MPA in relation to its proposed protected features. This assessment has the primary aim of ensuring that the site is of a size which can effectively contribute to maintaining the integrity of each feature. The assessment also considers the need for management and whether the scale is appropriate for doing this effectively. NatureScot’s advice is that the size of the sites is appropriate for both these considerations. If the pMPAs were designated, any management required to address interactions between activities and the protected features would be focussed around the distribution and extent of features.
5.2.4. Respondents queried why other species such as maerl, horse mussels, seagrass, common and grey seals and bottlenose and common dolphins, were not included as proposed protected features within the Sea of the Hebrides pMPA.
Habitats such as maerl, seagrass and horse mussels form part the Inner Hebrides Carbonate Production Area geodiversity feature which is proposed for protection within the Sea of the Hebrides pMPA. Therefore these features are offered protection via this geodiversity feature and will have to be taken into account during licensing and consenting processes. Harbour (common) seals, grey seals and bottlenose dolphins are protected in other sites within Scotland’s MPA network through the Habitats Directive and these species are considered to have adequate protection, taking into account the other MPAs for these species in the rest of the UK. Examples in Scotland include the Moray Firth SAC, Eileanan agus Sgeiran Lios mor SAC and Monach Islands SAC (see MPA Network 2018 Report to Scottish Parliament). Existing protected sites in proximity to the Sea of the Hebrides pMPA are mapped in the DCA. There are no MPAs for common dolphins because they are not considered suitable for spatial protection.
5.3.1. Respondents were concerned that the coastal boundaries of the Sea of the Hebrides pMPA excluded sensitive inshore habitats and were unsuitable for the purposes of managing interactions between mobile species and coastal activities e.g. ADDs, coastal development and boat traffic.
The process of developing MPA boundaries has the primary aim of producing a site which reflects the extent and distribution of the proposed protected features and is suitable for maintaining the integrity of these features. Only the proposed protected features of the four pMPAs have been considered in relation to drawing the site boundary and therefore other inshore habitats have not been taken into account.
The boundary of the Sea of the Hebrides pMPA reflects the site’s complex coastal topography, overlap with existing protected areas such as Inner Hebrides and the Minches SAC and the wide extent and distribution of the site’s proposed protected features. In line with the boundary setting principles set out in the Scottish MPA Selection Guidelines and those implemented within existing protected areas, a combination of straight lines drawn away from shore and Mean Low Water Springs (MLWS) has been used to define the coastal boundary of the pMPA. This approach is particularly apparent at the western side of the pMPA along the east coast of the Outer Hebrides, where straight lines have been drawn away from the MLWS mark to avoid an overly complex boundary across the multitude of skerries, bays and inlets present along the coastline. The co-ordinate points shaping this western boundary have been carefully considered to ensure that the boundary adequately reflects the mobile species modelled persistence and adjusted density data.
These same principles are mirrored on the east side of the pMPA on the south-west and west coasts of Skye and Mull. Although less complex, the coasts of Skye and Mull are characterised by large sea lochs, resulting in the use of MLWS and straight lines cutting across sea lochs to define the pMPA boundary. Whilst jointly implemented to decrease site boundary complexity and avoid infrastructure, straight lines crossing sea loch entrances have been drawn to also reflect basking shark and minke whale adjusted density data and modelled persistence as closely as possible.
The CMA document for the pMPA outlines how activities inside and outside the pMPA should be considered. Further information is also provided in section 5.11.
5.3.2. Respondents suggested that areas to the north and east of Skye e.g. off the Trotternish peninsula, the outer sound of Raasay and the inner sound of Applecross, should be included within the Sea of the Hebrides pMPA. Another respondent was concerned that the Sound of Arisaig was not included within the Sea of the Hebrides pMPA on the basis of sightings of minke whale and the abundance of maerl beds in the area.
The size of the Sea of the Hebrides pMPA reflects the mobile nature of two of the proposed protected features (basking shark and minke whale) and the inclusion of a large-scale feature (fronts) and geodiversity feature (Inner Hebrides Carbonate Production Area). These latter two features are located in the south and south-west of the site and not in the vicinity of the areas suggested by the respondents. Therefore the areas proposed by the respondents would need to meet the Scottish MPA Selection Guidelines for minke whale and basking shark, meaning that they would have to be considered “essential areas for key life cycle stages of important mobile species that persist in time, including habitats known to be important for reproduction and nursery stages” or areas where there are “significant aggregations or communities of important marine species in Scottish waters”. NatureScot recognises that there will be sightings of various cetaceans and basking sharks in the areas highlighted by respondents. NatureScot has examined a range of different types of data, including the outputs of habitat modelling, boat-based survey work and expert knowledge of the species ecology but NatureScot considers that none of the suggested areas meet the MPA Selection Guidelines for these two species.
A large portion of the Sound of Arisaig falls within the Sound of Arisaig SAC, which contains the Annex I habitat ‘sandbanks which are slightly covered by sea water all the time’. Maerl beds are offered protection as part of this habitat type. NatureScot has previously provided statutory advice as to operations which may cause deterioration of the marine natural habitats or the habitats of species, or disturbance of species as part of the Regulation 33 advice and this is due to be updated in 2020.
5.3.3. Respondents suggested that the Southern Trench pMPA should be increased in size in order to protect a number of other features (kelp beds, ocean quahog, sandeels, cod, grey seals, Sabellaria spinulosa and submerged caves) found just outside of the area during additional survey work.
NatureScot welcomes the opportunity to review additional data collected using scientific methods and acknowledges the effort involved with such marine survey work. Whilst each of the aforementioned species or features can be observed within or nearby the Southern Trench pMPA, NatureScot does not consider it appropriate to add them to the site as proposed protected features and/or extend the boundary. These features are considered to be adequately protected elsewhere within Scotland’s seas under existing measures, e.g. as features of other protected areas or as Priority Marine Features (PMFs), or they were not considered to have enough evidence to be assessed against the MPA Selection Guidelines.
5.3.4. Responses were received which questioned the distribution of the proposed protected features and the boundary of the Shiant East Bank pMPA. This was in relation to overlapping fishing activity.
Following the consultation, plotter data was obtained from fishing vessels operating in the area, and a proposed revised boundary was submitted by the Western Isles Fishermen’s Association (WIFA). NatureScot reviewed this new information and as a result has provided advice on a revised boundary for the Shiant East Bank pMPA, which is now slightly smaller than before. The rationale is explained below.
NatureScot’s understanding of the extent and distribution of the proposed protected features of Shiant East Bank pMPA was based on the best available data at the time of consultation, as detailed in the DCA. These included the results of camera surveys, grab samples and bathymetric multibeam analyses. They also included predictive habitat modelling.
NatureScot’s revised advice is based on the following:
- Track data from fishing boats targeting Nephrops, provides evidence of burrowed mud substrate and this has been used to revise our understanding of the distribution of circalittoral sands and mixed sediment communities. The revised boundary still includes areas of circalittoral sands and mixed sediment communities that are supported by data from survey work. However, NatureScot removed areas from the site boundary where fishing data strongly indicates that the habitat is burrowed mud e.g. indent in the south of the boundary and the north-west point.
- The distribution of the northern sea fan and sponge communities feature was also re-considered. Areas including rock, supported by ground-truthed data, have been retained within the boundary e.g. south-west corner of the pMPA. The eastern boundary of the pMPA was revised to exclude an area where northern sea fan species were only recorded as rare. In the north-west, the boundary was revised but still includes areas of rock.
- The revised boundary excludes some of the glacial lineation components of the Quaternary of Scotland geodiversity feature, although the complex assemblage and range of geomorphological interests still remains represented.
- The integrity of all the proposed protected features remain intact by the revised boundary.
The consultation boundary and the revised boundary are illustrated alongside supporting data in Figure 36.
5.4. Environmental Benefits
5.4.1. Respondents commented on the importance of protecting the species and habitats and that the pMPAs offer an opportunity to do this, highlighting the importance of the areas for basking sharks, Risso’s dolphins, minke whale and sandeels. One also indicated that the proposed protected feature ‘circalittoral sands and mixed sediments’ could be important habitat for spawning and juvenile cod and this benefit should be recognised.
We note the comments on the importance of protecting species and habitats.
There has been research on areas important for cod spawning in other areas of Scotland which indicates that numerous factors e.g. water depth, temperature and hydrography are important (Höffle et al., 2018). NatureScot has not outlined anything specifically in relation to the importance for spawning cod and juvenile cod for the Shiant East Bank pMPA. This is on the basis that there have only been a few scientific trawls within or close to the pMPA and few spawning cod were captured. Based on this and the fact that cod rarely spawn over soft sediments, NatureScot has no reason to expect the pMPA includes a substantial spawning ground. Additionally most early juvenile habitat is further inshore (Gibb et al., 2007).
5.4.2. Respondents noted that the protection of marine habitats and species can have benefits for the wider ecosystem and for people.
We also 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. NatureScot has outlined the key benefits and ecosystems services provided by the habitats and species proposed for protection in the CMA documents for the four pMPAs.
5.4.3. Respondents noted that the sites shouldn’t just be focussing on the large mobile species and that the pMPAs are important for other reasons too.
We recognise that other habitats and species are present within the boundaries of the pMPAs. The Scottish MPA network encompasses a range of habitats and species that are representative of Scotland’s seas and are suitable for spatial protection through a MPA. These pMPAs have been chosen to complement the existing MPAs in the network (see MPA Network 2018 Report to Scottish Parliament).
5.4.4. Respondents noted the value that recreational users, particularly sailors place on experiencing wildlife in its natural environment but many are unaware of the mobile species e.g. minke whales that can be seen on sailing routes through the pMPAs.
We hope that the pMPAs have already helped to promote a wider appreciation of Scottish marine wildlife, particularly iconic species such as the basking shark, minke whale and Risso’s dolphin. NatureScot would welcome further discussion on ways to improve awareness with interested parties to raise the profile of the sites (if they are designated).
5.4.5. Respondents were supportive of the need to protect wildlife in the Outer Hebrides, and raised concerns over opposition to environmental designations and possible compromises to accommodate local interests.
Scottish Ministers have international commitments to complete a MPA network and if designated these pMPAs would help to achieve this. Discussion with stakeholders, including public consultation, is part of the process for MPA designation and enables those with an interest to make their views known. In making the decision to designate a new MPA Scottish Ministers may have regard to any social or economic consequences of designation.
In January 2019 an Interreg-funded project called MarPAMM (Marine Protected Area Management Monitoring) started. This project aims to develop regional MPA management plans for the Outer Hebrides and Argyll and other areas in Ireland and Northern Ireland. This project provides an opportunity for people to get involved in shaping the management of MPAs. If designated, management of three of the four pMPAs could be considered through this project.
5.4.6. A couple of respondents raised concerns about whales and dolphins being at risk of being killed for meat within Scottish waters, citing other countries where killing of cetaceans occurs.
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, which makes it an offence to deliberately disturb, capture or kill any cetacean.
5.5. Social and Economic Impacts
5.5.1. Many respondents made reference to the potential social and economic impacts from the designations, as set out in the SEIA and the BRIAs. Some respondents were concerned that the potential impacts seemed overly high and were not outweighed by the benefits of designating the sites. In particular, many respondents were concerned about the economic impacts to the fishing industry.
As part of the Sustainability Appraisal, the SEIA considered both cost and social impacts to various industries. 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 (assessed as present value (PV) for all industries except fishing where Gross Value Added (GVA) is used to give a more representative value of the industry).
In terms of fishing activity, the estimated costs assume that no displacement would occur, however it is likely that fishers will be able to fish in other areas and therefore cost impacts would be lower. There have been further reductions in these potential impacts since the consultation as the boundary for the Shiant East Bank pMPA has been changed, due a changing understanding of the feature distribution, which has removed a considerable amount of potential impacts to fishing activity for this site.
5.5.2. Some respondents noted that the cost impacts calculated in the SEIA and the BRIA were unrealistic or incorrect, either because of the lack of concrete management measures, or that the assessments or figures used in them were wrong.
The cost impacts in the SEIA and BRIAs are based on the management scenarios. These scenarios are derived from NatureScot's CMA and represent possible future management measures which could be implemented within the sites. Therefore, the three levels of cost impacts (lower, intermediate and upper) represent possible impacts depending on the level of management required.
The cost impacts estimated in the SEIA are derived from various information sources, depending on the sector. These sources are listed in the relevant section within the SEIA (Appendix A).
5.5.3. Many respondents stated the importance of fishing industry to Scotland and, in particular, rural communities. Others noted that protected areas support wildlife tourism which is an increasingly important industry to coastal communities and their economies. Some commented that new opportunities in tourism should be embraced in place of potential harmful industries, although others noted that fishing and tourism would all benefit from marine protection.
The Scottish Government recognises the value that marine habitats and species can provide in terms of ecosystem services, particularly regarding functions they provide, for example habitat for commercial fish species, and opportunities for wildlife tourism and research. Information about how these services can provide economic benefits to coastal communities can be found in section 7 of the SEIA. National designations such as MPAs are thought to have a positive impact on these services and can therefore positively impact the local economy. They are also expected to have a positive impact on tourism by increasing visitor awareness of the local wildlife.
5.5.4. Some respondents felt that the social and economic benefits hadn’t been assessed fully, as the ‘ecosystem services’ hadn’t been quantified in the BRIAs and SEIA.
A full analysis of the costs and benefits to ecosystem services (including non-use values) is provided in section 7 of the SEIA. Estimated impacts to ecosystem services are also provided in Annex A of the relevant BRIA.
5.5.5. Some respondents questioned the use of the word ‘sustainability’ and queried the Scottish Government’s definition.
The Scottish Government sees sustainable development as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
5.5.6. A couple of responses referred to the ongoing monitoring of socio-economic impacts from the MPA network. They noted that the Scottish Government should continue assessing these impacts in order to better understand the economic benefits from MPA designation.
Work is currently ongoing to complete the second review of the socio-economic impacts of MPA management measures that were announced by Scottish Ministers in 2016. The Scottish Government is delivering the review which is being overseen by a steering group that comprises representatives from the fishing industry, environmental NGOs, seafood processing industry and local authorities. The review is using fishing vessel level data held by the Scottish Government and community-level data, collected from a selection of case study areas using interviews and key informants and stakeholders to assess changes in fishing activities following the introduction of MPA management measures.
5.6. Islands (Scotland) Act 2018
5.6.1. A few respondents noted that a full Island Communities Impact Assessment (ICIA) had not been completed at the time of the consultation. One respondent commended the Scottish Government’s commitment to reviewing the ICIA screening following the consultation.
The Scottish Government has considered the need for ICIA under the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018. The Scottish Government is of the opinion that there is no significantly different effect on island communities from these proposals, therefore a full assessment was not required. The screening opinion is published alongside this report.
5.6.2. Some respondents felt that the localised economic impacts on small or island communities would be significant.
The Scottish Government understands concerns about the impacts on island and rural communities from these proposals, which is why we have commissioned a Sustainability Appraisal and undertaken an ICIA screening. We have ensured that the social and economic impacts on people are as low as possible and that island communities would not be disadvantaged from the designation of these MPAs. The ICIA screening opinion is published alongside this report. The Scottish Government found that an ICIA is not required as the impacts to island communities will not be significantly different to other communities.
5.7. Sustainability Appraisal
5.7.1. A couple of respondents noted that the sustainability appraisal did not include the status quo as a reasonable alternative.
The sustainability appraisal considers the option for 'doing nothing' (i.e. maintaining status quo) but concludes that this would not help Scotland meet its international commitments regarding marine protection.
5.8. Business and Regulatory Impact Assessments
5.8.1. One respondent noted an error in the BRIA for Sea of the Hebrides, which stated the Western Isles high-voltage direct current (HVDC) cable ran through the site which is incorrect.
This error was noted and will be corrected in the final BRIA for the site.
5.8.2. One respondent noted that Fraserburgh Harbour is categorised as a minor port in the BRIA, which they felt was incorrect.
Under the Ports and Harbours section of the Southern Trench BRIA, the ports are categorised based on data from the ‘Ports, harbours, marinas and boat access locations (OSCP)’ National Marine Plan Interactive layer. In this data, only harbours listed in the annual Scottish transport statistics are listed as ports. In the BRIAs, instead of ‘ports’ and ‘harbours’, the terminology ‘major port’ and ‘minor port’ is used, as per Scottish Government standards. As Fraserburgh is classified as a harbour in this data, it is listed as a minor port in the BRIA.
5.8.3. One respondent noted the lack of cost estimations for military activities in the BRIAs.
The Scottish Government has not considered potential cost impacts to the Ministry of Defence (MOD) due to the lack of available information on the potential activities. The MOD is responsible for regulating its own activities.
5.8.4. One respondent noted that the cost impacts for fishing in North-east Lewis pMPA were not disclosed in the BRIA, which made it difficult to understand the scale of the potential impacts.
The Scottish Government has not provided the values for North-east Lewis pMPA as disclosing the details of fishing activity representing less than five vessels would make individual businesses identifiable, which is contrary to data protection principles.
5.9. Conservation Objectives
5.9.1. Respondents expressed concerns over the conservation objectives being set to ‘to conserve’ believing a more precautionary approach should be adopted where there are unknowns. Several respondents also noted an apparent decline in the number of whales and basking sharks in the Sea of the Hebrides pMPA over past years.
The ‘to conserve’ objective has been used for mobile species within the three pMPAs, as this is the broad purpose of designating an MPA as set out in the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010. The ‘recover’ objective is used where there is evidence to suggest a decline or damage to features within the MPA. NatureScot is not aware of any evidence to suggest a decline in basking sharks, Risso’s dolphins or minke whales in recent years within the sites. The ‘to conserve’ objective still allows management measures to be put in place where it is considered there may be a risk to achieving the conservation objectives of the site.
5.10. Favourable condition
5.10.1. Respondents queried the stated feature’s ‘favourable condition’ within the sites (in Table 1 of the Conservation Management Advice documents), believing a more accurate assessment would be an ‘unknown’ condition.
The assessment of feature condition within Table 1 of our CMA (CMA) is a term used specifically within the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 in relation to the conservation objectives for a protected feature within an MPA. The feature condition of all of the mobile species within the four pMPAs has been assessed as favourable based on current knowledge. The current status of these species is unknown across Europe, however there is no evidence of damage or decline to these features in recent years and therefore a ‘conserve’ as opposed to a ‘recover’ conservation objective has been used.
5.11. Management Advice
5.11.1. Respondents challenged that existing fishing activities were having any adverse effect on the marine environment. They highlighted the current presence of the features proposed for protection within the MPAs alongside existing activities and stated that this negates the need for any management. One respondent noted that there was not any need to restrict fishing in the Southern Trench pMPA in relation to minke whale.
The broad understanding of the impact of different fishing gears on marine habitats is increasingly well understood and is underpinned by a substantial and growing scientific evidence base. This evidence base lies behind the recent UK Marine Strategy Assessment for the UK for benthic habitats. This concludes that Good Environmental Status (GES) has not yet been achieved for rock and biogenic habitats and that the achievement of GES for soft sediment habitats is uncertain. The physical disruption of the seabed from fishing gear, in particular the use of certain types of demersal gear, is one of the key factors preventing achievement of GES. The evidence for the sensitivity of features in MPAs to various activities, including fishing, is set out in FEAST and the Fisheries Management Guidance documents produced by NatureScot and JNCC.
Whilst there is a presumption of multiple-use within the sites, a number of activities, including various types of fishing, are known to occur in each of the four pMPAs that are capable of affecting the proposed protected features. NatureScot has recommended that specific fishing activities which have the potential to pose a risk to one or more proposed protected features will require some form of management. In line with this NatureScot has recommended that certain fisheries are reduced/limited to reduce the risk of entanglement of minke whale and that sandeel fisheries continue to be restricted (as is currently the case) to support this important prey species for minke whale.
5.11.2. Respondents suggested the current management advice for fisheries is too rigorous (see above) while others suggested it is not precautionary enough, indicating creel limits and complete bans from towed bottom gear for areas supporting key prey species e.g. sandeels and octopus and habitats due to concerns about seabed damage and entanglement of mobile species. There were also some queries on the way the advice was phrased, and that continued dialogue with fishers was important. Creels left in the water by tourists after their visit were also raised as an issue.
All activities operating within the pMPAs or those with a likelihood of occurring in the future have been considered within the CMA documents. NatureScot’s management advice is focussed on activities that cause an effect (a pressure) that the habitats and species are sensitive to. It takes a risk-based approach and focusses on activities that have the potential to pose a risk to achieving the conservation objectives for the features in the pMPAs. NatureScot has phrased advice in a certain way to be consistent across all the sites, and it takes account of the information collated up to the consultation start date.
NatureScot has provided advice relating to fishing activities. Within some pMPAs a conclusion may be reached that no additional management is required. In others, NatureScot may advise that management is needed to either reduce current effort or to avoid effort increasing again in future, i.e. use of the ‘reduce / limit’ management option. However, in some cases, particularly where there are sensitive features and the risk is high, our only advice can be to ‘remove / avoid’ relevant activities. We acknowledge the efforts of the fishing industry to fish in a sustainable manner and the efforts they have made regarding gear selectivity / by-catch reduction.
The term ‘considered’ is included in NatureScot’s fisheries management advice to highlight that a fishery-feature interaction exists but that a specific recommendation or action cannot or need not be made at this point. In relation to comments specifically about octopus and sandeel impacts from scallop dredging; octopus occur on a wide range of habitats with fluctuating abundance, which severely limits the extent to which meaningful management advice can be given. There is no specific fishery for octopus in Scotland, and there is a lack of studies of mortality associated with octopus interacting with towed gears. Octopus is part of Risso’s diet although their reliance on this species is unknown. There will be interactions between bottom contact gear and sandeels, however, whilst sandeels will be disturbed to some degree, the mortality is uncertain. With respect to the risk of entanglement arising from creel fisheries, NatureScot has recognised the need to address this risk and action is in hand to develop a fuller understanding of the problem and to develop measures to mitigate the risk. To that end, NatureScot is working with partners (including fishers) through the Scottish Entanglement Alliance.
Future management of fisheries if the pMPAs are designated will be addressed separately as outlined in section 5.12.
5.11.3. Respondents suggested that further data collection should be carried out to inform future management measure decisions and one respondent suggested that technology such as VMS and trawl sensors should be incorporated into future site management.
NatureScot fully supports the work that the Scottish Government is currently undertaking to implement improved vessel monitoring systems, which will help inform future management decisions. The Scottish Government and NatureScot are also committed to continued data collection and monitoring under the MPA Monitoring Strategy. The consideration of management at a site level will utilise all the evidence, information and data available, to allow well-informed discussions about management requirements to be taken in conjunction with stakeholders.
5.11.4. There was a comment that a wider burrowed mud strategy is required to manage this PMF across Scottish waters; due to the majority of this widespread habitat being outside MPAs or inside MPAs but outside no trawl zones; together with the fact that the habitat is not being considered in the Scottish Government-led work on improving protection to PMFs outside MPAs.
NatureScot believes that safeguarding burrowed mud needs to be integrated with relevant marine management as part of an ecosystem approach. Protection of burrowed mud, as a broadscale predominant feature will be addressed at a Scottish level through the UK Marine Strategy. We also recognise that MPAs are one tool to help deliver conservation for individual habitats and species and should be viewed within the wider three-pillar approach to marine nature conservation (see also 0.). Should the Southern Trench pMPA be designated, the burrowed mud feature is considered to be adequately protected through MPA network.
5.11.5. Greater consideration on the ecological coherence and linkages for marine mammals, their habitats and prey should be discussed further in the context of the MPA network and critical habitats utilised by such mobile species.
The conservation objectives for mobile species take into consideration relevant habitat and prey linkages. The inclusion of large-scale features within sites provides links between different features, and supports the functioning of marine ecosystems e.g. through supporting productivity.
NatureScot’s management advice takes a risk-based approach. We acknowledge there are gaps in data and in our understanding of habitat/prey relationships and the effects of pressures from human activities on these.
5.11.6. There were concerns over what the designation may mean for conditions attached to existing marine licences and section 36 energy consents, and if the conditions will still apply post designation. Other concerns included whether the evidence supported the advice on seasonal restrictions, suggesting this may actually prolong feature exposure to noise due to surveys being extended in the winter due to poor weather conditions. Others felt that the seasonal advice should be extended for minke whale.
Marine licences and consents granted under section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989 and associated conditions obtained for developments within the pMPA prior to consultation would still apply post designation. There is no requirement for the competent authority to review marine licences or section 36 consents post-designation. Any alterations or modification to existing developments will need to be assessed to ensure they will not pose a significant risk to achieving the conservation objectives of the MPA. We know that minke whales are seen throughout the year, but that effort-corrected sightings data indicate that there are reports of higher numbers in the summer months as they have been observed actively feeding. The species would be protected in the site on a year-round basis. However, our management advice takes a risk-based approach, giving advice that is proportionate, and focusses on reducing or limiting pressures during times of year when risks are higher, i.e. when there are more animals in the area and when they are using the area for feeding.
5.11.7. Others felt the consideration of noise is insufficient in the Southern Trench pMPA, considering the wide ranging nature of the mobile species and the distances noise can travel, and that management advice relies on the JNCC Guidelines for minimising the risk of injury to cetaceans from piling, blasting and seismic surveys is disappointing.
The CMA documents are focussed on the pMPA, an area where there are persistently above average densities of minke whale compared to the rest of Scottish territorial waters. Any activities whether they take place within or outside the pMPA, should be considered if they have the potential to hinder the conservation objectives of the site. The management advice highlights that pre-application discussions for both renewables and oil and gas activities is recommended and will assist in the development of mitigation, ensuring pressures associated from proposals are minimised. The JNCC Guidelines for minimising the risk of injury to cetaceans from piling, blasting and seismic surveys provide clear mitigation for reducing or limiting noise pressures from various activities. However, NatureScot recognises that this mitigation has limitations and may not be fully effective in all situations. NatureScot therefore recommends that individual developments may need further mitigation to address site specific situations.
5.11.8. Respondents queried how individual developments would be assessed in the future and there was one query suggesting some management advice seemed to contradict certain industry specific policies within the National Marine Plan.
Section 83 of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2019 places a duty on public authorities to consider activities that are capable of affecting a protected feature (other than insignificantly) in an MPA. The MPA Management Handbook outlines the assessment process which involves assessing the activity against the conservation objectives for the site. The management advice NatureScot has given helps activities and developments to comply with General Policy 9 of the National Marine Plan (NMP) which requires that development and use of the marine environment must comply with legal requirements for protected areas and protected species. It does this by indicating which types of activities pose a risk to achieving the conservation objectives and what is required to minimise this risk. Industry specific planning policies within the NMP list a number of factors that should be considered, however the NMP also makes it clear these should be considered alongside the General Policies and not in isolation.
5.11.9. Respondents felt that local residents should be consulted and involved in management.
Drop-in events were held across the country to provide an opportunity for people to engage with the consultation and to encourage people to respond. If the sites are designated, and specific management measures are required, then further stakeholder engagement and public consultation will be undertaken.
The MarPAMM project in the Outer Hebrides is currently trialling the integration of local views and knowledge into MPA management with the aim of co-producing a regional management plan with the local communities. There is also a MarPAMM project in Argyll looking at trialling MPA regional plan development through a steering group of key regulators and activity contacts. As part of this work, relevant sections of the CMA documents will be updated to reflect aspirations for MPAs and any management guidance/documentation produced.
5.11.10. There was a lot of support for the best practice approach to management measures for wildlife tour operators and boat users. Respondents wanted a stronger licensed approach, stating that they thought: sightings of features had reduced in recent years and some operator’s behaviour didn’t appear to follow best practice currently and that designation may see increased interest in the area increasing the need for stronger management. Many wanted further dialogue in management discussions and some wanted more effort to be applied to raising awareness of any best practice.
NatureScot is not aware of any evidence to suggest sightings of mobile species are declining in the pMPAs. NatureScot’s management advice takes a risk-based approach and focusses on activities that may pose a risk to achieving the conservation objectives. NatureScot’s advice outlines that risks associated with wildlife tour operators and recreational boating are best managed through following existing best practice highlighted in the Scottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code (SMWWC) and the Wildlife Safe (WiSe) accreditation scheme. Designation of the site will in itself raise awareness of features and sites.
5.11.11. There was also support for discussing boat speed restrictions within the Sea of the Hebrides pMPA, with different ideas offered on when and where this could be appropriately applied. There were different views on the risks associated with boat collision.
Collated basking shark data have highlighted zones within the pMPA where basking sharks occur more frequently. These zones could be used to inform future management. Voluntary speed restrictions have been discussed with recreational boat users in the past for some of these areas. Should the site be designated, the Scottish Government will lead further discussions on management measures and these will be consulted on separately.
5.11.12. There were also some concerns that activities just outside the pMPA boundaries may still have an impact on features within the pMPA (e.g. Acoustic Deterrent Devices (ADDs) from fish farms)
Any activities inside or outside of the pMPA should be considered if they have the potential to hinder the achievement of the conservation objectives. The process which all regulators and public authorities must follow when making licensing and consenting decisions affecting MPAs is set out in the MPA Management Handbook. NatureScot continues to work closely with the aquaculture industry over ADD use and their potential impacts on wildlife. There are general principles such as providing ADD deployment plans and consideration of cumulative effects, which are requested during the licence process on proposed use of ADDs at fish farms within the existing Inner Hebrides and the Minches SAC for harbour porpoise and will also apply within the pMPAs.
5.11.13. There were comments that MOD activities were not adequately addressed in the management advice.
There are agreed protocols set out in the MOD’s Environmental Protection Guidelines (Maritime) (EPG(M)), to address environmental impacts at sea from MOD activities. The guidelines are implemented through the Maritime Environmental and Sustainability Assessment Tool (MESAT). These protocols are referred to within NatureScot’s CMA documents. In addition, regular liaison occurs between all SNCBs and the MOD to discuss any additional mitigation that may be required.
5.11.14. There were some concerns over potential impacts on ferry routes from designations. Although it was also suggested that ferry operation within restricted depth areas and overlap with high aggregations of basking sharks should also be part of future discussions on management.
The Scottish Government’s policy is for there to be no impact from MPA designation on lifeline ferry services. NatureScot’s management advice has echoed this policy and advised that there is no additional management required for existing ferry routes.
5.11.15. There was a comment that the pMPAs should be highly protected and there should be a management approach of non-use, whereas another suggested that conservation should still allow use of areas by people. Other respondents commented that the scientific evidence suggests that a stronger line should be taken with respect to management or that a more precautionary approached should be used.
MPAs are just one element of marine conservation work in Scotland, which takes a three-pillar approach as outlined in ‘A Strategy for Marine Nature Conservation in Scotland's Seas’. These three pillars are species conservation, site protection and wider seas policies and measures. As outlined in the MPA Management Handbook the five guiding principles for sustainable development in the Scottish Planning Policy also apply to management of MPAs. The five principles are - living within environmental limits, ensuring a strong, healthy and just society, achieving a sustainable economy, promoting good governance, and using sound science responsibly. From the outset of designating MPAs we have set out to achieve sustainable use, whereby the features of the MPA are adequately protected whilst still permitting activities to continue where possible.
NatureScot has provided management advice on activities using a risk-based approach, which incorporates the precautionary principle by considering the proposed protected features of each of the four pMPAs, their conservation objectives and the activities that take place within or nearby the pMPAs. The advice relates to activities which are likely to require some form of management to ensure the conservation objectives of the pMPAs are achieved. Using an understanding of the sensitivities of the proposed protected features and the known or likely locations of relevant activities avoids the need for us to wait until there is evidence of damage to protected features before management measures can be put in place. We also accept that at present we may not know all the answers in terms of how best to achieve the conservation objectives across the full range of protected features in the different MPAs. We are working to develop collaborative research projects that will enable decisions to be better informed in the future. Further information on the development of management measures that may happen if the sites are designated is provided in section 5.12.
5.11.16. Cumulative impacts are not adequately addressed in the management advice and there is potential for management to displace pressures elsewhere, increasing cumulative effects there which MPA monitoring would not detect.
NatureScot’s CMA documents highlight particular cumulative issues, such as noise, that should be considered for each activity. Should the sites be designated, the activities and developments will be assessed against the conservation objectives and should take into account cumulative effects in line with licensing processes and EIA requirements. The issue of cumulative impacts and how these can be mitigated will also be addressed in the UK Dolphin and Porpoise Conservation Strategy (which includes minke whale) which is due to be consulted on in the near future. Further information on monitoring is provided in section 5.13.
5.11.17. Respondents suggested that the links between site management and the UK Dolphin and Porpoise Conservation Strategy are not clear.
We recognise that the pMPAs are one of a number of conservation tools available and they complement species protection and other cetacean designations already in existence. The UK Dolphin and Porpoise Conservation Strategy provides a summary of existing management measures and obligations which help to manage pressures on the nine species of dolphins, porpoises and minke whales. The Strategy seeks a joined-up approach to management, with both site and wider measures working together to conserve dolphin, porpoise and minke whale populations.
5.11.18. Some respondents queried the source of the management scenarios used in the SEIA and SEA and several added that they could not see the link between NatureScot’s management advice and the management scenarios.
The management scenarios are derived from NatureScot's CMA documents. The scenarios are meant to be indicative to allow appraisal of the socio-economic and environmental impacts from the designation, relevant to the different levels of management. The lower management scenario represents the 'status quo' or best practice for most activities. The intermediate scenario takes a moderate approach to the advice and proposes limiting those activities which pose risks to the proposed protected features. The upper scenario represents a more precautionary approach from the intermediate scenario by also limiting activities which NatureScot advises should be considered for management.
5.11.19. Several responses queried the use of ‘best practice’ within the management advice and management scenarios where in some cases it was not clear to what specific guidance this referred.
In all consultation documents, the term 'best practice' in relation to management, is taken to mean approaches or procedures that are developed and accepted by regulators and relevant stakeholders as being an effective way of dealing with an interaction between a habitat or species and the pressures created by an activity. These can either be existing best practice (e.g. SMWWC) or an indication that future conversations around best practice are required.
5.12. Site Management
5.12.1. A number of respondents queried the process of creating future management measures, and advised that certain types of management should / should not be implemented. For example limiting certain activities (e.g. aquaculture, fishing) or waiting until further assessment is made before implementing management.
NatureScot has provided management advice for the sites which focusses on activities that cause an effect (a pressure) that the habitats and species are sensitive to. It takes a risk-based approach and focusses on activities that have the potential to pose a risk to achieving the conservation objectives for the features in the pMPAs.
Where appropriate, regulators will consider this advice when making decisions about consenting certain activities. The Scottish Government will also consider whether further management measures need to be implemented based on this advice in future, e.g. for fisheries management.
5.12.2. Some respondents noted their confusion as to why management measures for the sites were not yet decided and included in the proposals as part of the consultation. Some felt it did not provide enough information about who would be impacted in the future, and others felt the sites would not be complete until measures were in place. Many respondents noted that the pMPAs will only be effective if appropriate management measures are implemented at the sites, while others noted that the management measures should be balanced and not prohibit activities which do not negatively impact the protected features of the site.
The Scottish Government notes concerns about there being no specific management measures included in the proposals for these sites. However, this is in line with the designation of other sites in the MPA network to date.
Regulators of certain activities (i.e. those which require a licence or consent) will need to consider possible impacts on the site from the time they are designated however regulation of fishing activity within MPAs requires management measures to be implemented separately. The Scottish Government has taken a risk-based phased approach to introducing fisheries management measures in Scottish MPAs with the second phase of measures currently being developed. Measures for these sites will be brought into the process for applying management measures and considered in the next phase. As well as using a risk based approach to consider activities which may have an effect on the protected features, discussions on management will also consider many factors including, but not limited to, socio-economic impacts from management, other designations, and other plans (such as renewables).
5.12.3. A couple of respondents stated that fishing should be limited within the MPAs because it is damaging to the marine environment.
The Scottish Government takes the enforcement of sustainable fisheries management and protection of the marine environment extremely seriously. We are seeking to develop a world class fisheries management system for Scottish waters as part of our Future of Fisheries Management Strategy.
Fishing activity is managed within MPAs to support the achievement of the site’s conservation objectives. This includes limiting certain fishing activities where necessary.
5.12.4. Many respondents noted that management measures for fisheries must be enforced, including the use of novel monitoring technology.
Although this is an important comment, it should be noted that, as outlined in section 5.12.2, there will not be any fisheries management measures implemented at these sites until a later date, and these would be subject to their own set of assessments. However, 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. The Scottish Government is investing £1.5m in fishing vessel tracking and monitoring. Electronic monitoring for higher risk vessels operating near areas, such as MPAs, came in last year and tracking of vessels under 12 metres will come in from 2020.
5.12.5. A number of responses referred to particular fishing methods or fisheries, and suggested that these be limited or removed in other areas or across all Scottish waters. Specific methods and fisheries mentioned included scallop dredging, creeling and sandeel fishery. Some also advocated for the introduction of a 3-mile limit.
Management of particular fisheries outside of these pMPAs is outwith the scope of this consultation, however the comments made were passed on to the relevant policy team within Marine Scotland for their information.
5.12.6. Respondents also suggested that specific management measures for static gear fishing (in particular creeling) will be required to reduce entanglement of minke whales and basking sharks in static gear, particularly in Sea of the Hebrides pMPA. In some cases, this was noted as the most important concern of the respondent.
As outlined in section 5.11.2, NatureScot has provided management advice for the sites which focusses on activities that cause an effect (a pressure) that the habitats and species are sensitive to. It takes a risk-based approach and focusses on activities that have the potential to pose a risk to achieving the conservation objectives for the features in the pMPAs. With respect to the risk of entanglement arising from creel fisheries, NatureScot has recognised the need to address this risk and action is in hand to develop a fuller understanding of the problem and to develop measures to mitigate the risk. To that end, NatureScot is working with partners (including fishers) through the Scottish Entanglement Alliance.
5.12.7. A large number of respondents made reference to the use of Acoustic Deterrent Devices (ADDs) in aquaculture and the management scenario for this activity. Most of these comments pointed to the potential risks to cetaceans from the widespread use of ADDs and suggested they should be immediately removed from within the MPAs, and a ban put in place beyond the sites under consultation.
ADDs are one of a number of measures employed by fish farms to reduce the risk of seal predation. In light of concerns regarding the potential for impacts on cetaceans, Scottish Ministers have committed to providing a statutory report to the Parliament by 01 March 2021 on the use and regulation of ADDs in the aquaculture sector and have asked the sector to review their compliance with the relevant Habitat Regulations in their use of ADDs. The Scottish Government is also working closely with NatureScot and other partners to consider all available and emerging evidence on this matter. Newly commissioned research will improve our understanding of the efficacy and use of ADDs across the aquaculture industry and fill important knowledge gaps. Where the statutory report identifies a need to improve current arrangements these will be implemented. This programme of work will ensure that where ADDs are used, they are appropriately regulated whilst minimising any environmental impact. This will ensure that the aquaculture industry can grow in a sustainable manner while ensuring a high level of protection for our iconic marine wildlife and the environment.
5.12.8. Other than the specific answers above, a number of respondents specified support for particular management scenarios or suggested other management for the sites. These included support for the ‘upper’ management scenarios, reduction in aquaculture and general reduction in fishing pressure.
The Scottish Government has noted these suggestions.
5.12.9. Only a few respondents mentioned management within the sites with respect to industries other than fisheries. Two respondents noted that the management scenarios for aquaculture should be considered further prior to implementation. A few others queried how management of non-fisheries activities would be enforced.
Before granting permission for any activity which is capable of affecting a protected feature of the sites, whether the activity is inside or outside the site boundaries, the relevant public authority will be required to ensure that the activity will not hinder the conservation objectives of the site (as set out in the MPA Management Handbook). Public authorities may consult and consider NatureScot's advice when applying conditions to regulated activities.
For activities which are not otherwise subject to consenting or licensing, under section 95 of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 it is an offence to carry out activities which cause the conservation objectives of the site to be hindered, such as killing or injuring animals or damaging habitats, which are protected features of the site.
5.12.10. Some respondents noted that military activities were excluded from the management scenarios and economic assessments. Some noted that military activities (the use of sonar in particular) could have a detrimental impact on the proposed protected features.
The MOD uses MESAT to implement its agreed guidelines on environmental impacts at sea. These protocols are referred to within NatureScot’s CMA documents. In addition, regular liaison occurs between all SNCBs and the MOD to discuss any additional mitigation that may be required.
5.12.11. Wildlife tourism, specifically boat-based wildlife watching, was mentioned by some respondents who called for a restriction and increased management of this industry. Some respondents added that this is because disturbance from boat-based wildlife watching could impact the proposed protected features.
NatureScot’s advice outlines that risks associated with wildlife tour operators and recreational boating are best managed through following existing best practice highlighted in the SMWWC and the WiSe accreditation scheme. Designation of the site will in itself raises awareness of features and sites.
Additional considerations such as increased management of the industry are being considered separately by the Scottish Government in a research project, currently focussing on the Moray Firth SAC.
5.12.12. A number of respondents made comments about marine industries in general, such as increased management or removal of aquaculture, interactions with the Draft Offshore Renewable Energy Sectoral Marine Plan, regulation of kelp harvesting and the issue of marine litter.
Some comments were outside the scope of this consultation, generally because they refer to activities occurring outside of the four pMPAs. These were passed on to the relevant policy areas of the Scottish Government for their information.
The Scottish Government recognises that marine litter is an important national and international problem and have prioritised actions in our Programme for Government to demonstrate our commitment to this issue. In addition, we will continue to build on the progress we have made in delivering the actions committed to in our Marine Litter Strategy as part of our vision for a circular economy. These current and future measures will help to ensure that the amount of litter entering the marine environment is minimised to bring ecological, economic and social benefits.
5.12.13. Respondents felt that, should the Southern Trench pMPA be designated, future assessments of industry environmental impacts need to be robust and take account of the differences between industries relative to their intensity (e.g. fishing effort compared to renewable energy or oil and gas developments).
The existing licensing and consenting frameworks provide the main mechanism by which most activities can be managed in relation to MPAs. The process which all regulators and public authorities must follow when making licensing and consenting decisions affecting MPAs is set out in the MPA Management Handbook. Any management measures required for fishing activities will be considered separately and be subject to further consultation.
5.13.1. Respondents expressed concerns over the lack of data to assess the condition of features and suggested that rigorous data collection is required urgently to address this knowledge gap. Respondents also highlighted the importance of resources to enable data collection and monitoring work for MPAs, particularly with respect to mobile species to support their conservation.
NatureScot and the Scottish Government are committed to continued data collection and monitoring under the MPA Monitoring Strategy. This sets out the drivers and direction for monitoring of the MPA network to ensure that appropriate information is collected to underpin assessment and reporting obligations. The results of monitoring will be used to inform future decisions on management of MPAs. The strategy outlines the principles for prioritisation of monitoring efforts, how the data will be collated and data management.
5.13.2. There was support for continued community-led marine monitoring, suggesting that this be used to assist in monitoring the MPA network.
The promotion of collaborations with local coastal communities, industry, academia, and other marine stakeholders to deliver better co-ordination of monitoring activities is a key purpose of the MPA Monitoring Strategy.
5.14. Completion of the MPA network
5.14.1. A large number of respondents commented on the importance of the marine environment and the benefits of designating MPAs to support environmental protection, particularly of the proposed protected features. Some respondents noted that adding these sites to the MPA network would be beneficial to Scotland’s marine environment overall.
We believe 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. With regard to the benefits of adding these sites to the Scottish MPA network, which currently consists of 231 sites covering 22% of Scotland's seas and helps us meet our national and international commitments for marine protection.
5.14.2. Some respondents queried the need for additional MPAs. Some responses noted that the marine environment has existed for many years without protection and that marine industries seem not to have negative impacts on wildlife. Others feel that the expected benefits seem exaggerated.
The Scottish Government has an obligation to designate a network of MPAs. We considered that the network was incomplete without sites for mobile species, as it did not represent the range of features present in Scottish waters. These particular sites have been chosen as areas of importance to the species.
The potential environmental benefits are outlined in the SEA. The level of these benefits will depend on how the site is managed in future, however the assessment concludes there will be environmental benefits. Further benefits may come from the ecosystem services which these sites provide and as such will support economic benefits through increased food provision, tourism and coastal defence.
5.14.3. A few respondents asked about whether there would be any scope for additional MPAs in the future and one of these suggested that MPAs should remain open to change.
The Scottish Government considers that these MPAs, along with other protected areas work which is ongoing, will form a coherent MPA network. In future, the network will be adapted to maintain or enhance its coherence should it be considered necessary.
5.14.4. There is very little discussion on MPA network connectivity or ecological coherence with each pMPA made so they are in isolation to the other existing or pMPAs in the Scottish network.
Connectivity is included within three of the principles set out by OSPAR in their guidance on developing an ecologically coherent network of MPAs. However, whilst recognised as important, at the scale of the North-east Atlantic aspects of MPA network connectivity are poorly understood and Olsen et al. (2013) identified connectivity as a research priority for Europe. In their guidance, OSPAR notes that ‘… a lack of knowledge of connectivity should not prevent the development of the network’.
At the Scottish scale, the importance of connectivity is recognised in the Scottish MPA Selection Guidelines. NatureScot’s view is that connectivity is important in determining whether the Scottish MPA network is ecologically coherent, and also in determining the contribution that we make to the OSPAR MPA network.
The MPA Selection Guidelines address elements of connectivity and ecological coherence in relation to the pMPAs and these are provided in the ‘Detailed Assessments Against the Guidelines’ documents. In the case of these pMPAs the inclusion of large scale features within the sites provides links with the mobile species and the wider marine ecosystem. The conservation objectives detailed in the CMA documents take into consideration habitat and prey linkages, acknowledging that there are data gaps in feature habitat/prey relationships.
5.14.5. Further efforts should be made in future to understand and identify other areas of importance for these species, including the identification of further MPAs to increase the resilience of the ecological coherent network (such as for Risso’s dolphin) and consideration of linkages beyond Scottish Waters into adjacent areas.
Based on the evidence currently available NatureScot does not think there are other areas suitable for MPA selection for these species in Scottish Waters.
5.15.1. A few respondents noted that there was a large number of consultation documents and that some of these were quite complex.
We appreciate concerns that the amount of information provided in the consultation is very large and some documents are quite complex. The amount of information reflects the Scottish Government’s commitment to carrying out extensive assessment ahead of implementing significant changes such as MPAs. In order to help those wishing to respond to the consultation, we produced a Consultation Paper summarising the assessments and advice, with references to allow the reader to find more detailed information.
5.15.2. One respondent noted that the current legislative landscape for marine protection is quite complex and consideration should be given to consolidation of the various regulations in future. They also noted that it would be helpful to consider appending an indicative map of the protected areas to the MPA designation orders.
There are no current plans to consolidate marine environmental regulations. A map of each protected area is published alongside the designation order.
5.15.3. Several respondents noted that local people should be engaged in conversations about future management measures. A few of these noted that the MarPAMM project would be a useful tool for this purpose.
The MarPAMM project provides a forum to discuss future management measures and ensure close engagement with local communities within the areas covered.
5.15.4. A few respondents felt that the decision to designate these sites was already made and that the consultation was purely a box-ticking exercise.
Consultation is an integral part of the process of developing MPAs as it enables stakeholder views on the matter to be on the public record. All comments made during the consultation process are duly considered. For instance, please refer to section 5.3.4. which outlines the changes made to the Shiant East Bank pMPA boundary as a result of this consultation.
5.15.5. A few respondents felt that the consultation with local people prior to these proposals had been insufficient. In particular, the local fishing communities should have been consulted on these proposals.
The Scottish Government has been engaging with stakeholders including fishing industry, NGOs, local residents and other sectors since 2014, when these proposals began development. More recently, the Scottish Government has met with a number of major fishing groups and held stakeholder events including a pre-consultation workshop (March 2019) and 14 local drop in events during the consultation period. We believe consultation and engagement are vital elements of developing these proposals and will ensure all comments are taken on board at the appropriate stage.
5.15.6. Respondents queried the process for management decisions and were keen to be involved in further discussions on management of activities, with some suggesting options for consideration.
Any future management measures that are required would be subject to engagement with relevant stakeholders, as well as a public consultation, before any implementation takes place.
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