Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) - site selection: draft guidelines

Guidelines describing the proposed process for identifying and selecting Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) in Scottish waters. These were drafted by our statutory nature conservation advisors, NatureScot and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC).

4 Site selection guidelines

This section sets out the guidelines that will be used by NatureScot and JNCC for selecting and assessing proposals for HPMAs in discussion with Marine Scotland.

HPMA proposals will be developed through a scientific process, using best available evidence and involving stakeholders (see Section 5). Socio-economic factors will also be taken into account. Third parties are also able to submit proposals for assessment (see Section 5.1).

4.1 General principles

This section sets out a series of general principles that build on those used to identify the existing MPA network in Scottish waters and will inform the approach to HPMA selection. The principles apply throughout all stages of the selection process, and cover the following broad themes:

  • Use of a robust evidence base
  • HPMA scale and the use of functional ecosystem units
  • Ensuring added value
  • Delivering ecosystem recovery

4.1.1 Use of a robust evidence base

A robust evidence base will support and help inform development of HPMAs at each stage of the selection process (see Section 6). This will include the use of expert opinion and knowledge exchange (e.g. between scientists and sea users). The evidence base will be shared publicly and be open to scrutiny.

4.1.2 HPMA scale and the use of functional ecosystem units

Ecologically and geomorphologically functional units (e.g. entire sea loch; whole embayment or sediment plain), and associated ecosystem processes will guide HPMA boundary setting. Away from the coast, existing broadscale mapping products are likely to play a role in defining relevant functional units.

There is no set minimum or maximum size for an HPMA and no predetermined view regarding the number of potential sites that should be identified. Size will depend on the rationale for identification, the functions and resources that the HPMA is designed to protect, and the requirements for management of activities. However, in accordance with the aims set out in the Bute House Agreement, site selection will result in at least 10% of Scotland's seas falling within stricter protection measures.

4.1.3 Ensuring added value

HPMAs will be selected where they are the most appropriate mechanism for protection and are considered to add clear value to the conservation and wider sustainable use of Scotland's seas over and beyond existing marine conservation policies and management.

4.1.4 Delivering ecosystem recovery

Ecosystem protection and/or recovery will be the primary driver in the identification of HPMAs in Scottish waters.

Removal of existing and future pressures from HPMAs will facilitate ecosystem recovery. Previous human activity and ongoing climate change will dictate what recovery looks like in different physical settings around Scotland. Recovery will be considered at a broad, ecosystem-based level, in the context of these prevailing environmental conditions. HPMAs may also support direct intervention as part of habitat restoration projects in appropriate locations and with appropriate management in place.

Consideration of potential environmental changes, ecological spatial connectivity and existing conservation measures will inform where and how HPMAs are used to best complement the MPA network and facilitate ecosystem adaptation to a broad range of possible climate trajectories. As our understanding improves, and/or the environment changes however, there may be a need to re-assess existing HPMAs to determine whether boundaries should be amended or whether alternative locations may be more suitable, particularly in the longer term in response to climate change (see also Section 7).

4.2 Site selection stages

Figure 2 sets out the approach that will be followed to identify and select potential sites for designation as HPMAs in Scottish waters.

Individual HPMA proposals will be developed through an initial five-stage process. Further information on each stage is given in Annex A. The process starts in Stage 1 with the identification of HPMA search locations supporting functions and/or resources of significance to Scotland's seas (see Annex B).

HPMA search locations are expected to evolve (e.g. changes in size, shape and scope) as they progress through the stages. Stages 2 and 5 will inform an initial prioritisation exercise and some search locations may drop out of the process as a result. Only locations that pass Stages 1 to 5 will be considered for inclusion in the subsequent network level assessment.

The different stages of HPMA selection may not necessarily follow a linear process. For example, the results of assessing individual search locations at different stages may lead to reconsideration of other proposals (e.g. locations being joined or reshaped etc.). Information on activities under Stage 4 might necessitate a reconsideration of the size and shape of an individual location, thereby revisiting Stage 3. Similarly, the network level assessment (see next section) may highlight gaps that necessitate the re-application of Stage 1 and the identification of additional search locations for specific interests.

4.3 Network level assessment

As part of the package of information providing advice to Scottish Ministers on proposals, a national 'network-level' assessment will look across the individual search locations to determine those that would collectively make the greatest contribution to the overall aims of HPMAs.

This will include consideration and prioritisation between locations making similar potential contributions to the delivery of aspects such as PMF recovery, ecological representation, spatial coverage, and the balance of degraded areas vs. areas that are more natural. The assessment will also look at how HPMAs supplement and complement the existing MPA network, ensuring that HPMAs provide the requisite additional environmental protections over and beyond existing mechanisms. The assessment will consider how HPMAs and MPAs collectively address key ecological resilience principles (to aid adaptation to climate change); including connectivity and biogeographical differences of our seas (see Figure 1 for an overview of the biogeographic regions in Scotland's seas).

Socio-economic information will be considered throughout the process, and Stage 5 of site selection and the subsequent network level assessment will be underpinned by information that seeks to optimise ecological, social and cultural benefits whilst minimising impacts. At the network level, the assessments are expected to consider different possible combinations of HPMA search locations.

On the basis of the network level assessment, NatureScot and JNCC will provide formal advice to Scottish Ministers regarding locations that should be considered for designation (known as HPMA proposals). NatureScot will consider proposals in Scottish territorial waters (within 12 nautical miles) and JNCC will focus on proposals in offshore waters adjacent to Scotland (outside 12 nautical miles).

Ministerial decisions on HPMA proposals to go forward for public consultation will be informed by, but not limited to, the formal advice provided by NatureScot and JNCC. Only proposed HPMA sites that are publicly consulted on will be considered by Ministers for designation following completion of the consultation process.

Figure 2: The process that will be followed in the selection of HPMAs in Scotland's seas
A process diagram showing a visual summary of the proposed five stage HPMA site selection process as set out in section '4.2 - site selection stages' and Annex A.


Email: HPMA@gov.scot

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