Publication - Consultation paper

Draft Seaweed Policy Statement Consultation Paper

Published: 26 Aug 2013
Part of:
Marine and fisheries

Consultation paper on policy options for seaweed cultivation in Scotland

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Draft Seaweed Policy Statement Consultation Paper
6 Environmental Baseline

6 Environmental Baseline

6.1 Introduction

6.1.1 This section of the report contains detailed background information on Scotland's marine environment by environmental topic area, with a specific focus on aspects of relevance to the potential growth of Scotland's seaweed industries.

6.2 Climatic Factors

6.2.1 Climate change is a major issue in both a national and global context. In the marine context, climate change has been predicted to lead to an increase in water temperatures, rise in sea levels, changes in wave heights and changes to our coastlines. Since 1961, average temperatures in all parts of Scotland have risen for every season [71] and over the last three decades, sea-surface temperatures around the UK coast have also risen by approximately 0.7ºC [72] . At the same time, our seas are becoming more acidic, particularly those to the north and west of Scotland, as increasing amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide are absorbed at the sea surface. This change in acidity is already causing concern for marine ecosystems and many organisms that share it [73] .

6.2.2 Sea levels around the UK rose by about 1mm/yr in the 20th century (corrected for land movement), although it is estimated that recent increases have been higher than this [74] . Under projections from the UK Climate Impacts Programme 2009 model ( UKCIP09), further rises of between 12-76cm are projected by 2095 [75] , with lower probability scenarios suggesting this rise could be even greater with the potential for further adverse impacts on coastal areas and transitional waters.

6.2.3 The UK Climate Change Risk Assessment ( CCRA) [76] states that there will be more frequent flooding arising from more frequent and intense rainfall, an increase in drought incidents during drier summers, and increases in the frequency of extreme weather events ( i.e. storms and flooding). Associated changes to sea levels, increased wave height and storm surges could have serious repercussions for marine and coastal environments, and many industries operating in them.

6.2.4 There is clear indication that the effects of climate change already affecting the marine environment [77] are likely to increase the vulnerability of some habitats and species to added pressure in the future [78] .

6.3 Biodiversity, Flora and Fauna

6.3.1 With an estimated 18,672 km of coastline, some 53,638 km 2 of open sea (within the 0-12 nautical mile territorial limit) and a further 34,810 km 2 of internal waters, over half of Scotland's administrative territory is marine [79] . These coasts and seas are home to a rich and diverse array of marine flora and fauna, with an estimated 6,500 species of animals and plants (excluding microbial flora) [80] with the primary producer role of seaweed being central to many of Scotland's marine ecosystems.

Scotland's Marine Habitats

6.3.2 As shown in Figure 6.1, six broad habitats are found in Scottish waters:

  • Intertidal rock.
  • Intertidal sediment.
  • Subtidal rock.
  • Shallow subtidal sediments.
  • Shelf subtidal sediments.
  • Deep-sea habitats.

Figure 6.1: Modelled distribution of broad habitat types found in Scottish waters [81]

6.3.3 Intertidal rock represents around 48% of Scotland's coastline, and is of particular relevance to seaweed. These habitats, located at the shoreline, comprise bedrock, boulders and cobble substrate, and are characterised by wave exposure, salinity and tides. They host many of Scotland's seaweed communities and are popular for the harvesting of edible seaweeds, and as resting and foraging places for many animals ( e.g. grey seal, otter and various wading birds) [82] .

6.3.4 Scotland's subtidal rock habitats, consisting of bedrock, boulders and cobbles occurring below the water mark, also support a range of seaweed communities. These habitats range in depth and, as such, the make-up of these marine communities is strongly affected by the availability of light. Shallow areas are typically dominated by seaweeds while the communities in deeper areas comprise exclusively marine animals. Extensive areas are located on the west coast, particularly to the west of the Hebrides and around Shetland [83] .

6.3.5 Shallow (or inshore) and shelf subtidal sediment habitats cover an extensive area of the seabed, and comprise shingle, gravel, sand and mud substrates. They extend to depths below the effects of wave patterns (around 50-70m below sea level) with shelf sediments extending to 200m depth, and like deep sea habitats, are generally not supportive of seaweed communities. However, inshore sediment habitats can also include lagoons and maerl beds, supporting diverse marine communities in these areas [84] .

6.3.6 Scotland's coastal habitats are subject to a range of physical disturbance pressures including temperature increases, changes in wave regimes, sea-level rise, coastal development and certain human activities ( e.g. recreation, anchoring and some fishing activities) [85] . In deeper areas such as shallow and shelf subtidal sediments, pressures can include physical damage from dredging, bottom trawling, fishing, seabed development, anchoring and pollution [86] .

Scotland's Protected Marine Sites

6.3.7 The 40 Special Areas of Conservation ( SACs) in marine and coastal areas cover seven different habitat types (sandbanks, sea caves, estuaries, mud flats, coastal lagoons, shallow inlets and bays and reefs) and three species (bottlenose dolphin, grey seal and common seal). Of these, some 97% of protected features on these sites are recorded as being in favourable condition [87] . [88] . Two types of natural features have been designated in SACs, encompassing inter-tidal and sub-tidal hard substrata features ( i.e. rocky shores, reefs, tidal rapids, caves). These habitats support an array of marine fauna and flora including kelp ( Laminaria spp) [89] .

6.3.8 Scotland's coastal and marine areas include many that are of international importance for bird species ( i.e. seabirds, waders, ducks, geese and swans). In 2013, some 85 Special Protection Areas ( SPAs) were identified with marine associations, affording protection to bird species dependent on the marine environment.

6.3.9 The 51 Ramsar sites designated as internationally important wetlands in Scotland and covering an area of approximately 313,500 hectares are also designated as SACs or SPAs, with many also named as Sites of Special Scientific Interest ( SSSI) [90] .

6.3.10 The Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 and the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 introduced powers to designate nature conservation MPAs in Scottish territorial and offshore waters, to protect marine biodiversity and geodiversity. This will contribute towards achieving Good Environmental Status ( GES) under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive ( MSFD) and deliver Scotland's contribution to an ecologically coherent network of MPAs under the OSPAR convention on the protection of the marine environment in the North East Atlantic. The Scottish Government is proposing that 33 MPA proposals now be considered, through public consultation, for designation as possible Marine Protected Areas (p MPAs) to supplement existing protected areas for marine species and habitats, and to create a wider network of MPAs [91] . Possible MPAs include a range of features that are important habitats for seaweed, as well as a number of seaweeds ( e.g. kelp, maerl).

Other Designations

6.3.11 A SSSI represents areas that are considered to be of national importance for their plants, animals and habitats, rocks and landforms, and/or combinations of these. This designation also underpins European nature conservation designations ( i.e. SACs and SPAs), and contributes to the development of Scotland's MPA network. In 2012, there were 1,439 SSSI in Scotland [92] . Of these, 188 have marine associations/components, of which 61 overlap with the intertidal environment [93] . The remainder have been designated for bird interests associated with the marine environment. An example of the habitats and species protected at the national level (through SSSI designation) is provided in Table 6.1.

Table 6.1: Marine Notified Habitats and Species Features of SSSI



Eel grass bed

Brackish water cockle ( Cerastoderma lamarki)


Egg wrack ( Ascophyllum nodosum ecad mackaii)

Rocky shore

Common seal ( Phoca vitulina)

Saline lagoon

Grey seal ( Halichoerus grypus)


Stonewort ( Lamprothamnium papulosum)

Sea caves

Vascular plant assemblage [covers eel grass communities in some sites]

Tidal rapids

6.3.12 While not a statutory designation, Scotland's 29 Marine Consultation Areas ( MCAs) highlight areas of conservation priority in the near-shore marine environment. Initially identified in 1986, Scotland's current MCAs serve an important conservation and management role, although these will be replaced by MPAs once designated. Some areas overlap marine SACs. Located around the coastlines of Scotland's islands, and western and northern mainland, these areas represent high quality and sensitive marine habitats and species. [94]

UK biodiversity action plan ( UKBAP) species and habitats.

6.3.13 Under the UKBAP, some 1,150 species are identified in the UK as priorities for conservation action [95] . The UKBAP also identifies a range of coastal priority habitats including sand dunes, machair and coastal lagoons which either support or are supported by seaweed [96] . Many of these are naturally mobile features which are moved by wave action and storm events, and can also be affected by climate change and sediment supply, which in its turn may be affected by coastal defence structures. There are some 48,000 ha of dune and machair on Scotland's coasts, of which two-thirds is dune. They are particularly extensive in the Western Isles and Inner Hebrides [97] .

Non-native and invasive species.

6.3.14 Non-native species become invasive when they become established, proliferating and spreading in ways that damage native biological diversity ( i.e. habitat and food web alteration, out-competing native species, hybridisation) [98] . Such species can be introduced via a number of pathways, although shipping and aquaculture are considered the most likely sources of their introduction to Scotland [99] .

6.3.15 As of 2010, four algal species were classified as invasive in Scottish waters including one seaweed species known as wire weed ( Sargassum muticum) which first reached Scotland in 2004 and has subsequently spread up the Scottish west coast. S. muticum is known to disperse by natural drift over wide areas, and can spread rapidly once established in a new region [100] .

6.4 Population and Human Health

Potential for Conflicts

6.4.1 Marine recreation forms a valuable and growing industry for Scotland, with activities ranging from walking along coastal beaches to open-water activities [101] :

  • Bathing is undertaken mainly in the south-west, east, north-east and northern parts of the Scottish mainland.
  • Sailing in Scotland is concentrated in the Clyde and along the west coast, but is also common along the east coast, Orkney and Shetland (Figure 6.2).
  • Surfing and windsurfing are popular in the Western Isles, along the east and north coasts of the Scottish mainland, and in Orkney (Figure 6.3).
  • Diving on wrecks or offshore reefs is an important recreational activity in Orkney and along the Berwickshire coast.
  • Canoeing and kayaking take place mainly around sea lochs and coastal areas, particularly on the west coast.
  • Sea angling is carried out from most regions of the Scottish coastline, with a wide range of species caught depending on the region and the time of year (Figure 6.4).
  • Coastal and marine wildlife tourism involving onshore activities such as bird and seal-watching, and offshore activities involving marine wildlife tourism specialist operators who provide access to areas for certain marine species ( e.g. cetaceans, dolphins, basking sharks and seals). While carried out in many of Scotland's marine and coastal waters, it is most popular in Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles and the west coast of the Scottish mainland [102] .

6.4.2 The principle of shared use and the need to ensure access to the marine environment for all users is a key concern to ensuring the sustainability of Scotland's marine resources. While some activities in coastal and marine environments can often be undertaken with little impact on other users, the potential for conflicts between activities exists.


6.4.3 Scotland's ports play an important role in transporting passengers throughout Scotland, with an estimated 10 million passengers using ferries every year. The busiest route in 2011 was the Clyde and Solway Firth/North Channel, followed by the Minches and Malin Sea routes [103] (Figure 6.5).

6.4.4 Despite Scotland's large marine areas, the high level of use of the marine environment for commercial and recreational purposes has proven to be potentially hazardous. Of the 407 water-related fatalities that occurred in marine and inland waters in the UK in 2011, some 79 incidents occurred in coastal, shore or beach areas, 41 at sea, 30 in lochs, 26 in ports or harbours, and the remainder in inland areas ( i.e. rivers, etc.). In breaking these down further, and excluding those in inland waters, some 37 related to sailing or boating, 11 to angling, 36 to swimming, 8 to diving and three to surfing activities [104] .

6.4.5 Marine Accident Investigation Branch ( MAIB) incident report figures indicate that a total of five collisions [105] and 10 groundings [106] have been reported for all vessels in Scottish waters since 2005, largely occurring in the Inner Hebrides, Aberdeen Harbour and the Firth of Clyde. Of these, four collisions and eight groundings involved merchant vessels, one of each involved ferries, and one grounding involving a leisure craft.

6.4.6 The high volume of commercial and recreational use of Scotland's marine environment is demonstrated in Figures 6.2 to 6.5.

Figure 6.2: Cruising routes and sailing areas [107]

Figure 6.3: Surfing Locations [108]

Figure 6.4: Sea angling regions [109]

Figure 6.5: International and Domestic Ferry Routes [110]

6.5 Water

Water Quality and Ecological/Environmental Status [111]

6.5.1 There are a number of mechanisms in place for monitoring and managing the quality of our waters:

  • The WFD establishes a framework for the protection of inland surface waters (rivers and lakes), transitional waters (estuaries), coastal waters and groundwater, with the aim of ensuring all aquatic ecosystems meet 'good status' by 2015 [112],[113] .
  • River Basin Management Plans ( RBMP) have been prepared for the Scotland and Solway-Tweed River Basin Districts ( RBD) to address the requirements of the Directive in relation to the management of Scotland's river systems. Both also provide an overview of the state of the water environment for their districts [114] .

6.5.2 Scotland's coastal waters are monitored by SEPA to measure performance and compliance with targets for coastal water quality status under the WFD. In all, 63% of Scotland's water bodies were at good or better status in 2010. Of these, some 96% of coastal waters, 86% of estuaries and 54% of sea lochs and freshwater lochs were classed as in 'good' or 'better' condition in 2010 [115] . While 96% of coastal waters in Scotland were classified as excellent or good condition (grade A or B), 95% were reported as having achieved an improvement in condition [116] (Figure 6.6).

Bathing Water Quality

6.5.3 Bathing waters are classed as protected areas under Annex IV of the WFD [117] due to their sensitivity to pollution or their economic, social and environmental importance. The EC Bathing Water Directive (2006/7/ EC), translated into Scottish law by the Bathing Waters (Scotland) Regulations 2008, aims to preserve, protect and improve the quality of the environment and to protect human health. It sets out two quality standards, the 'mandatory' and the stricter 'guideline' standard, stating that Member States should comply with the mandatory standard and aim to comply with the guideline standard [118] . The majority of monitored and sampled sites are located on the east, north-east and south-west coasts, with isolated sites on the north and west coasts, and no sampling sites located in Orkney, Shetland or the Western Isles.

6.5.4 The quality of Scotland's bathing waters, comprising 80 coastal and 3 inland waters, has steadily improved over recent years. In 2011, 95% of Scotland's bathing waters achieved the mandatory standard for bathing water quality, and of these, nearly half also met the more stringent guideline standard. Just four waters (Sandyhills, Irvine, Lossiemouth East and Eyemouth) failed to achieve mandatory quality compliance. The 2011 monitoring report indicates that pollutants ( i.e. bacteria and diffuse pollutants) from agricultural or urban runoff mobilised from heavy rainfall are the most likely causes of these exceedances [119] .

Shellfish Waters

6.5.5 Aquaculture is a growing industry on the national and global scale, providing around 46% of total food fish supply in 2010 [120] . The Scottish aquaculture industry has increased by a third since 2000, and currently consists of both finfish and shellfish farming, with production sites for both located predominantly on the west coast of the Scottish mainland, Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles [121],[122] .

Figure 6.6: Coastal and Transitional Waters Classification [123]

Figure 6.7: Location of Shellfish Waters within Scotland [124]

6.5.6 The shellfish aquaculture industry in Scotland is based around the commercial culturing of (predominantly) mussels, oysters and scallops. Aquaculture is reliant on water conditions such as local water flow rate and wave exposure, and can be adversely affected by contamination. Shellfish are particularly sensitive, and can accumulate bacteria from the surrounding waters as they filter the water to feed, resulting in high bacterial levels in shellfish flesh farmed in areas with high concentrations of bacteria in surrounding waters.

6.5.7 One specific role of the WFD will be to achieve the level of protection afforded by the EU Shellfish Waters Directive (2006/113/ EEC) scheduled to be repealed in December 2013 [125] . This was developed to 'protect or improve shellfish waters' and sets physical, chemical and microbiological water quality standards. It thus protects the aquatic habitat of bivalve and gastropod molluscs ( i.e. oysters, mussels, cockles, scallops and clams) [126] . Some 80 coastal waters in Scotland have been designated 'shellfish growing waters' (Figure 6.7); these areas are predominantly located on the west coast of the Scottish mainland and the islands [127] .

6.5.8 In 2011, water quality monitoring undertaken by SEPA indicated that all designated sites ( i.e. all 80 sites that were designated) met the minimum environmental quality standards (the 'mandatory' standard) set by the EC Shellfish Waters Directive. However, just 55% of shellfish waters were found to have achieved the more stringent guideline quality standard (the 'guideline' standard) [128] . While most designated sites (71) met the stricter guideline values for physical and chemical parameters, exceedances of the stricter bacteriological guideline value were recorded at 29 of these sites. [129]

6.5.9 The classification of shellfish harvesting areas is a separate process undertaken in the UK by the Food Standards Agency ( FSA) and is based on the terms of the Shellfish Hygiene Directive (91/492/ EEC) [130] . The classification system is focused on the quality of the end product rather than environmental factors, and involves a tiered system based on the presence of faecal indicator organisms [131] .

6.5.10 In 2011/2012, around 49% of identified shellfish harvesting waters achieved the highest standard providing Class A products all year round, allowing for direct marketing after harvesting. A further 42% of harvesting waters provided Class A products for part of the year, and Class B products for the remainder of the year requiring additional cleaning before they were allowed to be marketed.

Potential Contamination Sources

6.5.11 While most sources are likely to be localised and site-specific, the sources of pollutants entering the water environment vary greatly. These can include shipping and boating ( i.e. the use of anti-fouling tributyltin and copper paints [132] , and other synthetic substances [133] ); oil discharges from incidents, collisions or the release of oil in ballast water [134] ; the introduction of non-native species from ballast or attached to vessel hulls [135] ; discrete and diffuse terrestrial sources ( i.e. natural weathering, industrial discharges and agriculture [136] ), atmospheric sources ( i.e. chemical contaminants and dust [137] ); radioactive contamination ( i.e. naturally occurring radioactive material ( NORM), wastes [138] and accidental releases); and munitions contamination and military waste ( i.e. up to ten known disposal sites have been identified in Scottish waters [139] ).

Climate Change

6.5.12 The effects of climate change may exacerbate impacts from other sources, by reducing the ability of the water environment to safely absorb and break down pollutant inputs. The likelihood of reduced summer rainfall [140] may mean less water is available in rivers and inland waters for diluting pollutants. Conversely, expected higher annual river flows, particularly during winter months, may help dilute pollutant discharges to rivers while increasing the quantity of pollutants reaching coastal and marine waters.

6.6 Soil, Geology and Coastal Processes

Our soils and sediments

6.6.1 Much of the Scottish landscape and coastline was formed initially through the processes of glacial erosion and deposition [141] , and the land continues to change through coastal processes such as wave action, sediment movement, erosion and accretion [142] . Scotland's coast comprises hard coasts composed of rocks and cliffs (70%); soft coasts considered potentially susceptible to erosion impacts, composed of unconsolidated gravels, sand and silts (29%); and artificial i.e. harbours and sea walls (less than 1%) [143] .

6.6.2 The offshore environment in Scottish waters ranges from shelf sea areas to deep ocean regions with depths greater than 2,000 m. The continental shelf includes the Malin and Hebrides Shelf Seas, Orkney and Shetland Shelf Seas, and the North Sea. The shelf seas are marked by notable features such as banks ( e.g. Stanton Banks, Viking Bank) and deep channels.

6.6.3 In general, the marine sediments around Scotland are sandy or gravelly and originate from deposits during the Quaternary glaciation. Strong currents and wave action may also have prevented deposition of recent muddy sediment or have winnowed it to leave a coarse-grained lag deposit. Muddy sediments occur principally near shore or, further offshore, in depressions on the sea floor, where currents may be relatively weak. They also occur beyond the shelf break (200 m water depth) to the west of Scotland. The concentration of calcareous material varies greatly in seabed sediments, reflecting the amount of shell material in different areas; locally, this can be very high. [144]


6.6.4 Protection of Scotland's geodiversity interests, in the main, is currently focused on terrestrial geodiversity. Current protection comprises [145] :

  • Geoparks: There are currently two UNESCO Geoparks in Scotland: North West Highlands Geopark, and Shetland Geopark.
  • National Parks: Geodiversity is one of the special qualities of Scotland's National Parks, and both National Parks contain internationally important geodiversity.
  • National Nature Reserves: Many contain significant geological and geomorphological interest.
  • SSSI: These are the primary statutory mechanism for geodiversity protection in Scotland. Many of these sites, also designated as SPAs or SACs, are underpinned by the Geological Conservation Review ( GCR) undertaken by the JNCC. As such, the majority of the GCR sites are now designated as geological features in SSSI [146] .
  • Local Nature Conservation Sites: These include Local Geodiversity Sites, sometimes also called Regionally Important Geological and Geomorphological Sites.

Coastal change

6.6.5 SNH participated in a Europe-wide assessment of coastal change in 2004. The Eurosion project categorised Scotland's coast, and summarised the nature of the coastline and its stability and behaviour. Based on the findings of this assessment, three-quarters of the coast is broadly stable and of the remaining quarter, 8% is accretional and 12% is erosional (data was lacking for the remaining 5%) [147] (Figure 6.9). The erosional portion of coastlines largely consists of beaches, sand dunes, conglomerates/soft-rock cliffs, machair and marshes with muddy sediments [148] .

6.6.6 Coastal erosion and accretion are significant problems affecting many coastal communities around the world. Both are natural processes; however, they can be exacerbated by human activities ( e.g. land reclamation, coastal development, dredging, etc.) or natural disasters [149] . There is a strong interaction between the energies within coastal seas in the form of waves, tides and currents, and the processes of erosion and sedimentation. Sections of Scotland's coastline are already subject to erosion or accretion, particularly the east coast from Montrose to Dunbar, the Firth of Clyde, the inner Moray Firth, Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles, with coastal protection plans introduced in these areas [150] (Figure 6.10). The presence of living seaweed and castweed can play an important role in coastal processes and assist in stabilising coastlines (see Section 5.4) [151] .

6.6.7 Sediment supplies along soft shorelines controls their stability, where surplus sediment can promote accretion and the removal of sediment can cause erosion. Coastal sediment supply is generally thought to be at an all-time low, in part due to river bank and coastal defences. Hard defences can transfer erosion along the coast [152] .

6.6.8 While natural wave action, tidal currents and drainage have typically been the main drivers of coastal erosion, in more recent times, human activities have played a significant role in coastal erosion. Practices such as land reclamation and the construction of infrastructure such as harbours, jetties and marinas, can affect coastal processes by restricting the movement of coastal sediments [153] and increase the vulnerability of an area to erosion. While impacts are likely to be site-specific, erosion processes are likely to increase in the future, with additional pressures from rising sea levels and erosion/deposition associated with climate change [154] .

Figure 6.8: Coastal Survey and Erosion Potential (Source: GIS from SNH)

Figure 6.9: Coastal Erosion Survey 2000 Findings (Source: GIS from SNH)

6.7 Cultural Heritage

6.7.1 Scotland's historic environment and cultural heritage help to create a sense of place, wellbeing and identity, enhancing the distinctiveness of the coast and attracting visitors to Scotland [155] . A wide range of archaeological sites can be found on the foreshore and seabed, ranging from the remains of ships and aircraft lost at sea to harbours, lighthouses and other structures at the coastal fringe. These historic assets are a non-renewable resource, and their survival is conditioned by a complex interplay of natural and man-made factors.

6.7.2 Natural factors such as seabed movement from wave and tidal energy, relative sea-level rise, seabed topography and sediment type, biological colonisation, salinity, water acidity or alkalinity and levels of oxygenation often present conditions suitable for their preservation. Coastal erosion poses a major issue for archaeological sites in many areas, and one that is likely to be exacerbated given predictions of the likely effects of global warming ( i.e. sea level rise, increased intensity of storms, erosion and risk of flooding). Additionally, man-made activities such as anchoring, certain types of fishing, and coastal and marine development are also known pressures on the marine historic environment [156] .

6.7.3 At present, more is known about our historic assets on land than those on our coastlines or in the sea. Historically, there has been a heavy reliance on ad hoc discoveries of sites rather than through data gathered in structured research frameworks and survey programmes [157] . However, since 1995, the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland ( RCAHMS) has recorded maritime information from readily available sources, a process that is undertaken regularly for terrestrial sites.

6.7.4 While many sites lie wholly within the marine environment, it is believed that there are many more unprotected sites of interest on and around Scotland's coastline. [158] The Orkney and Shetland coasts, in particular, contain many Neolithic and Mesolithic structures that are now below sea level. As such, Scotland's seabeds and inter-tidal areas contain the remains of many important historic assets, ranging from artefacts and structures deposited on the seabed, structures built on the seabed or in inter-tidal areas, and submerged sites that were previously above sea level.

Designated sites

6.7.5 It is estimated that there are some 38,000 historic and unprotected sites of interest around Scotland's coast. There are 97 managed and accessible coastal and marine heritage sites ranging from the World Heritage Sites of St Kilda and Heart of Neolithic Orkney, coastal properties in care of Historic Scotland, maritime and coastal heritage museums, and designated wreck sites currently in Scotland. [159] For these sites the sea can be an integral part of their setting and a key element in how they are experienced, understood and appreciated.

6.7.6 The Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes recognises 390 sites nationally important sites, some of which have coastal locations and are relevant to the coastal environment [160] .

6.7.7 Scotland has 34 statutory designated sites wholly within the marine environment. These include eight designated wreck sites around the coast, nine scheduled monuments including seven wrecks in Scapa Flow, four A-listed lighthouses and 13 sites designated under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986. [161] It is thought that many such sites are likely to be known locally, but remain unreported as archaeological sites. [162]

6.7.8 The Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 provides for the designation of Historic Marine Protection Areas ( HMPAs) [163] . One HMPA has been designated to date, an historic wreck in Drumbeg, Sutherland. A recent consultation [164] sought views on proposed amendments to the Drumbeg HMPA and proposals for a further six HMPAs:

  • Campania, Firth of Forth.
  • Dartmouth, Sound of Mull.
  • Duart Point, Sound of Mull.
  • Kinlochbervie, Sutherland.
  • Mingary, Ardnamurchan.
  • Out Skerries, Shetland.

6.7.9 The designation process covers the transition of existing designated wreck sites and underwater scheduled monuments to MPA status and identification of further priority sites.

6.8 Landscape and Seascape

6.8.1 Scotland's seascapes and coastal landscapes are highly varied with features ranging from sea lochs to open water, machair plains to towering cliffs, and dunes and sandy beaches to rocky headlands. Although there are many settlements on the coast, less than 15% of its length has been developed, giving much of the coast a natural character. While largely undeveloped, the Scottish coastline is generally highly accessible and there is an ongoing commitment to improve public access [165] .

6.8.2 Over 12% by area of Scotland has been classified as National Scenic Areas ( NSAs) [166] and two national parks have been established, in the Cairngorms and in Loch Lomond and The Trossachs [167] . Scotland contains 40 NSAs, a designation given to identify areas of outstanding scenery and locations considered to represent Scotland's finest landscapes [168] . Of these, 27 are located within or adjacent to coastal areas and include views of transitional or coastal waters [169] . These are predominantly located on the west coast, Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles,

6.8.3 SNH have been progressing work to identify areas of 'wild land' within Scotland [170] . This work has considered the perceived naturalness of the land cover, ruggedness of the terrain, the remoteness from public roads and ferries, and visible lack of development ( i.e. buildings, roads, pylons, etc.). While mapping of such areas does not include offshore areas, the relationship between landscape and seascape is of relevance to the analysis. As such, the locations of areas with stronger wild characteristics shows a strong correlation with the north and west of Scotland, particularly areas of higher ground and some coastal and island areas [171] .

6.8.4 Many of Scotland's cultural heritage sites have coastal locations, and as such, may be sensitive to landscape or seascape changes. Coastal erosion and impacts from man-made sources ( i.e. coastal or offshore development) can potentially result in irreversible changes to coastal processes and increase erosion or accretion in some areas [172] . This potential is expected to increase in the future, with additional pressures from rising sea levels, storm events and erosion/deposition associated with climate change [173] .

6.9 Material Assets (Aquaculture and Shipping)

6.9.1 Scotland seas are a shared resource, and one considered valuable for a wide variety of industries. Our territorial and offshore waters support the oil and gas industry (predominantly off the east coast and to the east of Shetland and Orkney), commercial fishing (throughout our inshore and offshore waters), aquaculture (mainly off the west coast, Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles) and recreational and tourism industries (around the Scottish coastline) [174] .

6.9.2 These waters generate a significant amount of economic output and are a valuable asset to the future of the Scottish economy. Overall, the core marine sector, less the extraction of oil and gas, contributed around 3.5% of Gross Value Added ( GVA) and accounted for 1.6% of Scottish employment. Of these, 31% of those employed worked in the fishing, fish farming or fish processing sectors [175] .


6.9.3 Aquaculture is a growing and increasingly important industry, helping to underpin sustainable economic growth in rural and coastal communities. Scotland's aquaculture industry is dominated by finfish and shellfish farming or culture. Scotland's finfish aquaculture industry is based on the west coast, Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles. Shellfish aquaculture is also primarily in these areas, with a few sites on the east coast (Figure 7.1).

6.9.4 The fish farming industry in Scotland is dominated by Atlantic salmon production, although a variety of other species are grown including, trout, cod and halibut, amongst others [176] . Shellfish production is dominated by mussel and Pacific oyster, although small quantities of scallop, queen scallop and native oyster are also produced [177] . Production in the finfish aquaculture sector has progressively grown over the last twenty years, particularly Atlantic salmon production. There have been recent decreases in production of other species, such as rainbow trout, halibut and cod [178] .

Of particular interest to a future seaweed cultivation industry is the potential for inclusion with aquaculture under IMTA. Like many other sectors, marine and freshwater aquaculture both use the available natural resources and interact with their respective environments, and issues such as environmental impacts and the need for sustainability have been identified [179] . While there is considerable disagreement amongst stakeholders over the nature and extent of some impacts ( e.g. sea lice impacts on wild salmonids, and breeding between wild and escaped farmed fish) it is generally agreed that impacts to the marine environment can occur due to the discharge of nutrients, solid waste, chemicals (or chemo-therapeutants) used in the control of sea lice, and the historical use of antifoulants on sea cages [180] .

6.9.5 The addition of nutrients is one such aspect, arising from excess (or waste) feed and fish faeces from sea cage farming operations passing down the water column and impacting on the marine environment below. These materials can collect on the seabed beneath fish farm cages, and the presence of these wastes can result in increases in organic matter within the underlying sediments, and have adverse impacts on the benthic environment and the organisms that live there [181] .

6.9.6 While fish such as cod and halibut are also farmed at sites in Scottish waters, these species do not potentially interact in the same way with wild fish as Atlantic salmon ( i.e. sea lice), but similar issues in waste production apply. However, the rates of release of nitrogen in particulate or dissolved forms differ. For example, studies have indicated that these rates for halibut can be 50% or less than those for salmon, and as such, the potential for both benthic impacts and for water column nutrient enhancement is lower [182] .


6.9.7 Scotland's ports and seas play a key role in providing for the transport of freight and passengers by ferry services and wider shipping. In 2009, over 85 million tonnes (Mt) of cargo was handled through Scottish ports (a reduction of around 11% from 2008 and over 21% from 2005 figures). Of this, over 96% was handled by the 11 major ports, with the Forth ports [183] accounting for around 44% [184] . The British Ports Association have estimated that the trade value of the Scottish freight in 2006 amounted to around £65 billion, equivalent to 17% of the value of the UK's total trade [185] .

6.9.8 The movement of vessels within Scottish waters is recorded by several organisations, including the Maritime and Coastguard Agency ( MCA), Lloyds List Intelligence and individual ports. As such, data sets are not always comparable as different categories are used by these organisations, and certain types of ports or vessels are not featured in some statistics.

6.9.9 Lloyds List Intelligence data indicates there were 15,225 vessel arrivals at the main Scottish ports in 2009 (excluding Cairnryan, Stranraer and Glensanda). Of these, over 82% arrived at three ports: Aberdeen (45.8%), Forth ports (19.3%) and Lerwick (17.1%). Given the high number of vessels, data from tracking the movements is difficult to convey [186] .

6.9.10 Figure 6.10 details a snapshot of shipping traffic data, showing vessel routes taken during the first week of January 2010. While only a snapshot, indicates the high level of shipping traffic in the Firth of Forth, the Firth of Clyde, off the north east coast near Aberdeen, and through the Minches, the North Channel and the Pentland Firth.

Figure 6.10: Shipping traffic showing number of vessels in a given area during the first week of January 2010 (based on MCA Automated Identification System ( AIS) data) [187]

6.10 Evolution of the Environmental Baseline without the Proposed SPS

6.10.1 Some trends identified in the environmental baseline will be independent of both the adoption of the proposed SPS, and the growth of Scotland's seaweed cultivation and wild harvesting industries. For example, many pressures from the effects of climate change ( e.g. rising sea levels, increased frequency of extreme weather, acidification of seas) are unlikely to be affected by growth of these industries. The same may apply to biodiversity ( e.g. introduction of invasive species) and water quality ( e.g. acidification and eutrophication) pressures associated with changes in climate and water temperatures.

6.10.2 Opportunities to develop this industry would likely still be available without the policies contained in the Consultation Document, although these opportunities would be driven by industry and commercial markets under the current licensing and planning frameworks. Under this scenario, an opportunity for the Government to influence the sustainable development of the seaweed cultivation and wild harvesting industries at an early stage would likely be missed. Additionally, the potential for the industry to assist in the adaptation to climate change ( e.g. via protection of coastal processes and storm protection at the local level) and improvements to water quality ( i.e. potential benefits associated with IMTA) may not be given the same focus as that provided under the proposed SPS.

6.10.3 It is considered unlikely that growth in this sector, with or without the proposed SPS, would lead to a substantial increase in activities over the short-term. As such, current trends in relation to cultural heritage, landscape/seascape, population and human health, soil and geology would likely continue. However, it is noted that the potential for significant growth in large-scale cultivation due to future development in biofuel production could significantly alter the environmental baseline.

6.11 Alternatives under Assessment

6.11.1 The Act requires the SEA to assess the significant environmental effects of the proposed SPS and its reasonable alternatives. The identification of potential environmental issues in the SEA process has driven the development of the SPS, both through the consideration of potential environmental issues during its development, and assisting in refining its content and focus.

6.11.2 This has also led to the consideration of a number of alternatives to the proposals presented in the Consultation Document, with the SEA process playing a key role in both the identification of options to mitigate against potential environmental effects, and also in the comparison of alternatives.

Reasonable Alternatives

6.11.3 As detailed in Section 4.7, in the early stages of the SPS development process, a number of different focuses were considered. The following four broad and high-level alternatives were considered:

  • A focus on commercial-scale seaweed cultivation - considers an SPS focused on commercial seaweed cultivation operations. It considers the impacts of an SPS developed to facilitate the future growth of a seaweed cultivation industry, and specifically catering for larger-scale seaweed production sites ( i.e. biofuels).
  • A focus on seaweed cultivation as part of IMTA - considers an SPS focused on integrated seaweed cultivation activities ( i.e. IMTA). It considers the potential growth of a Scottish seaweed cultivation industry based around integrating seaweed cultivation with marine finfish and shellfish farming operations, with the aim of reducing environmental impacts from these operations.
  • A focus on commercial harvesting of seaweed in the wild - considers an SPS focused on the consolidation and growth of existing commercial harvesting of seaweed in the wild. It considers a scenario where the expansion of existing wild harvesting activities and the development of new operations taking advantage of Scotland's wild seaweed stocks are pursued in combination with cultivation.
  • The 'do nothing' scenario - proposes adopting a 'hands-off' approach to the seaweed industry where growth of the seaweed cultivation and commercial harvesting in the wild may be promoted by Government, but not in policy, and operators and market-forces are left to drive industry growth under the existing regulatory framework.

Other Options for Consideration

6.11.4 In addition to these broad options, the SEA process considered a number of different options for provisions within the Consultation Document to manage or mitigate potential adverse impacts identified in the assessment. In addition to the policies contained within the Consultation Document, these options included:

  • Introducing spatial limitations on industry growth ( i.e. allowing operations in certain areas, exclusion from others). For example, would the potential environmental effects of seaweed cultivation require the identification of 'no-go' areas?
  • Potential for overcoming issues at the local level through planning and design.
  • Identifying issues to be dealt with at the regional/local level and therefore by other PPS (including Regional Marine Planning, and future spatial aquaculture plans).
  • Identification of opportunities for further investigation ( e.g. modelling of water flows and sedimentation, etc.).

6.11.5 The SEA explored the implications of these alternatives for facilitating the potential growth of the seaweed industry in Scotland, and compared these against the proposed policies contained in the Consultation Document, reflecting on the similarities and contrasts between them. The findings of this comparison are presented in Section 9.