Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs): consultation analysis - final report

Analysis report on the responses to the consultation on Scottish Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) which ran from 12 December 2022 to 17 April 2023.

Annex 6: Views on the proposed management approaches to specific activities (Q2)

Section 6 of the draft policy framework discussed the proposed approach to managing a range of different activities within HPMAs across the following sectors:

  • Commercial fishing (of any kind)
  • Recreational fishing (of any kind)
  • All other recreational activities
  • Aquaculture (finfish, shellfish, seaweed)
  • Oil and gas
  • Renewable energy
  • Carbon capture, utilisation and storage
  • Subsea cables
  • Aggregate extraction
  • Ports and harbours
  • Shipping and ferries
  • Military and defence
  • Hydrogen production
  • Space ports.

Question 2 asked for views on the effectiveness of the proposed approach for each sector. This question contained 16 closed sub-questions, each focusing on one of the items in the list above. Chapter 5 includes a summary of the comments made at Question 2, and this annex provides a more detailed analysis of those comments.

Commercial fishing (of any kind)

Respondents of all types expressed views in relation to the proposal to ban all commercial fishing from HPMAs. There were several themes in the comments.

The most common theme was that any proposal to ban all forms of commercial fishing in 10% of Scotland’s seas was ‘draconian’, ‘high-handed’, and ‘unrealistic’ and would have severe negative impacts on the fishing industry. As discussed in Chapter 5, respondents thought this proposal would result in the displacement of current fishing activity and have unintended consequences – for the viability of low-impact fisheries, for the economy of small island communities, and for marine conservation.

Alongside this point, respondents repeatedly emphasised that a distinction needs to be made between small-scale, low-impact forms of fishing – for example, line fishing, creel fishing, hand-diving, fishing with static gear, etc. – and (what they saw as) high-impact, unsustainable forms of fishing such as bottom trawling and dredging. These respondents largely agreed that trawling and dredging should be banned within HPMAs but thought low-impact forms of fishing should be permitted. Some environmental organisations also thought that low-impact commercial fishing should be permitted in HPMAs under licence.

In contrast, a less common view, expressed by some respondents from fishing organisations, was that the negative impacts attributed to trawling / dredging were disputed and likely to be substantially overestimated in research reports. This group pointed to other studies that had found only limited impacts on seabed carbon stocks from trawling. Within this group, there were suggestions that a more nuanced, feature-based approach to managing commercial fishing in HPMAs was needed, without the requirement to ban all forms of commercial fishing. For example, they thought that fishing for migratory pelagic species (such as herring and mackerel) was unlikely to have any effect on conservation within HPMAs and should be permitted; however, benthic dredging should not be permitted on reefs, seagrass or maerl beds.

A group of fishing and aquaculture organisations from Shetland highlighted the unique, locally agreed arrangements for managing fisheries around the Shetland islands. This group pointed out that these arrangements (which are provided for by the Shetland Islands Regulated Fishery (Scotland) Order 2012/348 and are informed by scientific surveys and assessments) helped ensure the sustainability of fishing surrounding Shetland. These respondents argued that these local arrangements should not be set aside or overruled by the introduction of HPMAs.

Among those who thought all commercial fishing should be prohibited in HPMAs (some environmental organisations, some public sector organisations, and some individuals), there were suggestions that low-impact fishing should be permitted in buffer zones (which should be closed to high-impact fishing). Occasionally, environmental organisations supported a ban on all forms of commercial fishing in HPMAs but acknowledged that this would make site identification more difficult because of the likely socio-economic impacts for island and coastal communities. This group emphasised the need for a comprehensive ecosystem-based spatial marine management plan and a just transition.

Very occasionally, respondents commented specifically on the proposal to introduce minimum speed requirements for transiting HPMA sites to help ensure that fishing is not occurring. Those who raised this point noted that such a requirement takes no account of weather conditions which may require vessels to ‘dodge’ and travel slowly to wait out heavy seas. This group argued that speed limits can affect the safety of vessels and crew and cannot be set arbitrarily.

Recreational fishing (of any kind)

The draft policy framework proposed a ban on recreational fishing of any kind in HPMAs. Respondents commenting on this proposal included those from recreation, tourism and culture groups; community groups and shipping, ports and harbours; some public sector organisations; and some individuals. Few fishing organisations or aquaculture organisations discussed recreational fishing in their comments at Question 2.

In general, respondents who discussed this activity thought it should not be prohibited in HPMAs. They gave four reasons for their views.

  • The main point made by these respondents was that there was no evidence that fishing with a rod and line has any impact on fish populations and habitats. Some environmental organisations also queried whether recreational fishing would have any impact on the overall aims of HPMAs.
  • Second, recreational fishing was seen to be an important part of the cultural, social and economic way of life on the islands. Respondents said it contributes to food security, wellbeing and preservation of marine knowledge. It also allows people to maintain a relationship with nature and connects them to their history. One energy provider organisation echoed this view, commenting that recreational fishing ‘maintains a level of interaction with the environment that is needed to monitor the health of our waters’. There was also a suggestion among environmental organisations that a prohibition on recreational fishing in 10% of Scotland’s waters (when there is no such prohibition in the other 90%) could result in disengaging the very people whose support should be sought in introducing HPMAs.
  • Third, respondents thought a ban on recreational fishing in HPMAs would risk damaging marine tourism and the wellbeing of visitors and local people alike.
  • Finally, recreational fishing already has legislative restrictions on species, size and quantity; these limits would be compatible with the aims of HPMAs.

Among environmental organisations, there were a range of views about whether it was appropriate to prohibit recreational fishing in HPMAs. Some argued that it should be (but with steps taken to accommodate recreational fishing outside HPMAs); others thought it could be permitted under ‘non-extractive’ catch and return licence arrangements; a third group (as mentioned above) thought it should be allowed in HPMAs within limits.

There were questions (from community groups and from recreation, tourism and culture groups) about whether ‘subsistence fishing’ (i.e. where an individual – usually an older person on a limited income – fishes just for their own use) would be permitted within HPMAs. In general, those who raised this point saw this activity as neither commercial nor recreational fishing, and they thought there should be no restriction on it.

There were suggestions that a prohibition on recreational fishing in HPMAs would be difficult to enforce, and that it could be difficult to distinguish between recreational and commercial fishing for the purposes of enforcement.

All other recreational activities

The draft policy framework proposed the following:

  • Recreational activities (e.g. use of motorised and non-motorised vessels, personal watercrafts, windsurfing, swimming, snorkelling and SCUBA diving) would be allowed within HPMAs at carefully managed levels.
  • Any restrictions would be based on scientific advice from NatureScot.
  • Guidance and permit systems would be used, where appropriate, in the management of activities.

Respondents commenting on the proposed management arrangements for other recreational activities included environmental organisations, fishing and aquaculture organisations, public sector and regulatory bodies, community groups and organisations, recreation, tourism and culture organisations, and other organisation types, as well as some individuals.

Environmental organisations broadly agreed that non-damaging recreational activities should be allowed in HPMAs. However, this group commonly qualified their views. They said for example that activities should only be allowed in areas without wildlife susceptible to disturbance, that activities should be sustainable and should not undermine the objectives of the conservation objectives of the site, or that the issue needed further consideration. There was a specific call for the use of motorised vessels to be prohibited or more strictly controlled than other activities. Respondents in this group emphasised the importance of careful management and enforcement, and there was support for some activities to be covered by a permit system. Respondents endorsed the use of guidance, codes of conduct and accreditation schemes in regulating recreational activities. Respondents, including some from the recreational and tourism sectors, noted the potential to make use of existing schemes and to work with stakeholder organisations and communities to develop co-management approaches.

Other types of organisational respondents stressed the importance of water-based recreational activities for local businesses, economies, and communities, and were concerned about the negative effects of any HPMA-related restrictions. Respondents from the recreation and tourism sectors in particular welcomed the stated continuation of non-damaging activities. They emphasised the low-impact sustainable nature of local marine tourism and the principles of ‘responsible tourism’ and called for an evidence-based approach to restrictions on activities deemed to be damaging.

There were specific calls for:

  • Existing recreational moorings to be allowed to remain in HPMAs, and for new mooring to be allowed, dependent on scientific advice
  • The impact of cruise liners – noted as a growing sector – to be considered within HPMA management arrangements.

Individuals who commented at this question provided a range of views. As with organisational respondents, it was common for individuals to highlight the importance of recreational activities for the economies of local areas. Some also noted its importance for the health and wellbeing of people in local communities.

In terms of management arrangements, some offered brief comments focusing on particular activities – usually swimming, kayaking, surfing etc. – which they said had no or low environmental impact and should be allowed to continue unrestricted. More commonly, however, individuals agreed that restrictions on some activities may be appropriate in some cases, depending on the likelihood of causing environmental damage. Respondents often picked out the use of motorboats and jet skis as requiring regulation or prohibition.

One group of respondents (mainly individuals, but also some organisations) focused on how recreational boating might be managed. This group argued that recreational boating was a low-impact activity and that restrictions were therefore unnecessary. Their concerns focused on issues including the possible introduction of a limit on the number of vessels allowed in an HPMA at one time, a permit system for boats wishing to use HPMAs, and speed limits. On each of these, respondents raised issues related to necessity, practicability and enforcement. They also highlighted concerns about possible restrictions on anchoring and the provision of moorings in HPMAs for the use of recreational boats – respondents said this had safety implications and might limit boating activities in more remote areas in particular. Respondents called for any restrictions to be clearly evidenced.

Finfish aquaculture

Comments in relation to the proposed management of finfish aquaculture were received from fishing organisations; aquaculture organisations; community groups; recreation, tourism and culture organisations; environmental organisations; some public sector bodies; and some individuals. Views on this activity were polarised.

On the one hand, some respondents (including some recreation, tourism and culture organisations; some public sector organisations; and all environmental organisations) thought the practices of this industry are ‘devastating’ for the seabed; for the water column; for surrounding and migratory marine species; and for small-scale fishermen. Environmental organisations said the impacts of finfish farms included impacts from (i) pesticides used for sea lice control, (ii) dissolved waste food, (iii) faeces, and (iv) the discharge of sea lice. Respondents in this group thought that finfish aquaculture should be prohibited in HPMAs.

By contrast, other respondents (including some community groups; some public sector bodies; some aquaculture groups; and some individuals) highlighted the importance of finfish aquaculture – not only for local economies but also, as a nationally significant food sector, for the economy of Scotland. This group disagreed that finfish farms were incompatible with marine protection, and they noted that this sector has worked closely with the Scottish Government over a number of years to reduce its impact on the environment. In addition, they repeatedly pointed out that the activities of the finfish aquaculture sector are highly regulated and extensively monitored. These respondents called for ‘unfounded and exaggerated claims of negative impacts’ to be addressed. They argued that the proposed approach of prohibiting finfish aquaculture in HPMAs was unjustifiable (based on research evidence) and could stifle investment and innovation in the sector. Some suggested that the aquaculture sector was being unfairly discriminated against in the HPMA proposals (noting the less restrictive management proposals for renewable energy developments in particular). Some argued that commercial aquaculture activities that had already received consent should be permitted to continue as long as they are operating within the requirements of their licences.

Environmental organisations generally supported the prohibition of finfish aquaculture in HPMAs, but some thought this prohibition should not necessarily apply to shellfish aquaculture. Indeed, a range of respondents (including public sector organisations) commented that it was important to distinguish between finfish aquaculture, which was perceived as having a greater environmental impact, and shellfish aquaculture, which employed low-impact methods and offered potential ecosystem benefits. (See discussion of shellfish aquaculture below.)

Some environmental organisations pointed to the proposal in the draft policy framework that existing finfish aquaculture activities could be relocated if they are currently located in areas which may ultimately be selected as HPMA sites. These respondents thought the presence of existing finfish aquaculture sites should not be a reason to exclude a site from being considered as an HPMA. However, this view was in contrast to that of some aquaculture organisations who argued that no HPMAs should be put in place where aquaculture sites were currently located.

Both those supporting and those opposed to the prohibition of finfish aquaculture in HPMAs expressed a range of concerns about the suggestion that existing finfish farms might be relocated if they were in areas selected as HPMA sites. Some (including aquaculture organisations and public sector organisations) thought that relocation may not be feasible, and it was suggested that the concept of relocation was based on unrealistic assumptions which did not address the legal, practical and financial realities. They also questioned the powers of the Scottish Government to guarantee relocation of an existing finfish farm to an alternative site of equal value elsewhere.

Some environmental organisations suggested that relocation could create environmental pressures in new locations. These respondents also expressed concerns about the potential impacts on other fishing activities of relocating finfish farms. A range of organisations suggested that any attempts to relocate existing fish farms should be accompanied by compensation.

Shellfish aquaculture

The draft policy framework proposed that shellfish aquaculture would be prohibited in HPMAs. A range of respondents (fishing organisations, aquaculture organisations, public sector organisations, community groups, some business / private sector organisations, and some individuals) said there was no justification for banning shellfish farming from HPMAs, as this activity has negligible effects on the environment. In fact, they said shellfish aquaculture has been shown to be beneficial in terms of (i) improving biodiversity (by creating habitats for many species), (ii) absorbing excess nutrients from land run-off, and (iii) sequestering carbon (in shells). This group also made the points that shellfish aquaculture adds no artificial food to the environment, and filter feeders such as mussels and oysters help to purify the water. Respondents who discussed shellfish aquaculture in their comments were nearly unanimous that it should not be prohibited in HPMAs. Some in this group pointed out that a proposal to ban shellfish aquaculture from HPMAs was inconsistent with other statements in the draft policy framework which described shellfish aquaculture as ‘one of the most environmentally benign methods of food production’. Some environmental organisations echoed these views.

Community groups also highlighted the importance of small-scale shellfish farms for local employment. One respondent in this group said that if shellfish aquaculture is permitted within HPMAs there could be a requirement to ensure all infrastructure is removed and disposed of in an environmentally sensitive way in cases where the business ceases to operate.

Less often, and only among a subset of environmental organisations, there was a view that all forms of aquaculture (including shellfish aquaculture) should be prohibited in HPMAs on the basis that HPMAs should allow ecosystems to return to as natural as state as possible.

Seaweed aquaculture

The draft policy framework proposed that seaweed harvesting should be prohibited in HPMAs, although the gathering of seaweed above MLWS would not be affected as areas above MLWS will not be included in HPMAs.[16] The draft policy framework also discussed seaweed cultivation as an activity, but it did not provide details of how the management of seaweed cultivation would be undertaken in HPMAs.

A range of respondents addressed the topics of seaweed harvesting and / or seaweed cultivation in their comments. Comments were received from aquaculture organisations, community groups, environmental organisations, some public sector organisations, and some individuals. A recurring theme in these comments was that seaweed harvesting (referred to in the question) needs to be clearly distinguished from seaweed cultivation (also referred to as ‘seaweed farming’) and that separate management approaches may be needed for these distinctive activities.

Some respondents raised concerns that seaweed cultivation might be prohibited in HPMAs. This group suggested that seaweed cultivation, like shellfish aquaculture, has minimal, if any impacts on the marine environment and, indeed, offers substantial benefits in terms of habitat creation, restoration and improvements to water quality, and carbon sequestration. This activity, therefore, could help HPMAs achieve their aims and should not be prohibited.

Some environmental organisations also thought there was a case for permitting seaweed cultivation in HPMAs, so long as seaweed farms meet strict requirements regarding the use of pesticides, nutrients, harvesting techniques and infrastructure.

Other respondents (including public sector organisations, community groups, and some private sector organisations) saw the ‘seaweed industry’ as a significant growth sector, pointing to the use of seaweed for a variety of purposes including as an organic fertiliser and in the creation of alternatives to plastics. These respondents said that seaweed cultivation and ‘sustainable harvesting’ were likely to make a positive contribution to the aims of HPMAs, create green jobs, and support sustainable economic growth. Some respondents highlighted the success of Norway in creating a sustainable seaweed industry. These respondents also suggested that any proposal to restrict seaweed cultivation and / or sustainable harvesting in HPMAs would be inconsistent with the Scottish Government’s Seafood Strategy, published in October 2022.

Some individual respondents suggested that protocols could be developed to set out good practice in terms of (i) the timing of and methods used for seaweed harvesting, and (ii) ways of minimising damage to dune systems when accessing the foreshore. Some community groups, public sector respondents and individuals also highlighted the traditional gathering of seaweed by crofters for use as fertiliser, which they considered to be a low-impact activity. These respondents suggested that the right of crofters to gather seaweed must be protected.

Less often, respondents (including some environmental organisations and a few business / private sector organisations) were opposed to (or raised concerns about) seaweed harvesting in HPMAs, on the basis that seaweed provided important marine habitats and helped to prevent coastal erosion. This group thought there should be no harvesting of seaweed for any reason in HPMAs.

Oil and gas sector

The policy framework explained the current (complex) regulatory framework for the oil and gas sector. It proposed that activities associated with oil and gas exploration, extraction and storage, including any exploratory activity and the construction of new infrastructure, should be avoided within HPMAs. In addition, it was proposed that:

  • Existing active oil and gas developments (including oil and gas pipelines) are excluded from the HPMA selection process.
  • Areas with inactive pipelines and other inactive infrastructure such as plugged and abandoned wells will be considered as part of the HPMA selection and assessment process.
  • Essential repair and maintenance activities as well as the removal of inactive infrastructure would be considered on a site-by-site basis.

A relatively small number of respondents, including environmental organisations and a range of other organisation types commented on the proposals for the oil and gas sector.

Some organisations who worked in the oil and gas and renewables sector supported the proposed approach overall and suggested that:

  • Areas for which licences had already been assigned (even if there was no actual activity as yet) should also be exempt from HPMA designation.
  • Areas with inactive oil and gas infrastructure should not be excluded from HPMA designation, and decommissioning activities should not be prohibited within HPMAs.

By contrast, those who did not support the proposed approach (including most environmental organisations) said the following:

  • Oil and gas sites should not be exempt from HPMA designation. Some said their proposed exemption from HPMA designation was ‘ironic’, given the nature of the damage inflicted on the (marine) environment by this sector and the importance of regenerating these damaged areas. It was common for these respondents to ask for fossil fuel industries to be banned altogether (not just in HPMAs).
  • The language in the proposals that oil and gas sites ‘should be avoided’, should be changed to make clear these sites – both those currently active and those being planned – should not be excluded from designation as HPMAs.

Some scepticism was expressed by these latter respondents about whether the Scottish Government would implement any restrictions on the oil and gas sector – either because it might not have the devolved powers to do this, or because it might wish to offer the oil and gas sector preferential treatment. These respondents thought this was inappropriate, and that any preferential treatment should, instead, be aimed at renewable developments like offshore wind, tidal stream and wave technologies.

Renewable energy

The policy framework proposed that no new renewable energy projects, including exploratory activity or construction of new infrastructure, will be allowed in an area designated as a HPMA. In addition, it was proposed that existing renewable energy developments (including wind, tidal and wave), as well as any areas with draft or adopted plans, option agreements, exclusivity agreements or consents already in place for future renewable developments, would be excluded from the HPMA selection process. However, the transit of vessels associated with renewable energy projects through a HPMA would still be allowed.

Organisations who commented on the proposals relating to renewable energy included environmental organisations, community organisations, energy providers, and a range of other organisation types.

There were two main perspectives offered by respondents as follows:

  • Respondents agreed with the proposals for exclusions as set out in the policy framework.
  • Respondents agreed that ‘industrial / large scale developments’ were inappropriate but did not agree with the blanket prohibition set out and asked for a more nuanced (case-by-case) consideration which recognised the contribution that renewable energy made to other environmental targets – specifically in relation to climate change.

These two perspectives are discussed in more detail below.

A small number of energy providers and individuals said they agreed with the (blanket prohibition) approach set out in the policy framework. These organisations noted that they were pleased to see the policy framework had explicitly allowed for the transit of vessels through HPMAs. For the avoidance of doubt, they wanted confirmation that the towing of vessels for infrastructure improvement (not just the transit of vessels) through HPMAs would also be allowed.

All other respondents raised concerns about the blanket nature of the prohibition suggested in the policy framework. The main underlying reason for this was that (the development of) renewable energy was vital for meeting climate change and net zero targets. It was vital that the designation HPMAs did not ‘get in the way’ of this.

This group made a number of distinct arguments to support their views as follows:

  • Small-scale developments (either commercial or community-led) help coastal and island communities with energy security and economic sustainability, whilst also contributing to decarbonisation. These included, for example, micro-tidal power or district heating systems (using a closed loop sea-based water source heat pump) or wind turbines (such as in Tiree).
  • The development of emerging technologies (such as hydrogen production) should not be ruled out. These technologies provide high-value employment, as well as contributing to meeting climate objectives.
  • The continuing development of renewable energy systems will change how the seas are used over time. Data need to be collected so that any initiatives can be evaluated, and appropriate decisions made. If (for example) it is established that renewable energy sites do not impact negatively on the achievement of HPMA key objectives, then these should be permitted in HPMAs in the future. By contrast, if it is established that renewable energy sites have adverse impacts on bird and marine life, further restrictions should be introduced.

Here and elsewhere, respondents who commented on areas connected to renewable energy (or energy provision more generally) said that the policy framework should also include guidance on the provision of (i) wet storage areas and (ii) essential maintenance for existing nuclear generation stations (in relation to cooling water intakes, discharge lines etc.).

Carbon capture, utilisation and storage

The draft policy framework proposed that:

  • The construction of new infrastructure associated with carbon capture utilisation and storage would not be allowed within HPMAs.
  • Areas with existing infrastructure which could be repurposed for carbon dioxide (CO2) transportation in future, such as existing oil and gas pipelines, will be considered for HPMA designation.
  • Where existing infrastructure in HPMAs has been repurposed for carbon capture storage, essential repair, maintenance and monitoring activities would be allowed.
  • Decisions on whether to include areas with existing infrastructure that may be repurposed will be taken on a case-by-case basis.

Only a handful of organisations – of a range of types – and a small number of individuals commented on the proposals relating to carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS).

Environmental organisations and individuals who supported the proposal to exclude CCUS from HPMAs argued that:

  • CCUS is essentially a mechanism to prolong the extraction of oil and gas and should be excluded on that basis. The language in the policy framework should be strengthened to make this clearer by removing phrasing such as ‘wherever possible’ and ‘it is intended’ and replacing this wording with something more definitive.
  • CCUS is not economically viable, and should not be pursued.

Three other main points were made as follows:

  • If climate change ‘needed more immediate remediation’ than was currently the case, CCUS should be implemented as a matter of urgency and HPMAs should not ‘stand in the way’ (i.e. CCUS should take precedence over HPMAs in this scenario).
  • Subsurface reservoirs underlying any designated HPMAs or existing infrastructure (e.g. pipelines that could be converted to transport of CO2) should be considered for exclusion from HPMA designation.
  • CO2 storage sites may require regular seismic surveys (to check the location of the CO2 plume in the subsurface and to check on CO2 containment within the store) and so it was important that (as suggested in the policy framework) essential repair, maintenance and monitoring of CCUS facilities would be allowed to continue in the event of an overlap between these sites and HPMAs.

Subsea cables

The policy framework proposed that, in general, the construction of new subsea cables within HPMAs will not be allowed. However, the framework also set out some specific exceptions to this approach – relating to the laying of new cables for lifeline services to remote and island communities, the laying of new cables which are permitted in accordance with international law (UNCLOS), and the repair and maintenance of any cables which are permitted in HPMAs, on a case-by-case basis.

Respondents who commented on the proposals relating to subsea cables included environmental organisations, energy providers, community organisations, public sector organisations and a range of individuals.

Energy providers supported the general approach set out in the policy framework. However, they requested further clarification of the arrangements on a wide range of detailed and technical issues including:

  • How and when will these cable routes be defined for the purposes of safeguarding them from HPMA restrictions?
  • In relation to the scope and definition of ‘power distribution cables’ which are to be exempted, does the exemption apply to all cables under 132kV transmission voltage or only those providing lifeline services to island communities?
  • Would the exclusion apply to radial cable routes, the development of offshore cable networks, shared cable assets, multi-purpose interconnectors (MPI), all associated platforms and structures, and to associated construction and operational activities (including repair and maintenance)?
  • Does the reference to ‘laying new cables’ include bootstrap cables which will be essential for the export of renewable energy from Scottish projects and are critical in assisting with the achievement of net zero targets? (It was noted that the draft policy framework did not mention bootstrap cables, which are a relatively recent development.)

Energy providers also noted that Grid development for offshore renewables is challenging, and it would be important that HPMAs do not unnecessarily hinder progress. The main points they made were as follows:

  • How would subsea cables associated with future offshore wind developments be dealt with to ensure adequate spatial planning and coexistence?
  • How would questions of ‘future-proofing’ be addressed – to ensure that longer-term developments (especially in relation to offshore wind) can be accommodated?
  • There was significant potential for a mismatch between the HPMA site selection process and the planning and development timelines for Scotwind and INTOG projects.
  • Further consideration should be given to how (subsea cables and other related) activities outside – but adjacent to – HPMAs would be taken account of.

Environmental organisations, community organisations and individuals in general disagreed with the proposal to exclude from the HPMA site selection process all sites which host cable routes. They agreed that laying new cables for lifeline services to remote and island communities was acceptable (as the policy framework suggested) but they also said that:

  • Communities need these subsea cables to feed renewable energy generated on the islands and coastal communities into the National Grid.
  • There are a large number of existing cables, and if they were all excluded from the HPMA selection process then the available sites for HPMAs would be very constrained.
  • It is not known whether the infrastructure, once settled, would have an adverse environmental effect on an HPMA. Indeed, leaving cables in situ might be less damaging than their removal or replacement. Some individuals offered a highly positive view of the presence of subsea cables, saying that they were temporary, did no harm and in time ‘may become reefs, teeming with life’.
  • The presence of subsea cables is not ideal within a protected area, but if the cables are in an area of high conservation value, they should not prevent the designation of an HPMA.
  • New cables should be routed around HPMAs and should only be laid in HPMAs as a last resort.
  • There was ‘ample opportunity’ to reroute sites which were currently in the planning stage.

Aggregate extraction

The policy framework stated the intention to disallow aggregate extraction within HPMAs.

Only a handful of organisations – of a variety of types – and very few individuals commented on the proposals relating to aggregate extraction.

All those who commented agreed with the proposal that no aggregate extraction should take place within HPMAs. Respondents noted that:

  • Aggregate extraction can be ‘chronically or intermittently highly disruptive’.
  • HPMAs should not be designated in areas that contain commercially significant deposits of marine sand and gravel resources. Such resources should be subject to safeguarding provisions to prevent unnecessary sterilisation that may prevent use in the future.
  • HPMAs should not be designated adjacent to potentially viable coastal sites for land-based aggregates extraction, as this could obstruct port and marine transport activity at these sites.

Two other points were made:

  • Consideration should be given when designating HPMAs to any potential effect on supply chains: for example, any effect on marine aggregate extraction could in turn affect offshore wind development, which relies on concrete and aggregate supplies.
  • No marine aggregate extraction currently takes place in Scottish waters – although potentially viable deposits of marine sand and gravel are present. As permitted reserves of land-won aggregates are declining, it is possible that the aggregates sector will need to rely on marine extraction in the future.

Ports and harbours

The draft policy framework proposed the following:

  • HPMAs will not be designated in areas that overlap with existing ports and harbours, including areas with associated infrastructure, and areas which are dredged for navigational purposes and associated dredge deposit sites.
  • The development of new ports, harbours, ferry piers and marinas will not be allowed within areas designated as HPMAs.
  • The deposit of dredged material associated with ports and harbours will not be allowed within HPMAs.

Respondents commenting on the proposed management arrangement for ports and harbours included shipping, ports and harbours organisations, environmental organisations, fishing and aquaculture organisations, public sector and regulatory bodies, community groups and organisations, energy providers, and other organisation types, as well as a small number of individuals.

Those providing substantive comments on the proposed management arrangements for ports and harbours broadly endorsed the proposal to exclude existing facilities from HPMA site designation. Respondents generally noted the importance of such facilities for coastal communities and businesses. However, shipping, ports and harbour organisations made a number of points about the detail of this proposal, stating that (i) ports and harbour boundaries should be defined as harbour limits, as set out in the relevant Harbour Order, (ii) a buffer zone (3 miles was suggested) should apply around harbour areas and related infrastructure, and (iii) current and future dredge deposit disposal sites should be considered in setting HPMA boundaries.

Clarity was also sought on the implications for existing piers, marinas and moorings (as distinct from ports and harbours).

Respondents – including community groups; recreation, tourism and culture organisations; public sector bodies; and individuals – were, however, concerned about the proposed ban on the future development of new ports, harbours, ferry piers, marinas and breakwaters. In particular, there were calls for a flexible approach to allow the development of appropriate environmentally sensitive small-scale facilities or infrastructure that would be of benefit to communities and businesses – the importance of small visitor pontoons for some more remote communities was particularly mentioned. It was suggested that a prohibition on future pier and harbour developments could contravene the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 by treating island communities substantially different to mainland communities. Some also raised concerns about restrictions on new port developments in the context of the expanding energy sector.

Shipping and ferries

The draft policy framework stated the intention that the transit of ships and ferries would be allowed and would not be restricted in HPMAs.

Respondents commenting on the proposed management arrangement for shipping and ferries included shipping, ports and harbours organisations, environmental organisations, fishing and aquaculture organisations, public sector and regulatory bodies, community groups and organisations, energy providers, and other organisation types. A small number of individuals also commented.

Comments on the proposed approach for this activity were limited. Some welcomed the lack of restrictions on transit and said that this was crucially important for island and coastal communities and businesses. This was a key point for individuals who commented on this issue.

However, some respondents (environmental organisations, aquaculture organisations, public sector and regulatory bodies, energy providers, and other organisation types, and some individuals) nevertheless recognised that ferries and shipping were still potential sources of pollution and environmental damage. This group thought some restrictions may be appropriate and they generally favoured more nuanced approaches, including, for example:

  • An approach that distinguished between different types of ferries and shipping such as lifeline ferry services, tankers and other commercial shipping, including cruise liners
  • An approach that took account of the environmentally friendliness of a vessel – there was a related view that shipping should ‘decarbonise’ or shift to ‘hydrogen power’
  • Some restrictions on transit through or activities undertaken in some HPMAs
  • Seasonal restrictions to protect wildlife where appropriate
  • Lane and speed limits in order to reduce noise and pollution and prevent collision with wildlife and recreational users.

There were specific calls for (i) any prohibition on anchoring and discharging to explicitly apply to all types of vessel (rather than just shipping and ferries as suggested by the current draft policy framework), and (ii) the provision of fixed moorings to prevent damage from anchoring.

Military and defence

The draft policy framework noted this to be a reserved MoD matter, and proposed the following:

  • Excluding some areas hosting military infrastructure and activities from the HPMA site selection process
  • Allowing the continuation of MoD defence activities in line with relevant environmental guidelines.

Respondents commenting on the proposed management arrangement for military and defence activities included environmental organisations, fishing and aquaculture organisations, public sector and regulatory bodies, and community groups and organisations, as well as a small number of individuals.

Comments from respondents on the approach proposed for military and defence activities were limited. Most commonly, respondents (including individuals and one environmental organisation) argued that military and defence operations were not generally compatible with the conservation objectives of HPMAs. In particular, they noted the impact of sonar on marine creatures such as whales and dolphins; noise related to military and defence activities; and debris from military equipment on the seabed. These respondents questioned whether any military exercises should be allowed within or near any form of protected area, or called for them to be restricted.

However, some respondents, individuals in particular, said it was important that military and defence activities were able to take place – although some said that this should depend on circumstances, or that steps should be taken to minimise any environmental impact. It was also suggested that areas used by the military are often restricted in terms of other uses and therefore provide positive environments for nature conservation.

Other points on military and defence activities included the following:

  • There was concern that permission for such activities under licence arrangements was more likely to be agreed than permission for fishing-related activities.
  • There was a view that it was important to consider the impacts of any restrictions on communities, given the importance of the military and defence sectors to the local economy in some coastal areas.
  • There was an expectation that military space launches would continue.

Hydrogen production

The draft policy framework proposed that hydrogen production would be prohibited within HPMAs and that HPMAs will not be designated in areas that overlap with existing hydrogen infrastructure.

Only a handful of organisations – including community organisations and a variety of organisational types – and a small number of individuals commented on the proposals relating to hydrogen production. One regulatory organisation said they had not provided comments on hydrogen production at this stage because the regulatory requirements are still being developed.

Those who agreed simply affirmed the proposals as set out in the policy framework.

The main points raised by community organisations – and other individuals who opposed the proposal to prohibit hydrogen production within HPMAs – were that:

  • There is a concern that a ban on hydrogen production (in HPMAs) will limit the development of a renewable technology which is already a key part of sustainable economic development in some island areas (with potential for further development).
  • Hydrogen production is an emerging sector which offers the potential of new jobs in a high-value industry within coastal communities.
  • Hydrogen can provide a cleaner source of fuel for ferry services.
  • The presence of renewable ‘devices’ will exclude other potentially damaging activities and may therefore improve protection and facilitate ecosystem recovery.

Three other points were made as follows:

  • Specific licences would have to be agreed with the Scottish Government.
  • There is no mention of the potential for offshore hydrogen storage (or storage of other gases, including methane) in the draft policy framework. Offshore gas stores may be vital for energy security in Scotland (and the UK) – and, in the case of hydrogen, to enable large-scale energy storage to provide balancing for renewables.
  • It may be necessary to lay pipeline routes for hydrogen and hydrogen derivatives through HPMAs.

Space ports

The draft policy framework proposed the following:

  • Banning new space port infrastructure below the MLWS[17], and the deposition of debris or other materials from space launches within HPMAs
  • Issuing no new licences for space launches in HPMAs
  • Consideration on a case-by-case basis of the exclusion of areas covered by existing space port licences from the site selection process.

Respondents commenting on the proposed management arrangement for space ports included environmental organisations, fishing and aquaculture organisations, public sector and regulatory bodies, and community groups and organisations, as well as a small number of individuals.

Comments on the approach proposed for space ports were generally limited.

  • Environmental organisations and some individuals thought that space port activities had the potential to cause environmental damage and should therefore be restricted in HPMAs and more generally. There was a call for the wording in the policy framework (‘should be avoided’) to be strengthened, and concern that space port activities would be allowed to proceed regardless of their environmental impacts.
  • In contrast, a range of other organisation types (public sector and regulatory bodies, community groups and fishing organisations) and some individuals indicated concern about the impact any restrictions might have on the growth of a relatively new sector offering the opportunity of inward investment and high-value jobs. Some argued that the environmental impact of space ports was low, and that restrictions were not needed. Some queried the existing evidence of the environmental impacts of space port activities or drew attention to environmental assessments carried out for proposed developments, which indicated a minimal environmental impact. There was a specific call for the management approach adopted to draw a distinction between orbital and sub-orbital launch operations.

As with military and defence activities, there was a concern that permission for such activities under licence arrangements was more likely to be agreed than permission for fishing-related activities.

Missing activities

Question 2 asked respondents if they thought any activities were missing from the list. Suggestions were limited but included deep sea mining and extraction of minerals, release of pollutants / sewage into the sea or nearby water courses, cruise ship operations / tourism, salvage operations, and research activities.


Email: HPMA@gov.scot

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