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.

1 Introduction

1.1 The Bute House Agreement included a commitment that Scottish Ministers would designate at least 10% of Scotland’s seas as Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) by 2026. A public consultation seeking views on the aims and purpose of HPMAs, how the proposal will be implemented, and its potential impacts was carried out between December 2022 and April 2023. This report presents the findings of an independent analysis of responses to that consultation.

Policy context

1.2 The Scottish Government would like to see a marine environment that is clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse – and that meets the long-term needs of nature and people.

1.3 Currently, Scotland has a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).[2] Marine sites are designated as MPAs based on certain features of the site. So, for example, some MPAs (NC MPAs, SACs, SPAs and SSSIs) are intended to protect marine habitats, species and geology, while others protect historical sites (such as shipwrecks). MPAs give protection by prohibiting or regulating potentially damaging activities in the defined area, to the extent that this is needed in order to achieve the conservation objectives for a site.

1.4 Most existing MPAs in Scottish waters allow for sustainable use – that is, they allow the continuation of activities (including certain methods of fishing) as long as the conservation objectives for a site can be achieved. The Scottish Government is currently working with stakeholders to develop fisheries management measures for MPAs and other key coastal biodiversity locations.

1.5 More recently, the Scottish Government announced plans to introduce Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs). The Bute House Agreement between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Green Party includes a commitment to designate at least 10% of Scotland’s seas as HPMAs, with the intention that HPMA designation would provide additional environmental protections over and above those provided by existing MPAs.

1.6 To determine how and where HPMAs will be identified and implemented, the Marine Directorate of the Scottish Government developed a draft HPMA Policy Framework, and NatureScot and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC)[3] drafted a set of guidelines to inform the selection of HPMAs. The draft Policy Framework proposed to prohibit all extractive, destructive or depositional activities including all fisheries, aquaculture, and other infrastructure developments (such as offshore wind farms), whilst allowing other activities, such as tourism or recreational activities, at non-damaging levels only. HPMAs may overlap with existing MPAs where there is a need for extra environmental protection.

1.7 Alongside the draft Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines, work was also carried out to assess the potential impacts of the policy. A Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment (SEIA), a Socio-Economic Assessment (SEA), a partial Island Communities Impact Assessment (ICIA) screening report and a partial Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment (BRIA) were all produced as part of the policy development process.

1.8 The Scottish Government carried out a public consultation on the draft Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines – as well as the potential impacts of the policy. The consultation opened on 12 December 2022. The closing date for the consultation was originally set for 20 March 2023, but this was subsequently extended by four weeks to 17 April 2023.

About the consultation

1.9 The consultation paper issued by the Scottish Government sought views and comments on several draft documents:

  • The draft HPMA Policy Framework set out the Scottish Government’s proposed definition and aims of HPMAs and what this could mean for different activities taking place in Scottish waters.
  • The draft Site Selection Guidelines described the proposed process for identifying and selecting (future) sites to designate as Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) in Scottish waters.
  • The initial Sustainability Appraisal provided an assessment of any cumulative impacts (environmental and socio-economic) of the HPMA policy, based upon the draft policy framework and site selection guidelines.
  • A partial Island Communities Impact Assessment (ICIA) screening report completed the first two stages of the statutory ICIA process by identifying whether there are issues which merit further exploration through research and engagement with island representatives.
  • A partial Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment (BRIA) presented an initial assessment of the potential costs, benefits and risks of introducing HPMAs and their potential impacts on the public, private and third sectors.

1.10 The consultation questionnaire contained 19 numbered questions. Several of these were multi-part questions comprising one or more closed (tick-box) questions and a space for comments. Most of the closed questions asked respondents to indicate whether they ‘strongly supported’, ‘supported’, ‘opposed’, ‘strongly opposed’, or were ‘neutral’ in relation to the particular issues raised in the questions. The questions addressed the following:

  • Questions 1 to 7 sought views on the draft Policy Framework
  • Questions 8 to 11 sought views on the draft Site Selection Guidelines
  • Questions 12 to 18 sought views on the potential impact of HPMAs.

1.11 A final question, Question 19, invited further comments on the Scottish Government’s commitment to introduce HPMAs.

1.12 Respondents could complete an online questionnaire or submit a response via email or post. In addition, the Scottish Government organised seven (7) online sessions to allow potential respondents to ask questions about the policy framework and draft site selection guidelines before submitting their response. A further three (3) sessions were subsequently arranged in response to demand.

About the analysis

1.13 This report is based on a robust and systematic analysis of the responses to the consultation. Both quantitative and qualitative analyses were carried out. Frequency analysis was undertaken in relation to the closed questions and the findings are shown in tables in this report. To simplify the findings and make the report more accessible, the five-point scale (strongly support, support, neutral, oppose, strongly oppose) used for most questions in the consultation questionnaire has been reduced to a three-point scale: (i) ‘support’ which includes ‘strongly support’, (ii) ‘neutral’, and (iii) ‘oppose’ which includes ‘strongly oppose’. However, findings using the full five-point scale are presented in tables in Annex 1 – and references to these tables appear at appropriate points throughout this report.[4] Qualitative analysis of the comments made in response to each open question was also undertaken. This aimed to identify the main themes and the full range of views submitted in response to each question or group of questions, and to explore areas of agreement and disagreement among respondents.

1.14 As will be discussed in Chapter 2, this consultation received 378 responses by email. Those who submitted these responses often explicitly said that they had difficulties engaging with the consultation questionnaire, but they wanted to make their views known about the proposal to establish HPMAs in 10% of Scottish seas. As part of the analysis, work was undertaken to capture the overall attitudes of these respondents towards HPMAs – based on the comments in their messages. A four-point scale was used: (i) ‘support’, (ii) ‘neutral’, (iii) ‘oppose’, and (iv) ‘unclear or mixed views’. The results of the analysis based on this categorisation are discussed in Chapter 3.

1.15 Not all respondents answered every question. In cases where a respondent did not use the consultation questionnaire (i.e. they submitted their views by email), and their response to a tick-box question could be easily inferred from their written comments, a response to the relevant tick-box question was input by the analytical team. The tables in this report include these responses.

Caveats about the findings

1.16 As with all consultations, it is important to bear in mind that the views of those who have responded to a public consultation are not necessarily representative of the views of the wider population. Individuals (and organisations) who have a keen interest in a topic – and the capacity to respond – are more likely to participate in a consultation than those who do not. This self-selection means that the views of consultation participants cannot be generalised to the wider population.

1.17 For this reason, the approach to consultation analysis is primarily qualitative in nature. Its main purpose is not to identify how many people held particular views, but rather to understand the full range of views and any concerns that respondents may have – as expressed in their comments.

1.18 Moreover, it is important to note that respondents to this consultation often explicitly stated that they found it difficult to answer the consultation questions – because they found the questions too technical, or because the questions seemed (to them) to assume their support for HPMAs when, in fact, they opposed HPMAs.[5] It was also clear during the analysis that respondents often interpreted the consultation questions in different ways. This means that the findings presented in the tables of this report must be treated with great caution. This issue reinforces the importance of the qualitative analysis in understanding people’s views.

1.19 Finally, the tables in this report provide a breakdown of responses to the closed questions by organisation type. This has resulted in very small numbers in most of the cells of the tables. It is important to bear in mind – specifically in relation to the organisational respondents – that statements about percentages sometimes relate to fewer than 10 respondents.

Structure of the report

1.20 The remainder of this report is structured as follows:

  • Chapter 2 presents information about the respondents to the consultation and the responses submitted.
  • Chapter 3 provides an overview of the key messages and recurring themes from the consultation responses.
  • Chapters 4 to 8 present the results of the analysis of the responses, on a question-by-question basis.

1.21 This report also contains seven annexes as follows:

  • Annex 1 – which is published as a separate document – presents findings from the analysis of responses to the closed questions, broken down by (i) respondent type and (ii) organisation type, using the original five-category response scale: (i.e. strongly support, support, neutral, oppose and strongly oppose).
  • Annex 2 contains a list of organisational respondents.
  • Annex 3 provides details of the campaign responses received in the consultation.
  • Annex 4 sets out the response rates to individual consultation questions.
  • Annex 5 presents a summary of respondents’ views on the consultation process.
  • Annexes 6 and 7 contain further detail on the findings of the analysis of Question 2 and Question 8, respectively. These two questions were particularly complex multi-part questions. A high-level summary of the views expressed in relation to these questions appears in Chapters 5 and 6, respectively.


Email: HPMA@gov.scot

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