Highly Protected Marine Areas - policy framework and site selection guidelines: partial BRIA

The partial business and regulatory impact assessment (BRIA) presents an initial assessment of the potential costs, benefits and risks of introducing HPMAs and their potential impacts on public, private or third sectors.

1. Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs)

1.1. Background

Scotland's seas are some of the most biologically diverse in Europe, supporting thousands of species of plants and animals across a wide variety of habitats.[1] We take our role as custodians of our waters seriously. We are committed to working in collaboration with users of our seas to ensure a clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse marine and coastal environment that meets the long-term needs of people and nature. This includes managing our seas sustainably to protect their rich biological diversity and to ensure that our marine ecosystems continue to provide economic, social and wider benefits for people, industry and society. Our long-term goal, as set out in our Blue Economy Vision, is that by 2045 Scotland's shared stewardship of our marine environment supports ecosystem health, improved livelihoods, economic prosperity, social inclusion and wellbeing.

The world faces the challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss - twin global crises which require us to work with nature to secure a healthier planet. In Scotland, the Scottish Marine Assessment 2020 showed that a number of marine species were in decline. If we do not address biodiversity loss, there is a risk that the marine environment will not remain resilient enough to provide the resources and benefits we gain from it for the long term.

The 2019 Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Global Assessment of Biodiversity identified five direct drivers of biodiversity loss globally:

  • changing use of the land and sea
  • direct exploitation of organisms
  • climate change
  • pollution
  • invasive non-native species

The UK Marine Strategy Regulations 2010 provide a comprehensive framework for the four UK administrations to work together to assess, monitor and take action to achieve or maintain Good Environmental Status (GES) across UK waters. The most recent assessment, published in 2019, found that several elements were not achieving GES, including seabirds, marine mammals, and seabed habitats. The introduction of HPMAs should improve this situation and contribute to achieving GES for these elements.

1.2. Proposal

HPMAs are proposed to be designated areas of the sea that are strictly protected to allow the marine ecosystems within to recover and thrive. These areas safeguard all of their marine life for the benefit of the planet and current and future generations; providing opportunities for carefully managed enjoyment and appreciation.

The Scottish Government is committed to introducing HPMAs covering at least 10% of inshore and offshore waters by 2026. HPMAs in Scottish waters will allow for the protection and recovery of marine ecosystems, contributing to halting biodiversity loss and aiding our efforts to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. They will build upon our existing network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), representing a significant increase in the overall level of protection afforded to Scotland's seas.

1.2.1. Policy Framework and Selection Guidelines

The subject of this consultation is a HPMA Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines.

The Policy Framework sets out the Scottish Government commitment to designating a suite of HPMAs, our aims for HPMAs and our proposals for what HPMAs are and what they will mean for different marine activities. It also describes how we will account for socio-economic factors alongside ecological considerations and policy objectives for sustainable industries, net zero targets and existing conservation measures. The commitment to designate at least 10% of Scotland's seas as HPMAs by 2026 is set out in the Bute House Agreement.

The HPMA Selection Guidelines set out a process to determine how and where HPMAs will be identified. The guidelines set out a five-stage site selection process, based in all cases around the conservation of marine ecosystems as the priority, and driven by the presence of the following functions and resources of significance to Scotland's seas:

  • Blue carbon
  • Essential fish habitats (including prey species)
  • Strengthening the Scottish MPA network
  • Protection from storms and sea level rise
  • Research and education
  • Enjoyment and appreciation

The policy framework and accompanying site selection guidelines as a whole are intended to apply to both Scottish inshore waters (0-12 nautical miles from the coast) and Scottish offshore waters (beyond 12 nautical miles). The selection and designation of HPMAs in offshore waters is subject to the prior transfer of relevant powers by the UK Government to Scottish Ministers. Sections of this document which set out our proposals in relation to legal powers to designate HPMAs therefore relate only to inshore waters. Some of the marine activities, which take place in Scottish inshore and offshore waters, relate to matters which are currently reserved to the UK Government, i.e. are not in the competence of the Scottish Parliament. The prohibition or management of these reserved activities will be subject to agreement with the UK Government. We will work closely with the UK Government to realise our vision for HPMAs in relation to offshore waters and reserved matters.

1.3. Objective

Designating 10% of Scotland's seas as HPMAs is intended to deliver demonstrable benefit to the achievement of the Scottish Government's vision for the marine environment and make a significant contribution to the achievement of broader UK, regional and global conservation ambition.

Scotland's Nature Conservation Strategy for the marine environment outlines a 'three-pillar' approach to nature conservation (species conservation, site protection, and wider seas policies and measures), in which, HPMAs are a part and aim to:

  • Facilitating ecosystem recovery and enhancement
  • Enhancing the benefits that coastal communities and others derive from our seas
  • Contributing to the mitigation of climate change impacts
  • Supporting ecosystem adaptation and improving resilience

The designation and management of HPMAs will protect all elements of the marine ecosystem within their boundaries, including the seabed, water column and everything that lives there. This will protect not only the species and habitats within them, but also the complex web of interactions and processes that form a marine ecosystem.

HPMAs will still allow for some recreational activities to continue provided they are at non-damaging levels. This means that the entire site (i.e., all habitats and species and their supporting environment) would be protected from damage: meaning that harm would be prohibited, irrespective of severity or duration, unless the effects were negligible to all marine biodiversity and associated functions and resources within the boundaries.

In areas where human activity has been relatively low HPMAs will ensure the marine ecosystem is preserved and allow for any recover to occur as necessary. This will also enable the effects of prevailing conditions to be monitored.

In areas where there have been more significant levels of human activity HPMAs will allow for the recovery of the marine ecosystem to a more natural state. Some HPMAs could also allow for active restoration to aid recovery of historically present habitats or species, such as seagrass and native oyster beds.

1.4. Rationale for Government intervention

Our seas are vital to Scotland's population and key to our identity. They sustain the livelihoods of thousands of people in communities up and down the country, providing food, energy and a thriving marine tourism industry, among many other benefits. HPMAs will ultimately help to protect the resources and industries we all rely on, ensuring industries can continue to benefit from our rich seas for generations to come. Designating HPMAs will impact how we use and interact with our marine environment but making space for nature is critical to address biodiversity loss and needs to occur alongside the growing demand for marine space for human activities.

The UK Marine Strategy Regulations 2010 provide a comprehensive framework for the four UK administrations to work together to assess, monitor and take action to achieve or maintain Good Environmental Status (GES) across UK waters. The most recent assessment, published in 2019, found that several elements were not achieving GES, including seabirds, marine mammals, and seabed habitats. The introduction of HPMAs should improve this situation and contribute to achieving GES.

The introduction of HPMAs also supports us meeting our international environmental commitments. They will contribute to the strategic objectives set out by the OSPAR Commission for the protection of the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic in the OSPAR North-East Atlantic Strategy 2030, which was adopted in October 2021. The vision for this strategy is a clean, healthy and biologically diverse North-East Atlantic Ocean, which is productive, used sustainably and resilient to climate change and ocean acidification.

Following EU Exit, the Scottish Government has committed to maintain or exceed EU environmental standards. The EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 sets a target of 'strict protection' of 10% of the EU's seas by 2030. Our commitment to introduce comparable high protection to 10% of Scotland's seas by 2026 exceeds this EU target.

The UN Convention on Biological Diversity post-2020 global biodiversity framework aims to put nature on a path to recovery by 2030. Designating HPMAs in Scottish waters will make a significant contribution to achieving this aim in Scotland. HPMAs will also contribute toward achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goal 14 – Life Below Water, in particular targets 14.2 and 14.5.

The Dasgupta review on the Economics of Biodiversity (published in February 2021) identifies the need for improved regulation and protection of high value areas as necessary. The review highlights not just the relevant role of market failures in the failure to protect the environment but also of institutional failure.

The review highlights that there are market failures present in the management of the marine environment "Processes driving a wedge between our demand for the biosphere's goods and services and its ability to supply them without undergoing decline harbour externalities. These are the unaccounted-for consequences for others, including future people, of actions taken by one or more persons" and "Inefficiencies in the production, consumption and exchange of goods and services are an expression of externalities." Externalities occur when damage to the marine environment is not fully accounted for by users and there is no compensation payment. There is no monetary cost attached to using or taking from the marine environment and so the impact of damaging it is not directly considered by the market, leading to over 'use' relative to what society considers to be optimal. Therefore, governments must intervene if the marine environment is to be protected from damaging uses.

The open access characteristic of natural resources mean that the marine environment is a public good. Public goods have the characteristic that no one can be excluded from accessing or benefiting from it leading to over consumption and depletion of the good or service since there is no incentive to contribute to its maintenance. This can lead to under supply and under protection of these goods. This is the reason government may intervene to protect and ensure the continuation of the existence or supply of the marine environment.

HPMAs are intended to be areas of sea designated for the protection and recovery of marine ecosystems where all extractive, destructive and depositional uses will be prohibited. This legislation will contribute to the Scottish Government Environment, Communities and Health National Outcomes. The Environment National Outcome sets our duty to protect and enhance our natural resources as essential to our economy, culture, way of life and the wellbeing of future generations. While the Communities National Outcome recognises that to be healthy and happy as a nation we must nurture and protect our local resources, environments and all who live in them. Our Health National Outcome recognises that our health is dependent on a wide variety of factors and actors, and we therefore need to take a whole system approach to promoting good health and activity, the marine environment will play a crucial part towards the achievement of these National Outcomes.


Email: HPMA@gov.scot

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