Improving protection given to Priority Marine Features outside the Marine Protected Area network

A consultation seeking views on the scope of the project to improve protection given to PMFs outside the MPA network.


The project to improve protection given to PMFs outside the MPA network was initiated in May 2017. This followed an incident in Loch Carron in April 2017 when a flame shell bed was damaged by scallop dredging activity, and resulted in the designation of the Loch Carron MPA. The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change, and Land Reform also requested that necessary steps were taken to ensure that Priority Marine Features ( PMFs) were being protected in accordance with the National Marine Plan.

The National Marine Plan states that “Development and use of the marine environment must not result in significant impact on the national status of Priority Marine Features”. Furthermore the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 requires that decision makers should act in the way best calculated to further the achievement of sustainable development and use, including the protection and, where appropriate, enhancement of the health of the Scottish marine area.

Most industries have to go through a licensing process, with many required to undertake environmental impact assessments to enable the regulator to determine whether a project will have a significant impact. PMFs are considered in this process, and SNH provide advice to regulators based on published guidance [1] . All regulators should continue to make decisions in accordance with the policies set out in the National Marine Plan.

There is no equivalent mechanism for fisheries. Therefore Marine Scotland commissioned SNH to identify locations where there is a need to consider additional management for bottom contacting mobile fishing gears to ensure there is no significant impact on the national status of PMFs within the 6 nautical mile ( NM) limit. The rest of this document sets out the process for determining these areas.

The principal aim of the project is to ensure that the necessary fisheries management measures are in place to ensure protection of PMFs, and comply with the relevant policy in the National Marine Plan. The current PMF list [2] has 81 habitats and species and therefore a prioritisation exercise was undertaken. Through this process Marine Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage ( SNH) identified 11 habitats which are particularly sensitive to impact from bottom contacting mobile fishing gears.

The 11 Priority Marine Features are:

  • Blue mussel beds
  • Cold water coral reefs
  • Fan mussel aggregations
  • Flame shell beds
  • Horse mussel beds
  • Maerl beds
  • Maerl or coarse shell gravel with burrowing sea cucumbers
  • Native oysters
  • Northern sea fan and sponge communities
  • Seagrass beds
  • Serpulid aggregations

The 11 habitats and species are a very important part of the marine ecosystem. They provide a range of natural goods and services from which we all benefit. Further information on these processes are in Annex C.

Whilst the focus in this project is on managing fisheries to ensure the conservation of these important habitats and species, it is anticipated that the SNH advice documents form part of a wider context. It is expected that the advice in the assessment of each PMF will have relevance to all industries and regulators. Separately, SNH is also developing more detailed guidance on those habitats and species which are regularly assessed in relation to development proposals.

Sustainability Appraisal

A Sustainability Appraisal considers the potential social, economic and environmental effects of the draft proposals, and reasonable alternatives. To do this it draws upon information contained in the Strategic Environmental Assessment ( SEA) and the Socio-Economic Impact Assessment in a holistic manner. This ensures that decision-making is informed by relevant environmental and socio-economic information. It enables the public to consider this information and use it to inform their views on the draft proposals.

Following this scoping consultation the next step for this project will be to undertake the Sustainability Appraisal. This process will take account of views received through this consultation.

Socio-Economic Impact Assessment

A key source of information for the Sustainability Appraisal is the Socio-Economic Impact Assessment. This aims to identify and assess the potential economic and social effects of a proposed development or policy on the lives and circumstances of people, their families and their communities. The proposed methodology for this assessment is shown in Annex B, along with the data sources being used.

Strategic Environmental Assessment

The Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act 2005 (“the 2005 Act”) requires that certain public plans, programmes and strategies be assessed for their potential effects on the environment. This assessment is used to determine any positive and negative effects on the environment as a consequence of the proposed development or policy.

The 2005 Act defines a multi-step process to deliver this assessment. The first step is Screening which determines whether a SEA is required. The second step is Scoping which determines the scope of what should be considered in the SEA. In the case of this project these steps have been combined into a Screening and Scoping Report. The 2005 Act requires that you consult certain public bodies at this stage. However for this project we have decided to seek wider public views at this stage. The Screening and Scoping is attached separately on the Citizen Space page and a key part of this consultation is to seek your views on this as outlined in the questions below.

Following completion of the Screening and Scoping stage the Environmental Report will be produced. This is based on the scope that has been determined at the previous stage. The Environmental Report for this process will be subject of a further consultation. The Environmental Report is a key part of the process and the evidence within it is fundamental to the Sustainability Appraisal.

The final stage is the Post Adoption Statement. This outlines how the assessment findings and the comments received at the main consultation, both on the proposed measures and the Environmental Report, have been taken into account. The statement is designed to improve the transparency of the decision making process within plans. There is no specific timescale for preparing a Post Adoption Statement. The 2005 Act states should be published ‘as soon as reasonably practicable’ after the adoption of a qualifying plan.


1. Do you have any comments on the economic assessment methodology?

2. Do you have any comments on the Screening / Scoping Report for the Strategic Environmental Assessment?


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