Marine Protected Areas in inshore waters: guidance for undertaking Socio-Economic Impact Assessments (SEIA)

Guidance for assessing social and economic impacts from policies and decisions relating to Marine Protected Areas.

Section 1. Introduction


The Scottish Government's vision is for a marine environment that has clean, healthy, safe, productive and diverse seas; managed to meet the long term needs of nature and people.

Our seas account for 61% of UK waters and remain at the forefront of our food provision through fishing and aquaculture, our energy needs as we transition from oil and gas to renewable energy, as well as recreational activities and eco-tourism.

Scottish Ministers have national and international commitments to create a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) which:

  • Contributes to conservation or recovery of the marine environment;
  • Represents the range of features present in Scottish waters; and
  • Reflects that the conservation of a feature may require the designation of more than one MPA.

Scotland's MPA network is being developed to help safeguard our most important natural and cultural heritage features on the principle of sustainable use. By doing so we are protecting the natural goods and services they provide for current and future generations to enjoy.

The MPA network consists of sites designated for nature conservation, historic environment or research purposes. 'MPA' is the generic term used to refer to a site which has been created for marine protection and which contributes to our overall MPA network. The network is mainly composed of Nature Conservation MPAs, Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Areas of Protection (SPAs), alongside areas that provide nature conservation benefits (called Other Area Based Measures), protect the historic environment (Historic MPAs), and areas for demonstrating or researching marine management. The network currently consists of 245 sites that cover 37% of our seas.

This guidance has been developed primarily for assessment of MPAs and related management measures. However it is likely that this can be used as a framework for informing decision-making across other inshore conservation measures.

Legislative mechanisms

Marine Protected Areas for nature conservation are designated by Scottish Ministers under S. 67 of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010[1] for inshore waters and S. 116 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009[2] for offshore waters.

Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAS), together called European sites, were selected and designated under the EU Habitats and Birds Directives, respectively. Now that we have left the EU, the provisions relating to the protection of these sites are retained in the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994[3] and the Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017[4].These Regulations also provide for designation of additional SACs and SPAs if required.

Each site is designated for the protection of particular 'protected features' – habitats or species of importance - and has stated conservation objectives which describe the current and desired ecological or geological state (or quality) of each protected feature. These are used to indicate whether the purpose of the site is to maintain the status of the feature in its current state or to restore it (where there is evidence of a decline in feature quality).

The responsibility for site management generally sits with Public Authorities who regulate activities. The Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 places duties on Public Authorities in relation to their own functions and any decisions they make to allow regulated activities to take place. In some cases specific measures may be required. The Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 provides powers to Scottish Ministers to implement Marine Conservation Orders, where necessary, to further site conservation objectives.

In order to ensure that conservation objectives of the site are achieved, certain activities may be restricted or limited within the site. This can be done by implementing a Marine Conservation Order (MCO)[5] or Inshore Fishing Order[6]. MCOs can be used to further the conservation objectives of an MPA (or European site which overlaps with an MPA) by prohibiting, restricting or regulating a wide range of activities. Inshore Fishing Orders, as the name suggests, can only manage fishing activity and may restrict the use of particular types of fishing gear across all or part of the site and may be seasonal.

Inshore Fishing Orders may be used to regulate fishing activity and protect marine habitats and species within or outside of MPAs. Currently, Scottish Government is considering the protection of Priority Marine Features (PMFs)[7] outside of MPAs. PMFs are habitats and species which are of particular conservation importance in Scotland[8]. PMFs are often located within MPAs but they also occur outside the MPA network. The Scottish Government is undertaking a review of the 11 PMFs most sensitive to mobile bottom-contacting gear, and considering implementing fisheries management measures to protect these outside the MPA network.

How MPAs cause socio-economic effects

Designation of MPAs and subsequent management decisions may lead to socio-economic effects, which may be positive or negative. MPA designation will help to conserve the range of biodiversity in the site and for Scotland as a whole, and will contribute to an ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas. Additionally, MPAs can contribute to the ecosystem services benefits which we derive from the marine environment. These can include provisioning services (such as fish and shellfish for consumption), regulating services (such as coastal protection or climate regulation) or cultural services (such as tourism benefits). Part of these ecosystem services can also include non-use value which is the benefit people get simply from being aware of a diverse and sustainable marine environment even if they do not themselves 'use it'.

MPAs may also have negative effects on social and economic activities, where they are regulated or prohibited within a site. Once an MPA, SAC or SPA is designated it becomes a legal requirement for public authorities to consider impacts of regulated activities on the achievement of site conservation objectives. Such assessments are aided by the production of management advice by Statutory Nature Conservation Bodies (SNCBs) e.g. the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and NatureScot, which outline the sensitivity of protected features to different activities.

Under S. 48 of the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994, competent authorities must undertake an appropriate assessment of an activity before consenting it, if it is likely to have a significant effect on a European site in Great Britain or a European offshore marine site (either alone or in combination with other plans or projects), and is not directly connected with or necessary to the management of the site[9]. Similar provisions exist in relation to MPAs[10]. Therefore activities which require consent from a competent authority (such as planning permission or a marine licence) can be affected by the designation of an MPA. Examples of these activities may include; aquaculture, coastal protection, renewable energy generation, oil and gas, and ports and harbours. Authorities may put restrictions on activities such as locating aquaculture developments away from features which are sensitive or prohibiting use of certain acoustic deterrent devices. Such restrictions may increase costs for those carrying out these activities.

Commercial fishing activity is not directly limited by the designation of an MPA. If an MCO or Inshore Fishing Order is implemented, fishing activities can be affected, with potential socio-economic consequences for fishers, related industries and businesses e.g. seafood processing.

Recreational activities such as sailing, swimming and wildlife watching are typically less likely to have an impact on MPA conservation objectives and therefore are not generally affected by the designation or management of an MPA.

Changes to the coastal environment and to coastal industries may have knock on effects for coastal communities or those dependent on marine industries.

Social and economic assessment

A Socio-Economic Impact Assessment (SEIA) can be undertaken to ensure that positive and negative impacts to people and businesses are considered before undertaking a policy change. Under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010, when considering whether it is desirable to designate an area as an MPA, Scottish Ministers may have regard "to any social or economic consequences of designation"[11]. This does not apply to European sites. Scottish Ministers also have a duty to assess "the impact or potential impact of the restriction or prohibition within the area protected by the order" and "the impact or potential impact of displacement"[12]where an activity is restricted or prohibited by an MCO. The Scottish Government may choose to undertake an SEIA to inform these considerations.

The SEIA may also be used to inform a Sustainability Appraisal, along with the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). The purpose of the Sustainability Appraisal is to assess the overall social, economic and wider environmental impacts. They can also be used to provide Ministers with the information they need decide on the designation or management of MPAs, along with the outputs of stakeholder engagement and public consultation.



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