Marine Protected Areas: key terms

A glossary of key terms relating to the policy development of Marine Protected Areas, including assessment types, designations, and the relevant legislation.

Demonstration and research MPAs   

Demonstration and research Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are designated by Scottish Ministers under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010. Sites can be established for the purpose of demonstrating or carrying out research on sustainable methods of marine management or exploitation in Scottish territorial waters. Their application is not restricted to nature conservation. Proposals will be developed and assessed according to a set of specific guidelines which will examine the scientific case for a MPA, the level of support and the reasons why a MPA is the most appropriate mechanism to use. 

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) 

Evaluates the significant environmental effects likely to arise from proposed development projects. 

Highly Protected Marine Areas 

Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) will provide additional environmental protection over and above the existing MPA network, by establishing sites which will provide protection from all extractive, destructive or depositional activities including all fisheries, aquaculture, and other infrastructure developments, while allowing other activities, such as tourism or recreational water activities, at non-damaging levels.  HPMAs may overlap with current MPAs. In these cases, they will provide extra environmental protection additional to that afforded by existing MPAs.   

Historic MPAs 

Historic Marine Protected Areas ‘Historic MPAs’ are designated under Section 67 of the Marine Scotland Act 2010 to protect marine historic assets (e.g., historic shipwrecks) of national importance within Scottish territorial waters. 

Marine monitoring strategy 

Marine Scotland, in partnership with NatureScot and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), has developed a Scottish Marine Protected Area monitoring strategy. This will ensure the necessary information is collected from the Scottish MPA network to underpin assessment and reporting obligations. The Strategy is supported by a series of annexes which provide more detail on monitoring methods, collaborative working, current monitoring and a two year forward look for MPA monitoring. 

Marine Protected Area (MPA) 

The designation of an MPA provides immediate protection from any activity or works that may impact the designated features, within the site. The fisheries sector is not included in this immediate protection due to the complexities of potential impacts.  

The Scottish Government have legal obligations under the Convention on Biological Diversity and OSPAR Convention to put in place a coherent network of protected areas to conserve marine biological diversity.  

Our protected sites which make up the MPA network are:  

  • Nature Conservation MPAs  

  • Special Areas of Conservation (SAC)  

  • Special Protection Areas (SPA)  

  • Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)  


  • Historic MPAs 

  • Demonstration and Research MPAs     

Marine Strategy Regulations 

The Marine Strategy Regulations 2010 provide a comprehensive framework for the four UK administrations to take a coordinated approach to assess, monitor, and take action to achieve or maintain Good Environmental Status (GES) across UK waters. Achieving GES is about protecting the marine environment, preventing its deterioration, and restoring it where practical, while allowing sustainable use of marine resources. The Marine Strategy is published in three parts of a six year cycle, which assess, monitor and details the Programme of Measures the UK will use until 2027 to support progress GES. 

Nature conservation MPAs  

Nature conservation MPAs are a type of MPA designed to afford protection to a range of nationally important habitats and species (“features”). Conservation objectives are set for features, allowing sustainable use of the site to continue as long as objectives can be achieved. These make up the majority of the MPAs within the network and are what is generally referred to when using the term MPA. These sites are designated under the Marine Scotland (2010) Act. 

Priority Marine Feature (PMF)  

PMF refers to Priority Marine Feature. Scottish Ministers formally adopted a list of 81 features in the marine environment to help focus conservation work. Within the MPA projects, fisheries measures are being developed for the 11 PMFs on this list most at risk from bottom trawling. The measures proposed for these features have been included in our ongoing stakeholder engagement.  


Ramsar Sites are wetlands of international importance that have been designated under the criteria of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands for containing representative, rare, or unique wetland types or for their importance in conserving biological diversity. 

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)  

A Site of Special Scientific Interest is a statutory designation made by NatureScot under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 for an area of special interest by reason of any of its flora, fauna, geological, geomorphological, or physiographical features.  

Social and Economic Impact Assessment (SEIA) 

A Socio-Economic Impact Assessment (SEIA) is used to inform a Sustainability Appraisal. along with the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA).  

Special Areas of Conservation (SAC)  

A Special Area of Conservation (SAC) protects one or more special habitats and/or species – terrestrial or marine which is listed in the The Habitats Directive

‘The Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) (EU Exit) (Scotland) (Amendment) Regulations 2019’ has superseded ‘The Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994’ after Scotland’s exit from the EU.

Special Protection Areas (SPA)  

Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are selected to protect one or more rare, threatened, or vulnerable bird species listed in Annex I of the Birds Directive (79/409/EEC as amended), or certain regularly occurring migratory species. 

Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) 

A Strategic Environmental Assessment is undertaken to assess, consult on, and monitor the likely impacts plans, programmes and strategies will have on the environment. An SEA helps to better protect the environment, aims to ensure that any development is sustainable, and increases opportunities for public participation in decision-making. It ensures that expert views are sought at various points in the preparation process from the public and the consultation authorities. 

 Sustainability appraisal 

The sustainability appraisal encompasses a Strategic Environmental Assessment and Social and Economic Impact Assessment. It considers the potential environmental, social, and economic effects of proposed plans, including potential development scenarios and alternatives to them, drawing on information contained in the SEA, HRA and SEIA. 

Vulnerable Marine Ecosystem (VME) 

Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems are classified based on characteristics such as rarity, fragility, life history traits and the functional significance. These differ from Priority Marine Features as they relate to ecosystems inclusive of a range of species or habitat types, rather than an individual species or habitat type.  

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