National Marine Plan 2 - strategic environmental assessment: scoping report

Sets out the proposed scope and level of detail for the strategic environmental assessment (SEA) of National Marine Plan 2 (NMP2), along with a description of the proposed assessment methodology.

2. Context

Policy Framework

2.1. The Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act 2005 requires responsible authorities to identify the broader policy context and the environmental protection objectives relevant to the plan that is being assessed. The broader policy context is described in paragraphs 1.8 -1.18.

2.2. Key environmental protection objectives are set out by SEA topic below. The relevance of the below policies and objectives across several SEA topics is acknowledged but, for this report, have been listed under only one topic for brevity.

Biodiversity, Flora and Fauna

2.3. In Scottish territorial waters, the requirements of the EU Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC) and the EU Birds Directive (2009/147/EC) are translated into specific legal obligations by the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994. In Scottish waters beyond 12 nautical miles from land, the Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 transpose the Habitats and Birds Directives into UK legislation, with technical corrections due to the UK’s exit from the EU made through the Conservation of Habitats and Species (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. These requirements focus on the protection of species and habitats of European significance, including marine habitats and species such as birds and mammals, and guide the designation of protected sites, such as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs). The overall objective of the requirements is to ensure that the species and habitats that they protect are maintained at, or restored to a favourable conservation status throughout their natural range in Europe.

2.4. The UK Marine Strategy covers 11 elements, known as descriptors, including biological diversity (D1) and food-webs (D4) that relate to the high-level objective for Good Environmental Status to ensure that the population abundance of indicator species (including cetaceans, seals, birds, fish, pelagic habitats and benthic habitats) indicates healthy populations that are not significantly affected by human activities.

2.5. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 provides the framework for protection of species other than European Protected Species and sets out protection objectives for specified birds and wild animals. The Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011 introduced Scottish legislation that affects the way land and the environment is managed, and it amends the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The Environment Strategy for Scotland (2020) provides an overarching framework for Scotland’s existing environmental strategies and plans, with a vision to restore nature and end Scotland’s contribution to climate change.

2.6. The Scottish Biodiversity Strategy to 2045 sets out the Scottish Government’s ambition for Scotland to end biodiversity loss and be Nature Positive by 2030, and to have restored and regenerated biodiversity across the country by 2045. The Strategy will drive the transformation needed to manage and restore terrestrial, freshwater, and marine biodiversity resources in Scotland, as well as provide a framework for prioritising and coordinating actions and investments.

Population and Human Health

2.7. The Bathing Water Directive 2006/7/EC and the Bathing Waters (Scotland) Regulations 2008 safeguard public health by imposing minimum water quality standards on both terrestrial and coastal bathing waters. SEPA and local authorities have the responsibility to monitor bathing water microbiology and ensure the information is publicly available during the bathing season.

2.8. The Seveso III Directive (2012/18/EU) strengthens preceding legislation aimed at reducing the incidence of major industrial accidents and pre-emptively mitigating their environmental effects, with an emphasis on limiting the consequences to human health. Directive 2012/18/EU is implemented in the UK through the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 2015.

2.9. The EU Floods Directive (2007/60/EC) is implemented at the national level through the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009. The Directive mandates the creation of flood risk management plans for all inland and coastal areas at risk of flooding, integrating their development and deployment with existing River Basin Management Plans. Flood risk management plans are designed to minimise negative impacts due to flooding on a range of receptors, including human health, the environment, and cultural heritage.

2.10. The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 makes minor amendments to the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, which set out a new right of responsible access that covers Scottish onshore, inland water, and coastal environments.

2.11. The National Plan for Scotland’s Islands (adopted 2019) was prepared as a provision under the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 and provides a framework for action to meaningfully improve outcomes for island communities. As required by the 2018 Act, the plan includes proposals in relation to: improving and promoting environmental wellbeing, health and wellbeing, and sustainable economic development; improving transport services and digital connectivity; and enhancing biosecurity, among others.

2.12. The Blue Economy Vision for Scotland sets out the long-term ambition for Scotland’s blue economy to 2045. It sets out six outcomes across a range of environmental, social, and economic ambitions, including equal access to the benefits provided by ocean resources and healthy and functioning marine ecosystems. The Blue Economy Vision offers framing for Scotland’s National Marine Plan.

Soil (Marine geology, sediments, and coastal processes)

2.13. The EU Maritime Spatial Planning Directive (2014/89/EU) consolidated and expanded upon the fundamental aspects of the Council Recommendation on Integrated Coastal Zone Management of 2002 and the Protocol to the Barcelona Convention on Integrated Coastal Zone Management of 2010, obligating the development of coastal management strategies. In Scotland, Integrated Coastal Zone Management is achieved on a national scale through the alignment of marine and terrestrial planning and consenting regimes. At a regional level in Scotland, Regional Marine planning, through Marine Planning Partnerships, will consider and agree the need for more detailed coastal management of the inshore region, including the coastal zone, with terrestrial planning authorities and relevant stakeholders.

2.14. The UK Marine Strategy covers 11 elements, known as descriptors, including sea-floor integrity (D6) that relates to the high-level objective for Good Environmental Status to ensure the health of seabed habitats is not significantly adversely affected by human activities.

2.15. The Scottish Soil Framework provides an overarching policy framework for the protection of soils in Scotland and, although it relates largely to the onshore environment, this includes coastal areas and the principles are applicable more widely. The Framework notes the impacts that rising sea levels and associated seasonal incursion by seawater could have on coastal soils.

2.16. In Scotland, marine geodiversity forms part of the basis for designation of Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).[3]


2.17. The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) regulates accidental and operational releases of pollutants into the marine environment by the shipping industry, including oil and other chemicals. The Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter 1972, or the London Convention, along with the 1996 London Protocol aims to control all sources of marine pollution and prevent pollution of the sea through regulation of dumping into the sea of waste materials.

2.18. The Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Act 2003 (Part 1, Chapter 1, Section 3) defines the seaward limit of the scope of the Water Framework Directive in Scotland as being three miles on the seaward side from the nearest point of the baseline from which the breadth of the territorial sea of the UK adjacent to Scotland is measured (i.e., three nautical miles from the territorial baseline).

2.19. The EU Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) provides a more comprehensive approach to managing and protecting Europe’s water bodies on land and up to three nautical miles from shore. It sets out a requirement for an assessment of both chemical and ecological status, with a goal of bringing all European waters to ‘good’ chemical and ecological status. Scotland primarily fulfils its water protection obligations under the Water Framework Directive through the Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Act 2003, which defines the establish of River Basin Management Plans, and through the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2011. Other relevant legislation includes the Pollution Prevention and Control (Scotland) Regulations 2012, which applies specifically to pollution originating from industry discharge.

2.20. The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) both extends the requirements of the Water Framework Directive in seas beyond one nautical mile and introduces further requirements and objectives. The MSFD is reported in the UK through the UK Marine Strategy, which covers 11 elements, known as descriptors, including eutrophication (D5), hydrographical conditions (D7), and contaminants (D8). The related high-level objectives for Good Environmental Status are, respectively: minimise human-induced eutrophication in UK marine waters; ensure that the nature and scale of any permanent changes to hydrographical conditions resulting from anthropogenic activities do not have significant long-term impacts on UK habitats and species; and ensure concentrations of specified contaminants in water, sediment, or marine biota, and their effects, are lower than thresholds that cause harm to sea life, and are not increasing.[4]

2.21. The European Commission’s Nitrates Directive 91/676/EEC aims to protect water quality across Europe by promoting the use of good farming practices that prevent nitrates from polluting the water environment. The Action Programme for Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (Scotland) Regulations 2008 were produced to meet Scotland’s legal and environmental obligations for Nitrate Vulnerable Zones and these regulations set out what is required from farmers to comply with the Nitrate Vulnerable Zones rules.

2.22. A Designation Order (The Water Environment (Shellfish Water Protected Areas: Designation) (Scotland) Order 2013) identifies 84 waters as 'shellfish water protected areas'. Regulations (The Water Environment (Shellfish Water Protected Areas: Environmental Objectives etc.) (Scotland) Regulations 2013) on the setting of environmental objectives for those areas have also been made. Continued protection and improvement of shellfish growing waters has been ensured through the integration of these within the river basin management planning process.

2.23. The Marine Litter Strategy for Scotland was first published in 2014 and serves to co-ordinate action on marine litter throughout the whole of Scotland. The refreshed Marine Litter Strategy, published in 2022, outlines new priority actions to tackle marine litter in Scotland, building on the work already conducted through the original strategy. The purpose of the strategy is to develop current and future measures to prevent litter from entering the marine and coastal environment, and to support its removal, in order to bring ecological, economic and social benefits.


2.24. The EU Ambient Air Quality Directives (2008/50/EC and 2004/107/EC) define common methods to monitor, assess and inform on ambient air quality in the EU and establish objectives for ambient air quality to avoid, prevent or reduce harmful effects on human health and the environment. The Air Quality Standards Regulations 2007 transpose the EU objectives into UK law.

2.25. The Cleaner Air for Scotland strategy provides a national framework which sets out how the Scottish Government and its partner organisations propose to achieve further reductions in air pollution and fulfil legal responsibilities.

Climatic Factors

2.26. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change that entered into force in 2022. The overarching goal of the Agreement is to hold the increase in global average temperature above pre-industrial levels to well below 2°C and pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C.

2.27. The British Energy Security Strategy sets out how Great Britain will accelerate homegrown power for greater energy independence. It recognises the importance of accelerating the transition away from oil and gas and the related need for the development and deployment of renewables, including offshore wind. The Strategy sets out specific ambitions for offshore wind, including an aim to cut the processing time for offshore renewable development by over half. The strategy also sets out the ambition to reach up to 1GW of Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) enabled “blue” hydrogen production operational or in construction by 2025. One Scottish CCUS cluster has been identified as a “reserve” to be delivered following those identified as a priority in English waters.

2.28. The North Sea Transition Deal supports the UK for the energy transition. Through the Deal, the UK’s oil and gas sector and the UK Government will work together to deliver the skills, innovation and new infrastructure required to decarbonise North Sea oil and gas production as well as other carbon intensive industries.

2.29. The Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019 amends the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, setting targets to reduce Scotland’s emissions of all greenhouse gases to net-zero by 2045 at the latest. It includes interim targets for reductions of at least 75% by 2030 and 90% by 2040. Scotland’s Climate Change Plan 2018-2032 update sets out the Scottish Government’s pathway to achieving the targets set out in the 2019 Act, including through delivery of actions set out in the 2020 Offshore Wind Policy Statement.

2.30. The draft Scottish Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan, published in January 2023 sets a target of securing 50% of total energy usage from renewable sources by 2030. The Strategy lists renewables and low carbon solutions as a strategic priority, including exploring new opportunities for floating offshore wind. The consultation (which ran in 2023) sought views on whether the current ambitions of producing 8-11GW of offshore wind in Scottish waters by 2030 (as set out in The Offshore Wind Policy Statement, 2020) should be increased. Specific targets have also been set for renewable and low-carbon hydrogen production, of 5GW by 2030 and 25GW by 2045.

2.31. Climate Ready Scotland: climate change adaptation programme 2019-2024 is the second Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme. It sets out the Scottish Government’s five-year programme for climate change adaptation, including a marine-specific outcome that states: ‘Our coastal and marine environment is valued, enjoyed, protected and enhanced and has increased resilience to climate change.’

2.32. Scotland’s National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) contains coastal development policies (Policy 10), with the policy intent being “to protect coastal communities and assets, and support resilience to the impacts of climate change” and the outcome being “coastal areas develop sustainably and adapt to climate change.”

Material Assets

2.33. The UN Agreement on Straddling Fish Stocks and Migratory Fish Stocks 2001 sets out principles for the conservation and management of specified fish stocks and establishes that management measures must be based on the precautionary approach and the best available scientific information.

2.34. The laying of cables and pipelines is one of the freedoms of the High Seas under the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea 1981 (UNCLOS). Submarine renewable power cables are subject to licensing controls anywhere within 0-200 nautical miles. International power interconnectors and international telecommunication cables are also subject to licensing controls.

2.35. The Joint Fisheries Statement sets out the policies of the fisheries policy authorities for achieving, or contributing to the achievement of, the eight fisheries objectives of the Fisheries Act 2020. The Joint Fisheries Statement forms part of the UK Fisheries Management and Support Framework and sets out the ambition of the UK to continue delivering world class, sustainable management of fisheries.

2.36. The Harbours Act 1964 gives powers to Scottish Ministers to make various types of harbour order, for the purposes of introducing new harbour legislation or amending existing harbour legislation of local application to a specific harbour or group of harbours. Harbour authorities are responsible for managing safe and efficient harbours, which includes specific responsibilities in relation to the safety of vessels and people within the harbour, efficient navigation and the protection of the port environment. Harbours underpinned by a local legislative framework of powers are Statutory Harbour Authorities (SHAs) in terms of the Harbours Act 1964 and those with statutory pilotage powers in addition, are also Competent Harbour Authorities (CHAs) in terms of the Pilotage Act 1987.

2.37. The UK and Scottish Governments jointly selected Inverness and Cromarty Firth and Firth of Forth as locations for the establishment of two new Green Freeports. These Green Freeports aim to help to level up Scotland and bring new, high-skilled jobs to successful areas, and are backed by £52 million in UK Government funding that will primarily be used to address infrastructure gaps.[5]

2.38. The Holistic Network Design (HND) work delivered by NationalGrid ESO conducted a high-level assessment on potential offshore transmission infrastructure and cabling infrastructure for ScotWind offshore wind projects. The outcome of the Offshore Transmission Network Review (ONTR) HND was published on 7 July 2022. The Networks Options Assessment (NOA) provides National Grid ESO’s recommendation for which network reinforcement projects should receive investment, and when, and the NOA 2021/22 Refresh incorporates the recommended offshore network design set out in the Holistic Network Design (HND).

2.39. Scotland’s Future Fisheries Management Strategy sets out the approach to managing Scottish sea fisheries to ensure the long-term sustainability and profitability of the inshore, onshore and marine fisheries sector whilst also putting in place the right protections for fish stocks and the marine environment. Scotland’s draft Future Catching Policy (FCP) directly supports a number of key principles in the Future Fisheries Management Strategy and it develops new rules, in cooperation with stakeholders, to regulate activity at sea in order to support the increased accountability and sustainability of Scottish fisheries.

2.40. The Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 2003 consolidated the majority of Scottish salmon and freshwater fisheries law. It provides the framework for a number of regulatory areas, including protection of juvenile and spawning salmon, passage of salmon, and legal methods of fishing and offences. The Scottish wild salmon strategy sets out the vision, objectives and priority themes to ensure the protection and recovery of Scottish Atlantic wild salmon populations.

2.41. The Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Act 2013 ensures that farmed and wild fisheries, and their interactions with each other, continue to be managed effectively, maximising their combined contribution to supporting sustainable economic growth with due regard to the wider marine environment.

2.42. The Scottish Government’s Reaching 100% programme commits to the provision of superfast broadband to every home and business in Scotland to deliver a future-proofed, national fibre network. This contributes to the implementation of the Digital Strategy for Scotland and is likely to involve the installation of submarine cables.

2.43. The Infrastructure Investment Plan for Scotland 2021-22 to 2025-26 sets out a long term vision of infrastructure in Scotland, which supports an inclusive, net zero carbon economy and includes details on over £26 billion of major projects and large programmes. The Infrastructure Investment Plan includes marine and coastal considerations, such as investment in coastal change adaptation and support of green and blue spaces to provide access to nature.

Cultural Heritage

2.44. The United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea stipulates under article 303 that ‘states have the duty to protect objects of an archaeological and historical nature found at sea and shall co-operate for this purpose.[6]

2.45. The Joint Nautical Archaeology Policy Committee Code of Practice for Seabed Developers is a voluntary code of practice that provides a framework that seabed developers can use in conducting their activities in an archaeologically sensitive manner. Further guidance includes those developed specifically for the offshore renewable energy sector that set out protocols to deal with the marine historic environment.[7]

2.46. The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 provides for the protection of archaeological heritage, including the scheduling of monuments. Although the Act is primarily intended for terrestrial locations, it includes provisions for the designation of submarine sites. The 1979 Act was modified by the Historic Environment (Amendment) Scotland Act 2011.

2.47. The Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 makes it an offense to interfere with the wreckage of any crashed, sunken or stranded military aircraft or designated vessel without a licence. All crashed military aircraft receive automatic protection, but vessels must be individually designated, either as controlled sites or protected places.

2.48. The Historic Environment Policy for Scotland is a policy statement for decision making for the whole of the historic environment and outlines six policies that define how the historic environment should be managed.

2.49. The Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 included an article on the establishment of historic Marine Protected Areas to safeguard a wide range of heritage assets at the coast edge, on the foreshore, and out to sea. This extends and replaces the protection previously afforded to underwater heritage by the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973.


2.50. The European Landscape Convention 2000 promotes the protection, management and planning of European landscapes and organises European-level cooperation on landscape issues. The Convention includes inland water and marine areas in its coverage and emphasises the importance of both non-designated and protected landscapes.

2.51. National Planning Framework 4 incorporates landscape considerations in its National Planning Policy and sets out the role of Scotland’s natural heritage and landscapes in informing land use planning.

2.52. The 2019 People, Place and Landscape position statement from NatureScot and Historic Environment Scotland outlines their approach to working towards a shared vision where all Scottish landscapes are vibrant, resilient, inspiring and beneficial.

2.53. The Place Principle was adopted by the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) to help overcome organisation and sectoral boundaries, to encourage better collaboration and community involvement, and improve the impact of combined energy, resources and investment. The principle promotes a shared understanding of place.

Inter-relationships between these issues

2.54. Many of the policies and strategies mentioned in previous sections are likely to have cross-cutting relationships between SEA topics. In addition, the following cross-cutting policies are of relevance.

2.55. Scotland’s National Strategy for Economic Transformation sets out the priorities for Scotland’s economy as well as the actions needed to maximise the opportunities of the next decade to achieve our vision of a wellbeing economy. The strategy includes commitments around natural capital, including: to a four-capital approach to economic recovery and “Rebuilding Scotland’s Natural Capital by 2032”; and to establishing a values-led, high-integrity market for responsible private investment in natural capital. In addition, the strategy also includes in its programme of action a commitment to deliver on the ambitions of ScotWind and future renewable energy developments.

2.56. The Scottish Government is clear that transitioning to a circular economy is key to tackling the climate and biodiversity crisis, and this means reducing demand for raw material, increasing reuse and repair, and recycling more. Making Things Last: a circular economy strategy for Scotland sets Scottish priorities for moving towards a more circular economy, to build a strong economy, protect our resources and support the environment. Consultation was undertaken in 2022 on a draft Circular Economy bill and Route Map (Delivering Scotland’s Circular Economy: A Route Map to 2025 and Beyond). The forthcoming Circular Economy Bill will provide the legislative framework required to support Scotland’s transition to a zero waste and circular economy, increase reuse and recycling rates, and modernise and improve waste and recycling services. The draft Route Map sets out a strategic plan to deliver Scotland’s zero waste and circular economy ambitions.

2.57. Scotland’s Third Land Use Strategy (Land use – getting the best from our land: strategy 2021 to 2026) sets out the Scottish vision, objectives and policies to achieve sustainable land use. This strategy includes a marine section as effective management of natural capital needs to be integrated across land and sea, and it includes explicit reference to the role of the National Marine Plan.

2.58. The Scottish Government Wellbeing economy monitor brings together a range of indicators to provide a baseline for assessing progress towards the development of a wellbeing economy in Scotland. It was developed to look beyond GDP to measure economic success and track the status of natural capital, as part of the four capitals approach.[8]

Environmental Baseline

2.59. The Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act 2005 requires responsible authorities to provide details of the character of the environment which will be affected by the proposed plan, including any existing environmental problems. This section of the scoping report provides an indication of the content and level of detail to be provided in the environmental baseline for NMP2.

2.60. NMP2 sets national level policies rather than those focused on localised spatial issues, so the assessment will be based on an appropriate, national-scale environmental baseline. Scotland’s Marine Assessment 2020 will form the primary evidence base for the environmental baseline. The following sections provide an overview of the relevant baseline information and identification of, where possible, the associated environmental problems.

Biodiversity, flora and fauna

2.61. The 462,000 km2 that makes up the Scottish marine environment is comprised of a variety of habitats which are home to over 6,500 species of animals and plants. Scotland’s marine biodiversity encompasses the small plants and animals found in the plankton that makes up the basis of the marine food web up to top predators, such as marine mammals, including important populations of grey and harbour seals and a range of cetacean species. The fish community extends from shallow coastal waters to the deep ocean, with Scotland’s diverse fish community exploited both by humans for food and recreation, and by many bird species, including internationally important populations of breeding seabirds and wintering waterbirds. The shellfish and other invertebrate fauna includes a variety of species that are essential to ecosystem function with a few important commercial species. Scotland has one of the lowest biodiversity intactness indexes globally and is facing decline in its biodiversity. Out of 15 components in the UK Marine Strategy, 6 had not achieved Good Environmental Status by 2018 (birds, fish, benthic habitats, non-indigenous species, commercial fish, and marine litter) and 5 had partially achieved GES (cetaceans, seals, pelagic habitats, food webs, and underwater noise).[9]

2.62. A list of 81 priority marine features (PMFs) was adopted by Scottish Ministers in 2014 and includes a range of habitats and species that have been identified as being of conservation importance in Scotland, the UK, the North-east Atlantic, and globally. A total of 245 MPAs cover approximately 37% of Scotland’s marine environment and include 231 MPAs designated for nature conservation (Nature Conservation MPAs; Special Areas of Conservation (SACs); Special Protection Areas (SPAs); Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs); and Ramsar sites), nine MPAs designated for other purposes (one Demonstration and Research MPA; and eight Historic MPAs), and five other area-based measures.[10]

2.63. Invasive non-native species are organisms that are found outwith their natural range as a result of human action and that are not under control and have a significant adverse impact on native biodiversity, or socio or economic interests. The three high-impact non-native species that are established within Scotland’s inshore regions are: Common cord-grass (Spartina anglica); carpet sea squirt (colonial tunicate, Didemnum vexillum); and leathery sea squirt (Styela clava). Three Scottish Marine Regions (West Highland, Argyll, and Clyde) are considered as areas having many concerns (red status); six Scottish Marine Regions (Forth and Tay, Moray Firth, Outer Hebrides, Orkney Islands, Shetland Isles, and Solway) are considered as areas having some concerns (amber status); no Scottish Marine Regions have been verified as free of non-native species although the North East and North Coast are considered data insufficient.

2.64. Scotland's seas support internationally important populations of breeding seabirds, groups of birds that spend most of their life at sea or along the coast, and wintering waterbirds, birds that live on or around water. 24 species of seabird regularly breed in Scotland and 21 of the seabird species that breed in Scotland are now on the red (due to significant declines in population or significant contractions of breeding ranges or numbers) or amber (due to moderate declines in population or moderate contractions of breeding ranges or numbers) lists of Birds of Conservation Concern.[11] Scotland’s coasts and inland waters provide overwintering habitat for internationally important populations of migratory waterbirds, many of which are long distance migrants.

Population and human health

2.65. Scotland’s population of 5.44 million in mid-2018 was at its highest ever recorded and is projected to grow to 5.58 million by 2026 and to 5.69 million in 2041.[12] Data from Scotland’s 2011 census indicate that there were 93 inhabited islands in Scotland with a population of 103,700 (2% of the total Scottish population). Over 90% of people in Scotland live within a settlement, with settlements clustered around the coastline and in the central belt.

2.66. Marine recreation and tourism covers a range of activities, including walking/hiking/running, beach activities, photography, yachting/sailing, swimming, wildlife tourism, diving, kayaking, angling, surfing, and cruise ship visits. The Scottish Marine Recreation and Tourism Survey highlighted the importance of good environmental conditions and abundant marine life to marine tourists. Tourism, recreation, and leisure activities in the marine environment can be complementary to environmental protection and enhancement when managed appropriately. The survey also showed that ‘General marine and coastal recreation’ was the most popular activity listed by participants, followed by longer distance walking, bird watching, and visits to historic sites as the three next most popular activities. Key concentrations of recreation and tourism activity occurred in the Firth of Clyde, Argyll and West Highland coast, the Lothians and Fife coastline, and the Moray Firth.[13]

2.67. As of 2022, Scotland has a total of 87 designated bathing waters with 84 located in coastal areas. Of these, 98% are classified as either excellent (44%), good (40%) or sufficient (14%), and 2% (both in the Forth and Tay inshore region) are classified in poor condition.[14]

2.68. In 2020, Scotland’s marine economy generated £4 billion in gross value added (GVA) (2.8% of the overall Scottish economy) and employed 68,600 people (2.6% of total Scottish employment). Marine GVA and employment are particularly important to rural economies, for example, contributing 14% to the GVA of the Shetland Islands.[15]


2.69. The majority of Scottish coastal waters are classified as high or good overall condition by SEPA; however, a few areas within the Clyde and Forth and Tay inshore regions are classified as moderate condition and areas of poor condition are indicated in the Solway and Forth and Tay inshore regions.[16]

2.70. The marine environment acts as a sink for many hazardous substances, such as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and heavy metals. They find their way into the marine environment through a number of different sources and pathways, with indirect or direct release from industrial and sewage works discharges into rivers a major source. 99.8% of Scotland’s transitional and coastal water bodies have achieved ’Good’ chemical status under the Water Framework Directive, with the only failing waterbody located in the Clyde. Other sources of pollution include: discharges and release of oils and chemicals from shipping and offshore installations; the transport of marine litter (any persistent manufactured or processed solid material discarded, disposed of or abandoned in the marine and coastal environments, including material lost at sea in bad weather) to sea by rivers, drainage systems, sewage run-off or wind (from terrestrial sources such as landfill sites, public refuse facilities, and road transport); and sea based sources of marine litter, such as shipping, fishing, and offshore oil and gas platforms.

2.71. As part of the National Performance Framework, the Clean Seas Indicator was developed in parallel with the Sustainability of Fish Stocks Indicator and it measures the percentage of biogeographic regions with acceptably low levels of contaminants. As of 2020, 93% of contaminant assessments in Scottish marine waters show concentrations that are unlikely to harm marine organisms, which was unchanged between 2017 and 2020.[17]

Climatic factors

2.72. Scotland’s First Minister declared a climate emergency in April 2019 and Scottish Ministers have pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly and reach net zero (balancing the amount of emitted greenhouse gases with the equivalent emissions sequestered or offset) by 2045. In addition to targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Scottish Ministers have committed to a framework to adapt to the already changing climate through the Second Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme 2019-2024, which includes a dedicated chapter for the marine and coastal environment.

2.73. Climate change is the most critical factor affecting Scotland’s marine environment. The impacts of anthropogenic climate change are already evident, including on the physical environment of the ocean, and on the wider marine ecosystem and the links between its component species. Effects on the physical environment include warming ocean temperature, sea-level rise, ocean acidification, and changes to: salinity and oxygen concentration of seawater; currents; waves; storms; coastlines; and water column stratification. Changes to the wider marine ecosystem include changes in the abundance and distribution of key species, such as those species that are economically important (i.e., commercially exploited fishes), that play key roles in ecosystems (i.e., plankton), and that act as sentinels of ecosystem health and are valued by humans (i.e., seabirds and marine mammals).

2.74. The marine environment offers opportunities to mitigate for climate change through the management of marine habitats that absorb and store carbon (i.e., salt marsh and seagrass) and through certain marine industries (i.e., marine renewable energy and carbon capture and storage). The marine environment can also offer opportunities to mitigate the potential impacts of climate change, for example the creation or restoration of coastal habitats can mitigate flood risk.


2.75. Air pollution can have repercussions for many aspects of quality of life, including human health and biodiversity. In general, Air Quality Management Areas are located inland within Scotland’s urban areas and they largely result from transport emissions. However, ships and other marine vessels release a significant proportion of total anthropogenic air pollutants, including nitrous oxides, sulphur oxides, particulate matter, and volatile organic compounds.

Soil (Marine geology, sediments, and coastal processes)

2.76. Scotland’s varied coastline reflects contrasts in rock types, previous glacial processes, and changing sea levels. Scotland has some of the highest cliffs and largest sand dunes in the UK, with ancient hard strata dominating the north and west coasts, and younger, weaker rocks forming the south and east coasts.[18] The coast is classified as 70% hard coasts (i.e., composed of rocks and cliffs), 29% soft coasts (i.e., composed of unconsolidated gravels, sand and silts), and less than 1% artificial (i.e., harbours and sea walls).[19]

2.77. Although 75% of Scotland’s coast is broadly stable, 12% is erosional and 8% is accretional.[20] The coast is uniquely exposed to climate change, due to the effects of rising sea levels that are intensifying coastal erosion. Coastal erosion and flood risk are interlinked. Storms can cause significant, episodic changes to the coastal landscape and can also affect coastal and marine habitats and species through direct physical disturbance by waves and currents. They can also have an impact on coastal and marine infrastructure and operations.

2.78. The sediments around Scotland are generally sandy or gravelly and originate from deposits during the Quaternary glaciation. Strong currents and wave action may also have prevented deposition of recent muddy sediment or have winnowed it to leave a coarse-grained lag deposit. Muddy sediments occur principally nearshore or, further offshore, in depressions on the sea floor, where currents may be relatively weak. They also occur beyond the shelf break (200m water depth) to the west of Scotland. The concentration of calcareous material varies greatly in seabed sediments reflecting the amount of shell material in different areas; locally, they can be very high. Marine sediments play an important role in ecosystem functioning, as they can act as nursery or spawning areas for a range of ecologically and commercially important species and provide habitats for benthic fauna, supporting biodiversity. Certain marine sediments can also act as carbon stores.

2.79. Disturbance of seafloor habitats from towed, bottom-contacting fishing activity is predicted to be widespread and is predicted to occur, to some degree, in all regions. The only regions which lack significant disturbance, and which are not indicated to have benthic habitats in poor condition, are in deeper waters of the edge of the continental shelf. Of the 21 Scottish Marine Regions, nine have seafloor habitats that are predicted to be in poor condition across more than half their area.

Cultural heritage

2.80. Scotland has eight Historical MPA designations but there are many more unprotected sites of interest. There are many historic built and archaeological sites on the foreshore and seabed, including the remains of ships and aircraft lost at sea, and valued harbours, lighthouses, and other structure on the coast. There are 22 protected wreck designations under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 in Scottish waters. In addition, a large portion of Scotland’s marine heritage resources are unrecorded, undiscovered, and unprotected.

2.81. The combination of seawater and sediment provides an important setting within which the preservation of marine archaeological remains is supported. However, the wash from vessels, anchoring, dredging, construction of port facilities and bridges have the potential to adversely affect these resources. Piers, wharves and breakwaters can result in changes to sediment which exacerbate erosion and have secondary effects on the marine historic environment. Climate change impacts, such as disturbance of submerged heritage assets from increased wave action, changes in local sediment supply causing damage or loss of submerged heritage assets, and ocean acidification causing enhanced rates of corrosion in metal shipwrecks and artefacts are expected into the future.[21]

2.82. It is estimated that there may also be around 38,000 historic features around the coast, including scheduled ancient monuments (SAMs), gardens and designated landscapes, archaeological remains, listed buildings, and those within conservation areas. For these sites, the sea can be an integral part of their setting and a key element in how they are experienced, understood and appreciated. Approximately 10% of 352 historic environment sites that were analysed by Historic Environment Scotland are currently exposed to Coastal Flooding in a way that is deemed unacceptable and 10% of sites analysed are exposed to Coastal Erosion in a way that is considered unacceptable.[22] This assessment only covers Historic Environment Scotland’s estate and, therefore, likely underestimates the substantial level of challenge faced by coastal and marine historic environment assets. Further risk is also expected in the future due to climate change.

2.83. Marine and coastal archaeology is largely undiscovered and unprotected, which leaves it potentially vulnerable to threats such as coastal erosion and disturbance by human activity (i.e., vessel anchoring, construction).

Landscapes and seascapes

2.84. Scotland’s seascapes are highly valued, with diverse character and widely perceived scenic quality. Its features range from machair plains to towering cliffs, shifting dunes and sandy beaches to islands, sea lochs and firths to rocky headlands on the open coast. Although many settlements are on the coast, less than 15% of its length has been developed.[23] This means that much of the coast has a natural character, with some areas providing a sense of wildness.

2.85. Coastal Character Assessment identifies, describes and maps Scotland’s coasts and complements Scotland’s Landscape Character Assessments, which focus on terrestrial landscapes. Coastal characterisation considers additional characteristics associated with the coast, such as marine influences and the character of the coastal edge. The following 13 broad National Coastal Character types have been identified and mapped by NatureScot: remote high cliffs; rock coastline/open sea views; deposition coastline, open views; outer firths; developed inner firths; narrow coastal shelf; kyles and sea lochs; enclosed bays, islands and headlands; sounds, narrows and islands; outer firth with islands; less developed inner firths; deposition coasts of islands; and low rocks islands coasts.[24]

Material assets

2.86. Consideration of Material Assets in SEA covers a wide variety of assets and resources, including built assets such as infrastructure relating to energy generation and distribution, formal flood protection schemes, transport, and telecommunications. Natural assets can include aggregates, oil and gas reservoirs, natural flood management features, carbon capture and storage aquifers, and fish stocks.

2.87. Oil and gas exploration and production has been a major activity in Scottish offshore waters since the late 1960s and there is extensive on- and offshore infrastructure associated with these developments. There are 112 active platforms and 14,801 km of pipeline, with most oil and gas fields located in the North Sea. There have been large increases in marine renewable energy generation capacity (wind, wave, and tidal), with the majority of installed renewables capacity in Scotland from offshore wind.

2.88. Scotland’s history of oil and gas production has resulted in an extensive network of pipelines across the North Sea, which connect previously exploited depleted oil and gas fields. Depleted gas fields and aquifers have the potential to act as carbon dioxide storage sites. On 31 July 2023, the UK government provided an update on the conclusion of the CCUS Cluster Sequencing Track-2 expression of interest, which found that the Scottish Acorn transport and storage (T&S) system remained one of the two new clusters best placed to deliver UK objectives for Track-2.[25] Acorn also retains its status as Track-1 reserve cluster.

2.89. Offshore wind accounts for a rapidly growing proportion of Scotland’s renewable energy portfolio. By the fourth quarter of 2022, Scotland had a total installed offshore wind capacity of 2,166 MW with an additional 4,200 MW in planning, 1,100 MW awaiting construction, and 2,817 MW under construction.[26] In 2022 the ScotWind leasing process, managed by Crown Estate Scotland, announced the awarding of Option Agreements to 20 projects for a total potential capacity of 27.6 GW within the 15 Plan Option areas identified in the Sectoral Marine Plan for Offshore Wind Energy (2020).[27] In 2023, Crown Estate Scotland offered 13 projects Exclusivity Agreements under the leasing round for Innovation and Targeted Oil and Gas (INTOG) decarbonisation. Five innovation projects were selected totalling 499 MW capacity and eight targeted oil and gas decarbonisation projects were selecting, totalling 5 GW.

2.90. Scotland has over 200 ports that provide infrastructure for the national, regional and local economies in which they operate. These vary in size from major commercial operations for international exports, ferry ports, ports serving the oil and gas industry in the North Sea and west of Shetland, ports supporting offshore renewables, to small leisure and fishing harbours. Ferries make up an essential part of Scotland’s transport network with services covering both island and mainland communities, and a significant proportion of Scotland’s freight is carried by water.

2.91. Submarine cables are critical infrastructure that deliver communications, internet, and power, inwards to Scotland, outwards to international partners, and domestically between islands and remote communities. In addition, there are military cables on the seabed. Telecommunications cables are typically fibre optic and significantly differ (in size, weight, installation, maintenance and general handling) from subsea power cables, which include distribution, transmission, and export cables.

2.92. Approximately £18 billion of Scottish buildings and infrastructure lie within 50 meters of the shoreline. About one quarter, or £5 billion, of these assets are protected by artificial defences with the other £13 billion of these assets protected by natural defences, such as sand dunes.

2.93. The extraction of aggregate (sand and gravel) from the seabed last occurred in or before 2005 in two areas within the Forth and Tay Scottish Marine Region and there are not currently any licences to extract, however, large potential resource areas have been identified. Additionally, some navigational dredgings have been used for port construction.

2.94. As part of the National Performance Framework, the Sustainability of Fish Stocks Indicator was developed in parallel with the Clean Seas Indicator and it measures the percentage of fish stocks fished sustainably. It indicates that, in 2020, 69% of commercial fish stocks were fished at sustainable levels in Scottish waters and that performance is improving. The percentage fished sustainably in 2020 is the highest level recorded since data collection began in 1991 and represents an increase of 35 percentage points from 2000.[28]

2.95. Atlantic salmon contributes the majority (96% in 2020) of Scotland’s marine aquaculture value (£362 million Gross Value Added) with mussels the main shellfish species produced through aquaculture in Scotland.[29] Strict guidelines exist to ensure that the environmental effects of aquaculture are assessed and managed safely with the majority of aquaculture taking place along Scotland’s west coast, and in the Orkney and Shetland islands. There is a continuing presumption against further finfish aquaculture development on the north and east coasts to safeguard migratory fish species.



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