Outer Firth of Forth and St. Andrews Bay Complex Special Protection Area: business and regulatory impact assessment

An assessment of the business and regulatory impacts of classifying the Outer Firth of Forth and St. Andrews Bay Complex Special Protection Area.


The Scottish Government is committed to a clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse marine and coastal environment that meets the long term needs of people and nature. In order to meet this commitment our seas must be managed in a sustainable manner - balancing the competing demands on marine resources. Biological and geological diversity must be protected to ensure our future marine ecosystem is capable of providing the economic and social benefits it yields today.

The EU Wild Birds Directive (2009/147/EC as codified) requires Member States to classify as Special Protection Areas (SPAs) the most suitable territories for wild birds. Building on the work of the SPA Review Working Group and taking account of existing guidelines on the identification of SPAs (JNCC, 1999), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) have identified 14 sites which they consider essential for marine SPA status. These proposals include sites supporting wintering waterfowl, important areas for red throated divers, terns, European shag and foraging seabirds.

The Outer Firth of Forth and St Andrews Bay Complex proposed SPA is a large estuarine/marine site with a total area of 2720 km2 situated off the south-east coast of Scotland. It consists of the outer sections of the adjacent Firths of Forth[1] and Tay, including St Andrews Bay, together with marine waters, to the east of the Isle of May, extending in places to beyond the 12 mile Territorial Sea limit.

The Outer Firth of Forth and St Andrews Bay Complex proposed SPA supports populations of European importance of the following Annex 1 species:

  • Red-throated diver (Gavia stellata)
  • Slavonian grebe (Podiceps auritus)
  • Little Gull (Larus minutus)
  • Common tern (Sterna hirundo))
  • Arctic tern (Sterna paradisaea)

It also supports migratory populations of European importance of the following species:

  • Common eider (Somateria mollissima mollissima)
  • Long-tailed duck (Clangula hyemalis)
  • Common Scoter (Melanitta nigra)
  • Velvet scoter (Melanitta fusca)
  • Common goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)
  • Red-breasted merganser (Mergus serrator)
  • Northern gannet (Morus bassanus)
  • Manx shearwater (Puffinus puffinus)
  • European shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis)
  • Black-legged kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla)
  • Common guillemot (Uria aalge)
  • Razorbill (Alca torda)
  • Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica)
  • Black-headed gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
  • Common gull (Larus canus)
  • Herring gull (Larus argentatus)

The Firth of Forth, along with the Firth of Tay, is a major feature formed during the last flooding of the land by the sea at the end of the last glaciation (Barne et al 1997). The mid Firth of Forth holds a belt of mud-rich sediments whilst, on either side, along the shore are sandy gravels and shell material. As the estuary widens towards the outer firth, there are extensive areas of sandy and gravelly muds and fine sediments. In contrast, St Andrews Bay contains clean sands and gravel with only small areas of muddy sediments. Offshore of both the Forth and the Tay lie large areas of muddy sand carried out of the estuaries, as well as gravelly sand and clean shell sand. Water depth is variable but large areas, in both the Firth of Forth and St Andrews Bay, are shallow and less than 10m deep (Barne et. al. 1997).

The area supports a wide variety of both pelagic and demersal fish, including sandeels, and crustaceans, molluscs and marine worms. The range of prey species available within shallow and in places relatively sheltered waters is reflected in the diversity of bird species using the area throughout the year.

Red-throated divers and mergansers move to coastal areas in winter from their breeding sites and feed on a wide variety of fish, which they catch by diving from the surface and pursuing their prey underwater. Slavonian grebe and little gull are winter migrants from the North and also feed on small fish species, as well as on marine invertebrates such as small amphipods and other crustaceans. Black-headed gulls and common gulls wintering in coastal areas eat a variety of molluscs, crustaceans and marine worms while herring gulls take fish (including fisheries discards) and larger invertebrates including crabs and starfish. These gulls will also feed opportunistically on human food waste.

Eider, scoters and long-tailed duck feed almost exclusively on molluscs and small crustaceans, diving from the surface to pluck their prey from the seabed. Common goldeneye also feed mainly on invertebrates such as molluscs, worms, and crustaceans but will take also small fish. Eider are resident throughout the year, and breed on islands in the Firth of Forth, but long-tailed duck, common and velvet scoters and goldeneye migrate long distances from their northern breeding grounds to reach wintering grounds in Britain.

The abundance of sandeels is of particular importance to colonial seabirds including terns, shags, puffins, razorbills, guillemots and kittiwakes which breed in colonies within and close to the SPA, including the Isle of May. Northern gannet also feed on sandeels but are capable of taking a wider range of fish, including larger species such as herring and mackerel. Bass Rock, which is the largest gannet colony in the UK, is also situated in the Firth of Forth. Terns and kittiwake feed on prey close to the water surface, whereas shags, puffins, razorbills, guillemots and gannet will also pursue prey underwater, in some cases to great depths

Large numbers of Manx shearwaters also use the offshore waters for feeding. These birds are not associated with specific breeding colonies but occur within the site during the breeding season (summer). The status of the birds is uncertain but they are likely to be a mixture of breeding adults from distant colonies, sabbatical or pre-breeding age birds and possibly failed breeders, with the majority being in the latter categories after June. Manx shearwater feed mainly by pursuit-plunging and pursuit-diving on small shoaling fish, but also take squid and crustaceans.



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