Pilot Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters Marine Spatial Plan - Socio-Economic Baseline Review

This Socio-Economic Baseline Review provides a regional overview of the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters area for the pilot Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters Marine Spatial Plan. It also informs the Sustainability Appraisal for this Plan.

15 Water Sports and Recreational Boating

15.1 Spatial Extent and Intensity of Activity and Interests

15.1.1 The main water sports undertaken in the PFOW area are recreational angling, surfing, windsurfing, sea kayaking, small sail boat activities (such as dinghy sailing) and scuba diving. [72] Orkney has three marinas; Kirkwall, Stromness and Westray, which also cater for larger cruising, sailing and powered recreational craft, along with local piers and visitor moorings throughout the islands.

Table 31 Orkney Marinas -Number of berths [73]

Orkney Marinas No. of berths
Kirkwall 95
Stromness 72
Westray 17

15.1.2 Wick harbour has a 70 berth marina providing a strategic link to enable yachts to sail around the North of Scotland.

15.1.3 Figure 22 shows the locations of various recreational activities that take place in the PFOW area.

Figure 22 Recreation Activities in the PFOW area [74]

Figure 22 Recreation Activities in the PFOW area

15.2 Surfing

15.2.1 Some of the UK's best surfing breaks are situated along the north coast of Scotland. The region receives strong, powerful swells and provides a number of high quality surfing spots. In particular according to environmental charity Surfers against Sewage ( SAS), the reefs situated around Brims Ness and Thurso are considered to be world-class. [75] Orkney also has good quality surfing locations although participant numbers are less than on the mainland, primarily due to accessibility.

15.2.2 The Scottish Surfing Federation ( SSF) conducted a survey on the impact of surfing at a national level [76] . The number of regular surfers is summarised in Table 32 below. The results show a total surfing population of 65 for the PFOW area.

Table 32 Estimate of the number of surfers at regional level [76]

Marine Region Number of surfers
Orkney Islands 16
North Coast 49

15.2.3 Windsurfing in Orkney is a popular activity at Kirkwall's Scapa Beach and Orphir's Waulkmill Bay. In addition, on the west coast of mainland Orkney, the storm beach of Skaill Bay, in Sandwick, is also popular. [77]

15.3 Sea Angling

15.3.1 The main launch spots for charter based angling are Thurso in North Scotland and Stromness in Orkney. [78] Wreck angling is popular in Scapa Flow and also on other wrecks found offshore from Orkney. Shore angling is undertaken at many locations around Orkney. [79] In Caithness, shore fishing is popular in Thurso Bay and Dunnet Head. Cod, pollack and mackerel are the most popular target species in Caithness and Sutherland. There is also evidence of sport fishing for rarer species such as porbeagle shark becoming more popular. In Orkney, conger eel is found amongst the wrecks of Scapa Flow and is the most popular target species, followed by coley, mackerel and bass.

15.4 Sailing

15.4.1 The Orkney Sailing Club ( OSC) [80] runs Royal Yachting Association ( RYA) approved sailing courses and has several RYA instructors and senior instructors in its ranks. The OSC has a number of dinghies such as wayfarers, albacores, 505s and lasers and operates out the port of Kirkwall. There are currently about 200 members. In addition, the Pentland Firth Yacht Club operates out of Scrabster and uses a range of Topper Fleet.

15.5 Scuba Diving

15.5.1 The most popular area for scuba diving in the region is around Scapa Flow in Orkney. This body of water is considered one of the finest wreck diving sites in Europe and has ranked among the top five wreck diving areas of the world. [81] Scapa Flow covers some 190 km² (73 miles) and is completely protected by a ring of islands.

15.5.2 Recreational diving is predominantly charter based with approximately 12 diveboats and an estimated 3,000 visiting divers annually. [82] Diving is also undertaken on the mainland with the Caithness Diving Club operating in the region, which has around 30 members. The Caithness Diving Club has 230 'likes' on their Facebook page - an indicator of the number of affiliated members. Dive locations include offshore from Holborn Head, Portskerra, Scrabster, Dunnet Head, Scarfskerry and Duncansby. [83] Information on the contribution of scuba diving to the economy of Caithness and Sutherland is limited although the intensity of diving in the area is less than around Orkney.

15.6 Kayaking

15.6.1 Kayaking on the sea can involve several different forms. Sea kayaking, river kayaking, surf kayaking, and kayak fishing, with this section focusing specifically on sea and surf kayaking in the PFOW area. Within the PFOW area, the main sea kayaking season takes place between March and November. The majority of sea kayaking is undertaken close inshore, exploring interesting aspects of the coast such as sea caves, inlets and wildlife. Safety issues and a lack of interesting features generally limit kayaking further offshore. However, open crossings (between two points such as a headland and an offshore island) often through strong tidal currents are regularly undertaken by more experienced sea kayakers. The Pentland Firth is an area of particular interest to experienced sea kayakers. The Inner Sound between Stroma and the Scottish Mainland is an area of strong tidal currents which offer challenging conditions, providing a training ground and assessment area for the top kayaking award, the British Canoe Union 5 Star Leader Award.

15.6.2 Surf kayaking takes place at the same locations as surfing on the North Coast of Scotland, given the necessity for waves. The Scottish Surf Kayak Championships have taken place at Thurso since 1984. Various other kayak competitions are held in the area, including International and European events. Kayaking has the potential to be undertaken along all of the PFOW area and is only constrained by the availability of suitable launching spots such as beaches or slipways.

15.6.3 A number of clubs regularly operate sea kayaking in the region. [84] These include:

  • The Caithness Kayak Club, Wick
  • The Pentland Canoe Club, Thurso
  • The Orkney Sea Kayaking Association
  • The Kirkwall Kayak Club ( KKC)

15.7 Economic value and employment


15.7.1 Few studies have been undertaken in the PFOW area on the economic contribution of surfing activities. While no estimates of the total value of surfing in Orkney or Caithness/Sutherland exists, the value of Scotland's largest surfing event, the O'Neill Coldwater Classic at Thurso East has been calculated. The annual competition ran between 2006 and 2011, with the 2010 event attracting estimated spectator numbers of 5,500 over the 8-day event. [85] The 2010 event resulted in an estimated expenditure of £440,000 to the local economy. In 2014, Thurso was meant to host the 'Scottish National Surf Championships' but this was cancelled.

Sea Angling

15.7.2 The Economic Impact of Recreational Sea Angling in Scotland study estimated the sea angling activity and economic value in eight regions of Scotland. [86] Two of these regions, 'North Scotland' and 'Orkney and Shetland', fall within the PFOW region. As these areas do not fully align with the PFOW area the values should only be taken as indicative values for comparison between areas.

15.7.3 The total estimated regional sea angling activity and expenditure within these two regions is shown in Table 33.

Table 33 Total estimated expenditure and employment from regional sea angling activity [86]

Region Number of Resident Sea Anglers Annual Sea Angler Days in Region Annual Trip Expenditure in Region Annual Capital Expenditure in Region Total Annual Sea Angler Expenditure Number of Jobs Supported
Northern Scotland 7,894 144,346 £8,909,000 £2,251,000 £11,160,000 299
Orkney & Shetland 2,823 74,640 £3,949,000 £2,153,000 £6,102,000 145

15.7.4 Given that Orkney's population is approximately half that of Orkney and Shetland an approximation of the expenditure attributable to the PFOW area could be around £2m.

15.7.5 The Economic Impact of Recreational Sea Angling in Scotland report also includes a case study of Orkney which gives the number of local and visitor anglers and the annual sea angler days for Orkney, summarised in Table 34 below.

Table 34 Number of angler days in Orkney [86]

Number Days Charter Days Own/Friends Boat
Local 1,134 25,000 400 9,459
Visitors 1,000 4,500 800 500

15.7.6 These figures can also be used to determine annual sea angling expenditure for Orkney. Comparing the proportion of angler days in the two tables above gives an estimate of total annual expenditure for sea angling in Orkney of £2.4m, relatively similar to the above £2m approximation.


15.7.7 The Sailing Tourism in Scotland (2010) report [87] by Scottish Enterprise provides estimates for Scotland and regional (North) expenditure generated by resident (home port) and visitor berths. The report suggests that Scotland's sailing tourism sector generates total expenditure in excess of £100 million in Scotland. In this study, The North is defined as Gairloch - Helmsdale, Orkney / Shetland and Helmsdale - Peterhead. Expenditure in the North of Scotland is estimated to be in excess of £10 million.

Scuba Diving

15.7.8 Kenter et al. (2013) [88] reported on the recreational use and non-use values of UK divers and sea anglers for 25 Scottish potential Marine Protected Areas ( pMPAs). 3 of the MPAs fall within the PFOW region: North-west Orkney, Papa Westray and Wyre and Rousay Sounds. The study gives visitor number estimates, travel cost expenditure and a contingent valuation Willingness to Pay ( WTP) value (see Appendix). The study has a number of limitations and should therefore be treated with caution when considering the estimates. However, there is a clear message that divers (and anglers) place a high value on the marine environment.

15.8 Historic and future trends

15.8.1 Whilst there is no specific information on future trends, there is no reason to expect that current activity level will not continue, particularly the continued growth of the well-established North Coast surfing scene.

15.9 Data Gaps and Limitations

15.9.1 There is lack of economic information at the PFOW area level. Most data sources that provide regional data have been commissioned on behalf of the sports they pertain to so care must be taken when interpreting these results as methodological issues such as the representativeness of the sample can cause substantial upward bias in the estimates. As mentioned in the tourism section, Marine Scotland have recently commissioned a research project which aims to add greater data coverage to the marine tourism and recreation sector across Scotland, with the PFOW area being used as a case study.


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