Highly Protected Marine Areas - policy framework and site selection guidelines: strategic environmental asessment
This initial strategic environmental report assesses the environmental impacts of the Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMA) policy.
2 Proposals for Highly Protected Marine Areas
2.1 Background to Highly Protected Marine Areas
2.1.1 The Scottish Government and the Scottish Green Party have a shared vision that the marine environment "should be clean, healthy, safe, productive and diverse, and managed to meet the long term needs of nature and people". This includes managing Scottish seas sustainably to protect their rich biological diversity and to ensure that marine ecosystems continue to provide economic, social and wider benefits for people, industry and society. As part of this vision, the Scottish Government and the Scottish Green Party are determined to "make a step change in marine protection and to deliver on their shared commitment to achieve and maintain good environmental status for all of Scotland's seas, offshore and inshore".
2.1.2 The Bute House Agreement sets out several commitments to help achieve this vision for the Scottish marine environment and its protection. This includes adding "to the existing MPA network by designating a world-leading suite of HPMAs covering at least 10% of our seas that:
- Includes designations in both offshore and inshore waters;
- Exceeds the commitment to 'strict protection' by 2030 made in the EU Biodiversity Strategy by achieving this by 2026 for inshore waters (in respect of which Scottish Ministers have devolved powers) and, subject to the cooperation of the UK Government, by the same year for offshore waters (where the Scottish Parliament does not have legislative competence);
- Will provide additional environmental protection over and above the existing MPA network (including when all management measures are applied in MPAs as outlined above), 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 (making them equivalent to 'marine parks'); and
- In cases where these sites overlap with current MPAs, provide extra environmental protection additional to that afforded by existing MPAs. Our clear common purpose is to deliver a significant total increase in the level of environmental protection applicable to Scotland's seas, in support of achieving and maintaining good environmental status for our waters."
2.1.3 The Bute House Agreement further states that the suite of HPMAs will be delivered "though a policy and selection framework that provides for:
- Balanced representation of the ecology of Scotland's seas and their geographical spread from the coast to the deep sea, encompassing both inshore and offshore environments;
- The recovery of priority marine features, which mostly lie within inshore waters, as a core purpose of the designation criteria;
- Ecosystem recovery and biodiversity enhancement, including protection of blue carbon and critical fish habitats;
- Account to be taken of socio-economic factors affecting the resilience and viability of marine industries and the coastal communities which depend on them; and
- Public engagement and consultation at all key stages of policy development, site selection and assessment, and designation."
2.1.4 To ensure the high levels of protection required for HPMAs, the Scottish Government will seek new powers to designate HPMAs in Scottish inshore or territorial waters (within 12 nautical miles of the coast). The Scottish Government will seek agreement from the UK Government to provide for equivalent powers to the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 for Scottish offshore waters (beyond 12 nautical miles from the coast out to Scotland's Continental Shelf and Exclusive Economic Zone, EEZ).
2.1.5 Where HPMA designations require the relocation of existing human activity, the Bute House Agreement recognises that there may in some instances be a need for a transitional 'phasing out' period following the point of designation, to ensure a fair and just transition to a state of high protection. Any such period would be time-limited with a clear end point.
Definition of HPMAs
2.1.6 HPMAs are proposed to be defined as designated areas of the sea that are strictly protected to allow the marine ecosystems within to recover and thrive. These areas safeguard all of their marine life for the benefit of the planet and current and future generations; providing opportunities for carefully managed enjoyment and appreciation.
Aims of HPMAs
2.1.7 HPMAs are one of the measures available to protect Scotland's seas and to help deliver the Scottish Government's vision for the marine environment. The commitment to introduce HPMAs will also make a significant contribution to the achievement of broader UK, regional and global conservation ambitions (Section 4). In particular, it aligns with the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, which proposes that 10% of EU's seas should be under strict protection by 2030. Within the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Guidelines for Applying Protected Area Management Categories to MPAs, such 'strict' or 'highly protected' areas are often associated with the definitions of categories Ia, Ib and II that seek to 'leave natural processes essentially undisturbed to respect an area's ecological requirements'.
2.1.8 As part of the existing 'three-pillar' approach to marine nature conservation in Scotland (species conservation, site protection, and wider seas policies and measures), HPMAs aim to:
- Facilitate ecosystem recovery and enhancement ;
- Enhance the benefits that coastal communities and others derive from our seas;
- Contribute to the mitigation of climate change impacts; and
- Support ecosystem adaptation and improve resilience.
2.1.9 The designation and management of HPMAs will protect all elements of the marine ecosystem within their boundaries, including the seabed, water column habitats and everything that lives in the protected area. This will protect not only the species and habitats within them, but also the complex web of interactions and processes that form a marine ecosystem.
2.2 Relationship with the existing MPA network
2.2.1 The Scottish MPA network consists of 247 sites, 233 of these are for nature conservation purposes and are designated under various legislative frameworks and include:
- Nature Conservation MPAs (NCMPAs);
- Special Areas of Conservation (SACs);
- Special Protection Areas (SPAs);
- Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI); and
- Ramsar sites.
2.2.2 In addition, there is one Demonstration and Research MPA (D&R MPA), eight Historic MPAs (HMPAs), and five Other Area Based Measures (OABMs) recognised as part of the Scottish MPA network. OABMs contribute to the protection of biodiversity but were not set up specifically for this purpose (e.g. fisheries restrictions).
2.2.3 Scotland's existing MPA network has been developed to conserve a representative range of species and habitats in Scotland's waters. Conservation objectives are set for each MPA in order to conserve or recover listed features. There is a presumption for sustainable use of MPAs, meaning that activities can continue, providing they do not hinder achievement of the conservation objectives for a site.
2.2.4 NatureScot is responsible for providing advice on MPAs in Scottish inshore waters, while the JNCC advise on possible designations in offshore waters.
2.2.5 Given the twin biodiversity and climate crises, implementing HPMAs as an added component within the Scottish MPA network will help to support the recovery and resilience of Scotland's seas.
2.2.6 HPMAs will be selected in a way that complements and adds value to the existing MPA network
2.2.7 HPMAs may overlap either fully or partially with some existing MPAs in order to maximise the conservation benefits associated with stricter management approaches in a particular geographic location. HPMAs may also be located outside the current MPA network.
2.3 Development of Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines
2.3.1 Marine Scotland has developed a Policy Framework to guide the selection, assessment and designation of HPMAs. This sets out the aim of HPMAs and how sites are selected, how socio-economic impacts will be considered and mitigated, and how stakeholders will be involved.
2.3.2 NatureScot and the JNCC have jointly developed the Site Selection Guidelines for HPMAs. The application of the Site Selection Guidelines will aim to explore the potential contribution an area could make towards achieving the aims of HPMAs. The process is driven by the presence of specific functions and resources of significance to Scotland's seas and looks to optimise ecological, social and cultural benefits whilst minimising significant impacts where possible.
2.3.3 HPMAs will have strict limits on human activities in place to allow the protection and recovery of marine ecosystems. There will be activities which will not be allowed within HPMAs and activities which will be allowed within HPMAs at non-damaging levels.
2.3.4 The policy framework and accompanying site selection guidelines as a whole are intended to apply to both Scottish inshore waters (0-12 nautical miles from the coast) and Scottish offshore waters (beyond 12 nautical miles). The selection and designation of HPMAs in offshore waters is subject to the prior transfer of relevant powers by the UK Government to Scottish Ministers. Some of the marine activities, which take place in Scottish inshore and offshore waters, relate to matters which are currently reserved to the UK Government, i.e. are not in the competence of the Scottish Parliament. The prohibition or management of these reserved activities will be subject to agreement with the UK Government. The Scottish Government will work closely with the UK Government to realise their vision for HPMAs in relation to offshore waters and reserved matters.
2.3.5 There are some damaging activities associated with essential/lifeline services which will need to go ahead within HPMAs, and the legal powers that are being sought to designate and protect HPMAs will need to provide for these activities to go ahead where absolutely necessary. There will be a need to be able to distinguish between unplanned activities (such as anchoring in an emergency or oil spill response) and planned activities (such as construction of critical infrastructure). Consideration of what the designation of HPMAs will mean for different activities and sectors are set out in the Policy Framework document that has been published for consultation at the same time as this Environmental Report.
2.3.6 There will be some areas where HPMAs will not be selected because it will not be feasible to remove or relocate existing activities or infrastructure which are not compatible with HPMA status. These include areas earmarked for renewable developments (such as ScotWind option agreement areas and Offshore Wind for Innovation and Targeted Oil and Gas Decarbonisation (INTOG) areas) and associated cable routes where they are known, existing active renewables and oil and gas infrastructure, existing ports and harbours, and some areas where defence activities are carried out.
2.3.7 HPMAs will be developed using best available evidence, and involving stakeholders. Socio-economic factors alongside ecological data will also be considered as part of the site selection process.
2.4 Finalisation and adoption of Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines
2.4.1 The draft Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines has been developed with input from stakeholders and are now subject to a formal consultation period together with this Environmental Report. Following this, the documents will be finalised and published.
2.4.2 NatureScot, JNCC and Marine Scotland will then work with stakeholders to apply the Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines to identify a suite of HPMA proposals for consideration by Scottish Ministers. Stakeholders will also be given the opportunity to propose areas for consideration as HPMAs through third party site proposals. A final public consultation on the proposed locations for HPMAs will be then be held, expected to be in 2025.
2.5 Policy context overview of proposals for HPMAs
2.5.1 The 2005 Act requires Responsible Authorities to define the plan's broader policy context, particularly any relevant environmental protection objectives that will influence the plan's development and implementation.
2.5.2 The immediate policy context for the development of the Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines for HPMAs is described in Sections 2.1 to 2.4. This policy context is illustrated in Figure 1. Appendix A includes a detailed review of the broader policy context in which the Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines sit, beginning with a summary of relevant marine policies and followed by an overview of policies relating to the SEA topics that have been scoped into the assessment: Biodiversity, Flora and Fauna; Soil (assessed under Biodiversity, Flora and Fauna); Water (assessed under Biodiversity, Flora and Fauna); and Climatic Factors (assessed under Biodiversity, Flora and Fauna) (Section 3.3).
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