Scotland's Marine Atlas: Information for The National Marine Plan

Scotland's Marine Atlas is an assessment of the condition of Scotland's seas, based on scientific evidence from data and analysis and supported by expert judgement.


What, why and where?

Marine leisure and recreational activities range from informal walking along a beach or coastal path, to professional participation in extreme water sports. This range of activities contributes to wider tourism.

Sailing in Scotland is concentrated in the Clyde and along the west coast, although new marina facilities have recently created opportunities for cruising around the Northern Isles. Surfing and windsurfing take particular advantage of the Atlantic waves breaking off the Inner Hebrides but surfing is also popular on the east coast.

Diving on wrecks or offshore reefs is an important recreational activity in Orkney and along the Berwickshire coast. Canoeing and kayaking take place around sea lochs and in coastal areas, especially on the west coast, while inland canals provide transit routes between coastal areas.

Sea angling is carried out from most regions of the Scottish coastline. A wide range of species are caught including cod, tope, bass, rays, pollack, mackerel and spurdog. Species caught vary from region to region and at different times of the year. Information about the capture of 'salmon and sea trout' is covered in a separate part of the Atlas.

Coastal and marine wildlife tourism attracts visitors to view, study and/or enjoy wildlife on the coast. This includes viewing birds, mammals and coastal habitats from boats or from land vantage points with a strong emphasis on cliff nesting seabirds or seals at haul-out sites. Marine wildlife tourism specialist operators provide access to offshore areas and certain marine species, for example, dolphins, porpoises, basking sharks and seals.

In the 2010 bathing season, there were 82 designated bathing waters, of which 78 met EU water quality standards. Seven Scottish beaches attained Blue Flag status and a further 56 received Seaside Award status. Monitoring results of designated bathing waters is covered in Chapter 3.

Contribution to the economy

Marine-related leisure and recreation make a particular contribution to the Scottish rural economy, especially on the west coast, the Hebrides and the Northern Isles. The ABI does not categorise this activity separately so other sources are used to obtain economic figures for this atlas. These sources do not collect data based on the atlas sea areas and, being drawn from a variety of studies, are approximate and may include an element of double counting.

Marine leisure

The British Marine Federation calculates that the marine leisure industry (boat building, specialised equipment manufacture, sales, training, insurance services, finance and a wide range of waterborne recreational pursuits) directly supports around 1,800 full time equivalent ( FTE) jobs in Scotland through the provision of specialist services through boatyards, marinas and associated chandlery. Pre-2008 figures indicate a significant upwards trend in the development of the industry. The general economic decline has affected some aspects of the marine leisure industry but, on the whole, it is sustained by a strong local market.

Trend in value of Scottish marine leisure industry

Trend in value of Scottish marine leisure industry
Source: British Marine Federation (1)

Trend in FTE jobs

Trend in FTE jobs
Source: British Marine Federation (1)

Sailing area value and berth numbers

Sailing Tourism study regions


% of total available berthing

No. of pontoons

No. of moorings

Scottish sea areas included


(Gairloch - Helmsdale - Peterhead, Orkney & Shetland)

£7.9 M




North Scotland Coast
West Shetland
East Shetland
Moray Firth


(Peterhead - Fife Ness - Berwick)

£10.1 M




East Scotland
Coast Forth


(Clyde Estuary & Solway)

£44 M




Clyde, Solway Firth,
North Channel


(Argyll, Ardnamurchan - Gairloch & Outer Hebrides)

£39 M




Minches & Malin sea






Source: Sailing Tourism in Scotland (2)
Note: excludes offshore areas Fladen, Forties, Rockall, Bailey, Faroe Shetland Channel

Largs Yacht Haven

Largs Yacht Haven
Source: British Marine Federation (1)






RYA cruising routes and sailing areas, marinas and Scottish Boating Alliance regions

RYA cruising routes and sailing areas, marinas and Scottish Boating Alliance regions

Recreational sea angling

A survey carried out for the Scottish Government in 2009 (3) estimated that recreational sea angling generated £140.9 million for the Scottish economy and supported 3,148 FTE jobs.

Dive tourism

Dive tourism is important to the local economies of Orkney and the Berwickshire coastline with the wrecks of the German High Seas Fleet at Scapa Flow and the underwater biological diversity of the Voluntary Marine Reserve off St. Abbs Head and Eyemouth attracting thousands of participants. Data collated by Scottish Enterprise Borders ( SEB) in 2007 (4) estimated that 25,000 divers visited the two Berwickshire sites and contributed £3.7 million to the local economy. The SEB data suggest that the activity supports 81.7 FTEs in the Scottish Borders area and has a GVA of £1.5 million per annum.

Coastal and marine wildlife - east coast dolphins

A Moray Firth Partnership study in 2009 (6) detailed that the total direct expenditure related to the presence of a pod of bottlenose dolphins on the east coast of Scotland was at least £5 million, providing around 202 FTE jobs.

Pressures and impacts on Scotland's socio-economics


  • Contributes to a healthier nation
  • Employment (may be seasonal), often in peripheral locations where employment opportunities may be limited
  • Underpins longer-term jobs in equipment development and manufacture, marinas and customer service industries
  • Major events (e.g. West Highland Week and Tiree Wave Classic) give coastal communities a distinct and global profile
  • Improved access to coast possibly attracting more tourists/visitors


  • Variable seasonal employment in peripheral coastal communities could have negative impacts compared with a stable and broader based set of industries
  • Sector can be vulnerable to economic downturns
  • Activities can compete for space in certain areas at certain times, causing disturbance and, occasionally conflict

Source: Based on CP2 PSEG Feeder Report section 3.6.6 (7) and UK Marine Policy Statement (8)

Income, expenditure and employment in Scotland's wildlifetourism

Economic impact of wildlife tourism in Scotland



( FTE)

















Source: The Economic Impact of Wildlife Tourism in Scotland (5)

Pressures and impacts on the environment

Pressure theme: Other physical pressures
Pressure: Litter
Impact: Including plastic, polystyrene, rubber, metals and glass. Can impact through ingestion, entanglement and smothering.

Pressure theme: Habitat changes
Pressure: Physical disturbance of seabed strata
Impact: Causes alterations to local benthic habitat including trampling and smothering.

Pressure: Coastal erosion and increase in suspended sediments
Impact: Particularly of soft sediment features and an increase in suspended sediments caused by scouring from boat wash or wake.

Pressure theme: Biological pressures
Pressure: Marine wildlife disturbance (visual and acoustic)
Impact: Can stop animals feeding, resting, travelling or socialising, with possible long term effects including changes to reproductive success, weight and condition.

Pressure: Sewage discharge from boats
Impact: Possible human health problems and nutrient enrichment.

Pressure: Introduction of non-native species
Impact: Through fouling on boat hulls can result in contamination of water and sediments with biological impacts on biota.

Pressure: Removal of marine fauna and flora
Impact: Potential for reduction in fish stock species through angling. Possible entanglement of variety of species in lost tackle.

Source: Based on CP2 PSEG Feeder Report table 3.46- and UK Marine Policy Statement (8)

Seal watching on Arran

Seal watching on Arran

Forward look

Despite the recent downturn, the leisure and recreation sector could have the potential to play an increasingly important role in the Scottish economy. Demand for facilities for formal and informal activities remains on an upward trend, including a demand for new yachting berths in popular sailing and cruising areas. Good maintenance of slipways allows trailer boats and other craft access to the water.

Future targeted marketing campaigns, advertising Scotland's coastal environment and promoting investment in new facilities, could help to support this sector. The 2009 sea angling study (3), for example, identifies a significant potential for growth and other parts of the sector are confident that they will respond positively to a future upturn in economic conditions.

An integrated approach to the planning and management of leisure and recreational activities is required across the land-sea divide. Waterborne sports do not exist in isolation and require both terrestrial and marine planning to be successful. Equally, seascapes, when viewed from the land or afloat, are subject to positive and negative impacts from developments and use. The informality of many of the sector's activities is one of its major attractions but the freedom of where to sail or fish has sometimes been seen as a pressure point in the marine system. Much has been done to reduce conflicts, for example through Codes of Practice and education of those participating. In the event of further expansion of leisure and recreational activity, a review may be required to establish whether or not existing arrangements are sufficient to ensure that their use of the seas does not erode the very aspects that make the seas attractive for these purposes.

Moray Firth dolphin watching

Moray Firth dolphin watching

Estimated regional sea angling activity andexpenditure


No. of resident sea anglers

Annual sea angler days spent in region

Total annual sea angler expenditure (£M)

Argyll & Lochaber




Dumfries & Galloway




Glasgow & West




North East Scotland




Northern Scotland




Edinburgh, Fife & South East




Western Isles




Orkney & Shetland




Outwith Scotland








Source: Economic Impact of Recreational Sea Angling in Scotland (3)

Designated bathing waters, Seaside and Blue Flag award beaches and dive sites

Designated bathing waters, Seaside and Blue Flag award beaches and dive sites

Sea angling regions

Sea angling regions

Sea angling at North Berwick

Sea angling at North Berwick
© John M Baxter

Surfing locations

Surfing locations

Surfing world series event at Thurso

Surfing world series event at Thurso

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