Scotland's National Marine Plan

This Plan covers the management of both Scottish inshore waters (out to 12 nautical miles) and offshore

waters (12 to 200 nautical miles). It also applies to the exercise of both reserved and

devolved functions.

12. Recreation and Tourism

Objectives and policies for this sector should be read subject to those set out in Chapters 3 and 4 of this Plan. It is recognised that not all the objectives can necessarily be achieved directly through the marine planning system, but they are considered important context for planning and decision making.



Economic Social

Position Scotland as a world-class sustainable coastal and marine tourism and recreation destination through the sustainable development of coastal and marine recreation activities and industries in Scotland.


Economic Social Marine Ecosystem

Protection and enhancement of the unique natural resources which attract visitors and which are relied upon for recreational activities.


Economic Social

Promote diversification of the recreation and tourism sector to increase the value of assets in rural towns.


Economic Social

Continued and improved access to marine and coastal resources for leisure activities and recreational use.


Economic Social

Sustainable improvement of existing, and sustainable development of new facilities, encouraging the sharing of facilities and supporting infrastructure.



Improved data on marine and coastal recreational activities, including key recreation resources and access points, enabling better targeted and long-term planning for these activities.


Economic Social

Participation in a range of waterborne recreational activities that support participation and sport development, encourage an appreciation of the environment in which they take place, contribute to life skills and support a healthier nation and increase economic benefit.


Social Marine Ecosystem

Improved education and understanding of the marine environment for recreational users, including how to enjoy the resource responsibly in accordance with the Marine Wildlife Watching Code [123] and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code [124] .

Key references

VisitScotland, Tourism Development Framework for Scotland

Scottish Tourism Alliance,Tourism Scotland 2020

Event Scotland, Scotland the Perfect Stage: A Strategy for the Events Industry in Scotland 2009-2020

National Planning Framework 3 (NPF3)

Scottish Planning Policy

Scotland's Marine Atlas: Information for the National Marine Plan. Chapter 5: Leisure and Recreation. Pages 154-155.

National Marine Plan interactive ( NMPi). Productive/Leisure and Recreation section.

Part 1: Background and context

12.1 Scotland's marine and coastal areas support a range of recreational, sporting and visitor activities, ranging from coastal walking to international sporting events. Our rich cultural and natural heritage provides a range of opportunities for tourism based on local food and drink, sport and recreation, wildlife watching and historic attractions. Leisure, recreation and tourism encompass a wide range of interests and industries, many of which are complementary.

12.2 Marine recreation and tourism activity is widely distributed around the coast and ranges from individual, social and club participation to competitive events and commercial ventures. Much of this activity takes advantage of some of the most attractive coastal scenery and most varied and demanding marine conditions in the world, offering conditions for a range of activities and abilities, making it important to ensure these qualities are maintained and enhanced.

12.3 There is a need to improve data relating to the coastal and marine tourism and recreation sector in Scotland. Marine Scotland is undertaking a study on the value of the sector and will collate new data on participation levels and important areas to assist with marine planning. Based on existing data some of the most popular recreational activities are set out in the table shown [125] .


Key Areas

Recreational sea angling

Dumfries and Galloway, Argyll, north east coast and Orkney Islands.


Clyde estuary, west coast and islands, Shetland and Orkney Islands.


West coast and islands.

Wildlife watching

Highlands, Islands, Moray Firth, north east coast, east coast, west coast, Firth of Forth.


Orkney Islands, Sound of Mull & Argyll, St. Abbs & Eyemouth, north west coast, the Moray Firth, sea lochs of the west coast.


West coast, Hebrides, Sutherland and Caithness coasts, Orkney Islands, east coast.


Tiree, Firth of Clyde: Ayrshire coastline, Firth of Forth: Fife coastline.

Personal watercraft

Firths and near shore areas.

Kite sports

Aberdeen and north east coastline, Troon, St. Andrews and Tiree.

Coastal walks

Multiple areas around the coast and islands.


Key ports for visiting cruise liners include: Greenock; Leith; Rosyth; Queensferry; Kirkwall; Invergordon; Oban and Lerwick.

Part 2: Key issues for marine planning


12.4 Marine recreation and tourism contribute to Scotland's coastal, island and rural communities. The Government Economic Strategy has identified sustainable tourism as a growth sector, indicating it has major potential for future economic development. The VisitScotland National Tourism Development Framework for Scotland, which is wholly aligned to the industry-led strategy 'Tourism Scotland 2020', has been prepared to assist and promote growth in Scotland's visitor economy to 2020. The Framework sets out actions and provides guidance to help co-ordinate future development in the visitor economy which should be followed by marine planners and decision makers.

12.5 Many social benefits are closely linked to the economic return of marine recreational and tourism activities, and in some cases community regeneration has been focused on developments, such as marinas. There are clear health, wellbeing and social benefits to encouraging participation in outdoor activities and it is important to recognise the advantages to society that extend beyond the considerable economic benefits derived from them. This includes an extensive sporting network, with Scotland having national and international success in many marine sports.

12.6 Marine planning can support sustainable development of marine recreation and tourism by ensuring facilities and access [126] to coastal and intertidal areas are protected or improved, whilst ensuring any development or activity is sensitive to the marine environment. An aligned approach between terrestrial and marine planning is also necessary to facilitate the provision of appropriate coastal infrastructure required by a range of activities and facilitate shared use of such infrastructure for example: car parking, toilets, jetties, piers, slipways and marinas.

12.7 Recreation and tourism related activities which occur over relatively large areas, such as sailing, may benefit from strategic planning, taking specific regional, or even trans-national markets into account to realise their full economic potential.

12.8 Some key activities which can be facilitated by marine planning include:

12.9 Recreational sea angling: Activity is distributed around the coast, although participation numbers vary. Sea anglers often travel some distance to fish, bringing revenue to local areas. Participation and catches have declined in recent decades: recovery of the sport and significant economic return could be facilitated by a greater understanding of catches, identifying areas/stocks which can support increased angling effort, encouraging uptake of the sport at a grass roots level and promoting best practice amongst sea anglers. Better engagement at a local level could help to address spatial competition between sea anglers and commercial fishermen. The repair of facilities such as jetties and piers which have fallen into disrepair could also support growth of the sector.

12.10 Sailing: Scotland's scenic sailing waters attract visitors from all over the world with the west coast of Scotland widely acknowledged to have some of Europe's best sailing. Sailing tourism plays a role in contributing to Scotland's economy and can generate income for remote rural areas. Industry projections [127] for the future indicate that development required to meet demands should take place on:

  • The Clyde and the west coast - the main focus of development with an emphasis on the creation of strategic berthing hubs/clusters to provide for visitor markets and benefit rural areas.
  • The north - more modest levels of development needed with an emphasis on the creation of a string of visitor hubs to encourage sailing itineraries and attract visiting boats from both Scotland and elsewhere.
  • The east coast - whilst developments will be primarily influenced by the local Scottish domestic market, recent developments mean that it is now as well served as any part of the Scottish coastline with the development of new marinas and improvements to existing harbours. Continued development and provision of facilities in these areas could help to further attract visitors sailing up from north east of England and across the North Sea.

12.11 Sporting events: Scotland has hosted many regional, national and internationally recognised marine sporting events of economic importance to local areas in recent years [128] . Recognition of unique qualities, areas of recreational value and opportunities for bespoke activities in regional marine plans could help to attract sporting events to Scotland.

12.12 Kayaking: Scotland is one of Europe's finest destinations for sea kayaking and kayak surfing which is becoming more popular. Participation in these activities increased significantly in the 2000s. Participants prefer an unspoilt marine environment and generally need little in the way of support facilities apart from car parking close to launch sites and access to beaches or foreshore.

12.13 Wildlife watching: Marine wildlife watching is a popular activity in Scotland. Marine wildlife tourism is emerging as a significant sector focusing on whales, dolphins, seals, basking sharks, seabirds, coastlines and seascapes. Access to harbour facilities/quaysides may be beneficial. There is also significant potential for Scotland to become a centre of excellence in training for wildlife guides.

12.14 Diving: Wreck sites and underwater geology, habitats and wildlife are key attractions for scuba divers. Established dive sites attract thousands of divers over a season. Access to harbour areas with charter boats and car parking are required; freshwater taps and other shared on-shore support facilities can also be beneficial in widening the appeal of an area to other tourism and recreation sectors.

12.15 Surfing/windsurfing: Scotland possesses a number of very high quality surfing breaks and excellent open water conditions including international competition sites such as Tiree and Thurso. Again, close shore access to car parks and shared onshore support facilities is required.

12.16 Heritage tourism: Historic buildings around the Scottish coast, maritime museums, historic ships and festivals of the sea enhance the distinctiveness of coastal areas and play an important role in sustaining Scotland's remote and rural coastal and island communities.

12.17 Kite sports: Power kiting and kite buggying are developing sports in Scotland and rely on suitable wind resource and direction and a suitable distance from other activities in order to avoid disturbance.

12.18 Personal watercraft: Personal watercraft can operate in relatively shallow water, generally requiring trailer access to a slipway for launching and shore side facilities such as car parking. Again, close shore access to car parks and shared onshore support facilities are required. Speed restrictions on some popular inshore waterways may have led to displacement to coastal areas.

12.19 Coastal walking and cycling: The coast is highly valued by a large number of people for walking and cycling. A national long distance walking and cycling network has been identified as a National Development in NPF3. It will link recreational activities and key tourism locations around the coast, providing an important tourism asset. Aligned terrestrial and marine planning is required to ensure development of new coastal paths and access to the foreshore connects, where possible, with the national long distance route and that access to such routes is not prohibited. Developments which offer opportunities for shared infrastructure along these routes should be supported.

12.20 Cruise industry: Cruise tourism is a growing sector demonstrating strong potential to expand further, subject to the appropriate infrastructure being made available to accommodate larger ships. Development of port infrastructure for other commercial reasons, for example renewable energy, may offer these opportunities. Passenger ferries and boat tours play an important role in supporting the growth of this sector, providing visitors with key links between the mainland to the islands and attracting visitors with island-hopping breaks.

12.21 Open water swimming and snorkelling: Swimming and snorkelling take place in any body of water which is considered safe. Identification of areas when/where it is safe to enter water and key sites for snorkelling would help attract users whilst ensuring safety and reduce risk of interaction with other users.


12.22 The majority of waterborne recreation takes place near the shore and within approximately three nautical miles. As such, alignment of marine and terrestrial planning processes is necessary to ensure positive interactions. In particular areas of the marine environment there can be competition for space although studies suggest there are relatively few examples of direct conflict [129] . Where conflict does occur, it may be temporal and/or spatial in nature. In supporting sustainable growth of the marine recreation and tourism sector, marine planning can help to ensure that it co-exists with existing marine users and reduce conflict.

12.23 Key interactions of relevance to marine planning include:

12.24 Commercial fishing: Competition for target species can occur between recreational sea anglers and inshore fisheries. Marine planning can ensure better engagement between these sectors to help manage interactions.

12.25 Shipping: There are inter-sector interactions between recreational boats and cruise ships with the need to avoid commercial shipping lanes. There is also risk of interaction between some waterborne activities and shipping with a potential risk of collision.

12.26 Development: Access to water or the shoreline can be constrained by onshore coastal developments. However, such developments often offer positive interactions providing supporting facilities and infrastructure for the sector. Improvements to ports and harbours can also attract visitors.

12.27 CCS, Offshore Wind, Wave and Tidal Energy: Impacts of CCS and renewable energy devices on recreational activities are currently largely unknown. Concerns relate to potential exclusion of recreational pursuits from an area, risks to navigation from offshore installations and risks to access to shore from landfall infrastructure. Impacts on sea/landscape and perception of 'wildness' are also of concern [130] .


12.28 An unspoiled environment, high quality landscape and a sense of closeness to nature are important to many people. Scenery and environmental quality are key factors in attracting visitors to Scotland's coasts, with many of Scotland's beaches having received Blue Flag and Seaside Awards.

12.29 The quality of the recreational experience relies on having a healthy, safe and high quality environment. It is important to ensure these qualities are maintained and enhanced when considering the impact of developments and activities.

12.30 Some impacts on the environment can arise from recreational and tourism activities and the infrastructure required to support them. Impacts will vary in nature and extent as set out in Scotland's Marine Atlas: Information for the National Marine Plan.

12.31 Where codes of conduct and good practice exist for marine recreation and tourism activities these should be followed:

  • Installation of new pontoons, moorings, anchoring and chain damage can damage sensitive habitats and disturb upper layers of seabed sediment. In addition to licensing procedures, examples of good practice exist for co-existence and managing such impacts from moorings and anchoring [131] . Installation of artificial wrecks can also impact on habitats and species however, these are subject to licensing procedures which considers impacts.
  • In addition to commercial shipping, marine users and recreational boats, new pontoon developments can be responsible for introducing non-native invasive species, which may be difficult to eradicate. Guidance is available for producing site and operation-based biosecurity plans for preventing the introduction of non-native species [132] .
  • The Scottish Sea Angling Conservation Network issues good practice for recreational sea anglers on returning caught fish to manage removals of target species.


12.32 Climate change is likely to have a wide variety of impacts (positive and negative) on marine recreation and tourism. Rising temperatures and drier summers may encourage more outdoor recreation and elongate the tourist season; water quality issues may become more relevant for longer periods of the year and some activities such as windsurfing/surfing may be impacted by changing sea conditions.

12.33 Climate change could have adverse impacts on moorings and shore-side facilities which may require more resilient infrastructure, and more maintenance dredging may be required if sediment budgets change.

12.34 Coastal paths and coastal infrastructure may also become increasingly vulnerable to flooding and coastal erosion. As visitor numbers from tourists and recreational users increase, there could be a rise in emissions from cars and cruise ships. Measures such as encouraging visitors to use public transport and innovations in cleaner forms of transport and reductions in emissions will help in this area and support sustainable tourism.

Part 3: Marine planning and policies

Economic REC & TOURISM 1: Opportunities to promote sustainable development of marine recreation and tourism should be supported.

Economic Social Marine Ecosystem REC & TOURISM 2: The following key factors should be taken into account when deciding on uses of the marine environment and the potential impact on recreation and tourism:

  • The extent to which the proposal is likely to adversely affect the qualities important to recreational users, including the extent to which proposals may interfere with the physical infrastructure that underpins a recreational activity.
  • The extent to which any proposal interferes with access to and along the shore, to the water, use of the resource for recreation or tourism purposes and existing navigational routes or navigational safety.
  • Where significant impacts are likely, whether reasonable alternatives can be identified for the proposed activity or development.
  • Where significant impacts are likely and there are no reasonable alternatives, whether mitigation, through recognised and effective measures, can be achieved at no significant cost to the marine leisure or tourism sector interests.

Economic Social REC & TOURISM 3: Regional marine plans should identify areas that are of recreational and tourism value and identify where prospects for significant development exist, including opportunities to link to the National Long Distance Walking and Cycle Routes, and more localised and/or bespoke recreational opportunities and visitor attractions.

Economic Social REC & TOURISM 4: Marine and terrestrial planners, marine decision makers and developers should give consideration to the facility requirements of marine recreation and tourism activities, including a focus on support for participation and development in sport. Co-operation and sharing infrastructure and/or facilities, where appropriate, with complementary sectors should be supported.

Marine Ecosystem REC & TOURISM 5: Marine planners and decision makers should support enhancement to the aesthetic qualities, coastal character and wildlife experience of Scotland's marine and coastal areas, to the mutual benefit of the natural environment, human quality of life and the recreation and tourism sectors.

Economic Social Marine Ecosystem REC & TOURISM 6: Codes of practice for invasive non-native species [133] and Marine Wildlife Watching should be complied with.

Regional policy: Regional marine plans should consider:

  • Identifying thematic links to other regions and acknowledging the different methods of travel across Scotland, e.g. Great Glen route. [134]
  • Identifying important areas for protection, provisions and improvements to access and facilities to support the sector.
  • Promoting/ensuring better engagement between sectors and other marine users, e.g. Inshore Fisheries Groups and sea anglers.
  • Aligning with Tourism Development Areas within Local Development Plans and promote marine based development strategies.
  • Promoting education and the use of codes of conduct and good practice guidance, including signage.
  • Supporting sustainable tourism including sustainable transport and green tourism.

Part 4: The future

12.35 The growth of the marine recreation and tourism sector is dependent on a greater focus on co-ordination, engagement and investment in infrastructure which are supported by this Plan. There are also a number of initiatives which may further grow this in the future:

  • Sailing tourism development strategies identifying geographic and development priorities such as berthing for local, home and visiting markets would support further sustainable development of the sector.
  • There is a need for full understanding of the marine and coastal recreation and tourism sector including any potential for sustainable development of the sector. Research on the value of marine recreation and tourism in Scotland will aim to identify key areas and requirements for different marine and coastal recreational and tourism activities to allow for better consideration in marine planning.
  • Development of a strategy for Recreational Sea Angling that could assess the potential and capacity for increased participation.
  • Recreational boating will be supported by sportscotland, working with the industry to strategically plan for facility needs over the next 12 years.


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