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.

3. Vision, Objectives and Approach to Policies

Our vision for the marine environment is:

Clean, healthy, safe, productive and diverse seas; managed to meet the long-term needs of nature and people.

3.1 The Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 requires that marine plans set economic, social and marine ecosystem objectives and objectives relating to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change. Plans must also state policies for, and in connection with, the sustainable development of the area to which the plan applies.


3.2 One of the core aims of marine planning is to manage human impact on the marine environment. Marine ecosystems provide a wide range of goods and services which are essential to our daily lives (Box A) and marine planning seeks to ensure that human impact on the marine environment is managed to ensure that marine ecosystems continue to provide these services.

3.3 Whilst this principle is broadly accepted, the current state of knowledge about many aspects of the structure and functioning of marine ecosystems limits how this principle can be translated into definitive planning policies.

3.4 Therefore this Plan promotes an ecosystem approach [17] , putting the marine environment at the heart of the planning process to promote ecosystem health, resilience to human induced change and the ability to support sustainable development and use. This Plan adopts the guiding principles of sustainable development, which also ensures that any individual policy, plan or activity is carried out within environmental limits.


3.5 The vision for the marine environment is underpinned by a series of strategic objectives which are set out in this section of the Plan (Box B and Box C) and apply to both inshore and offshore waters. These strategic objectives seek to integrate both the ecosystem approach and the guiding principles of sustainable development to deliver a robust approach to managing human impact on Scotland's seas.

3.6 The ecosystem approach is reflected in the adoption as strategic objectives of the 11 descriptors of Good Environmental Status (Box B), set out in the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. These 11 Descriptors represent an attempt to identify the key aspects of ecosystem structure and function, with relevant targets and indicators being set in conjunction with neighbouring states at the broad scale of the Celtic Seas and the Greater North Sea.

3.7 The adoption of the High Level Marine Objectives (Box C) as strategic objectives reflects the Plan's commitment to the five guiding principles of sustainable development, with the General Policies being organised under these principles.

3.8 In addition to the strategic objectives set out in this Chapter, each sector chapter contains a number of objectives specific to that marine sector. These objectives mainly focus on the promotion of sustainable economic growth of the relevant sector and are an important context for planning and decision making. However it should be noted that, as with the content of the Plan overall, these are subject to the strategic objectives set out in this Chapter and General Policies set out in Chapter 4.

3.9 The Plan identifies where sectoral objectives and policies support strategic objectives by using the following symbols:





Marine Ecosystem

Marine Ecosystem

Climate Change

Climate Change


3.10 This Plan adopts the approach of stipulating a set of General Policies ( Chapter 4) which apply across all development and use of the marine environment. These General Policies are intended to represent the parameters against which the sustainability of development and other use is considered; and to ensure this is undertaken in a manner which is sensitive to the protection and enhancement of the environment, the needs of other users and the long-term health of the resource.

3.11 The policies contained in the sector chapters are therefore subject to the General Policies and have been derived by considering key issues for the sector regarding supporting economically productive activities; interactions with other users; living within environmental limits; and climate change. More detail is available in Chapter 5.

3.12 The objectives and policies contained within this Plan set out a framework intended to ensure activity is managed to move forward from the current position towards the vision for the marine environment.

Current position

3.13 An assessment of the condition of Scotland's seas is provided by Scotland's Marine Atlas: Information for the National Marine Plan. The Marine Atlas includes an economic assessment and a summary of pressures and human impacts relating to activities in Scottish waters (Box D). Where marine planning offers an appropriate tool, planning policies have been developed in response to the assessment with the aim of protecting the health and biodiversity of, and increasing the economic prosperity derived from, Scottish seas.

3.14 NMPi contains data published in the Marine Atlas in GIS format and is updated where relevant. The maps within this document are also available as layers on NMPi.

Resolving potential competition and conflict

3.15 This Plan provides guidance on resolving potential competition and conflict by:

  • Emphasising the requirement for sustainable development and use - as encapsulated by the General Policies set out in Chapter 4.
  • Incorporating and giving statutory weight to spatial outputs of planning policy on marine renewables development (see Renewables 1).
  • Giving more general spatial guidance where possible - e.g. in relation to aquaculture development and lifeline ferry routes.
  • Emphasising the need for informed consultation and adaptive management.
  • Detailing factors which should be taken into account in relation to each of the sectors covered in the Plan ( Chapters 6-16).

The future

3.16 In the future, marine planning will be improved by greater understanding of:

  • The species, habitats and functions which are particularly important to maintain to ensure ecosystem health and continued delivery of ecosystem services.
  • The impacts of decision making on ecosystems and the services they provide.
  • The spatial scale at which key ecosystem processes occur and how these relate to the services they provide.
  • Whether there are 'tipping' points within ecosystems beyond which they cannot recover and continue to provide services.
  • Further information on the effectiveness of management measures and planning policies.

3.17 In the absence of such information it is important that plans adopt an 'adaptive management' [18] approach, responding to information collected from environmental and other monitoring.

Guide for Regional Planners

3.18 Regional marine plans must be in conformity with this Plan, unless relevant considerations indicate otherwise. Throughout this Plan, there are sections and policies which provide particular guidance to Marine Planning Partnerships on developing regional plans.

3.19 It should be noted that these regional sections and policies are for consideration by Marine Planning Partnerships as they develop their regional plans. The precise approach and coverage of the regional plan will be for these Partnerships to determine based on local priorities and taking account of existing partnerships, methodologies and alignment with other local plans.

3.20 In relation to this chapter, regional planners should consider the need for:

  • Better understanding of the current position and the vision for their area.
  • Local strategic and sectoral objectives.
  • Understanding local opportunities and challenges in terms of sustainable development and use and the need to manage conflict.
  • Deriving general and specific policies which align with those in this Plan and the Marine Policy Statement, but are sensitive to local circumstances.
  • Further research to understand the local ecosystem and the impacts and pressures upon it.
  • Consistency with local and strategic development plans and other relevant local plans.

Box A: Ecosystem Goods and Services

There is growing understanding and evidence of the value of the benefits (referred to as goods and services) that ecosystems [19] deliver to society.

Ecosystem goods and services, with examples from marine and coastal margin environments, include:

Provisioning services - goods obtained from ecosystems. This includes food from finfish and shellfish, seaweed fertiliser, wave and tidal energy, pharmaceutical products and tourism revenue.

Supporting services - those which provide the basic infrastructure of life and upon which other ecosystems depend, e.g. primary production - capture of energy from the sun and soil and sediment formation and nutrient cycling.

Regulating services - these include pollution regulation through waste breakdown, detoxification and climate regulation.

Cultural services/non-material benefits - the non-material benefits people obtain from ecosystems. These are derived from a setting and outdoor education, recreation, health, fitness and wellbeing, as well as historical and cultural heritage.

The National Ecosystem Assessment's [20] key findings for Scotland identify that provisioning services have a particularly high economic value, but that exploitation has had significant impacts on biodiversity with declining capabilities of all ecosystems to support sustained use. It also found that regulating services such as climate regulation through carbon sinks and climate regulation of Scotland's land areas are of significant importance to the economy.

While our knowledge of ecosystem processes, functioning, interactions and how these provide goods and services is still elementary, it is clear that activities which impact on them may affect the future level of goods and services which can be provided and exploited.

Box B: Strategic Objectives

Marine Strategy Framework Directive: Good Environmental Status Descriptors

Good environmental status descriptors [21]

  • Biological diversity is maintained. The quality and occurrence of habitats and the distribution and abundance of species are in line with prevailing physiographic, geographic and climatic conditions. ( GES 1)
  • Non-indigenous species introduced by human activities are at levels that do not adversely alter the ecosystems. ( GES 2)
  • Populations of all commercially exploited fish and shellfish are within safe biological limits, exhibiting a population age and size distribution that is indicative of a healthy stock. ( GES 3)
  • All elements of the marine food webs, to the extent that they are known, occur at normal abundance and diversity and levels capable of ensuring the long-term abundance of the species and the retention of their full reproductive capacity. ( GES 4)
  • Human-induced eutrophication is minimised, especially adverse effects thereof, such as losses in biodiversity, ecosystem degradation, harmful algal blooms and oxygen deficiency in bottom waters. ( GES 5)
  • Sea-floor integrity is at a level that ensures that the structure and functions of the ecosystems are safeguarded and benthic ecosystems, in particular, are not adversely affected. ( GES 6)
  • Permanent alteration of hydrographical conditions does not adversely affect marine ecosystems. ( GES 7)
  • Concentrations of contaminants are at levels not giving rise to pollution effects. ( GES 8)
  • Contaminants in fish and other seafood for human consumption do not exceed levels established by Community legislation or other relevant standards. ( GES 9)
  • Properties and quantities of marine litter do not cause harm to the coastal and marine environment. ( GES 10)
  • Introduction of energy, including underwater noise, is at levels that do not adversely affect the marine environment. ( GES 11)

Box C: Strategic Objectives

High-level Marine Objectives [22]

Achieving a sustainable marine economy

  • Infrastructure is in place to support and promote safe, profitable and efficient marine businesses. ( HLMO 1)
  • The marine environment and its resources are used to maximise sustainable activity, prosperity and opportunities for all, now and in the future. ( HLMO 2)
  • Marine businesses are taking long-term strategic decisions and managing risks effectively. They are competitive and operating efficiently. ( HLMO 3)
  • Marine businesses are acting in a way which respects environmental limits and is socially responsible. This is rewarded in the marketplace. ( HLMO 4)

Ensuring a strong, healthy and just society

People appreciate the diversity of the marine environment, its seascapes, its natural and cultural heritage and its resources and act responsibly. ( HLMO 5)

The use of the marine environment is benefiting society as a whole, contributing to resilient and cohesive communities that can adapt to coastal erosion and flood risk, as well as contributing to physical and mental wellbeing. ( HLMO 6)

The coast, seas, oceans and their resources are safe to use. ( HLMO 7)

The marine environment plays an important role in mitigating climate change. ( HLMO 8)

There is equitable access for those who want to use and enjoy the coast, seas and their wide range of resources and assets, and recognition that for some island and peripheral communities the sea plays a significant role in their community. ( HLMO 9)

Use of the marine environment will recognise, and integrate with, defence priorities, including the strengthening of international peace and stability and the defence of the United Kingdom and its interests. ( HLMO 10)

Living within environmental limits

  • Biodiversity is protected, conserved and, where appropriate, recovered, and loss has been halted. ( HLMO 11)
  • Healthy marine and coastal habitats occur across their natural range and are able to support strong, biodiverse biological communities and the functioning of healthy, resilient and adaptable marine ecosystems. ( HLMO 12)
  • Our oceans support viable populations of representative, rare, vulnerable and valued species. ( HLMO 13)

Promoting good governance

  • All those who have a stake in the marine environment have an input into associated decision making. ( HLMO 14)
  • Marine, land and water management mechanisms are responsive and work effectively together for example through integrated coastal zone management and river basin management plans. ( HLMO 15)
  • Marine management in the UK takes account of different management systems that are in place because of administrative, political or international boundaries. ( HLMO 16)
  • Marine businesses are subject to clear, timely, proportionate and, where appropriate, plan-led regulation. ( HLMO 17)
  • The use of the marine environment is spatially planned where appropriate and based on an ecosystems approach which takes account of climate change and recognises the protection and management needs of marine cultural heritage according to its significance. ( HLMO 18)

Using sound science responsibly

  • Our understanding of the marine environment continues to develop through new scientific and socio-economic research and data collection. ( HLMO 19)
  • Sound evidence and monitoring underpins effective marine management and policy development. ( HLMO 20)
  • The precautionary principle is applied consistently in accordance with the UK Government and Devolved Administrations' sustainable development policy. ( HLMO 21)

Box D: Scotland's Marine Atlas: Information for the National Marine Plan

The following is a summary of the overall assessment of Scotland's Marine Atlas: information for the National Marine Plan.

Significant pressures in the marine environment

Two significant pressures are widespread: human activity contributing to climate change and fishing which impacts on the seabed and species. Various types of fishing each
exert a different pressure on different components of the marine environment. For example bottom trawlers and scallop dredgers may damage the seabed while pelagic trawling gear does not normally do so.

Impacts of pressures such as marine litter and noise are not well understood. Other pressures may change in scale and location in the future, for example those associated with offshore oil and gas as new fields are discovered and others are decommissioned. New pressures are likely to include those associated with the storage of carbon dioxide and renewable energy.

Clean and safe

Our seas are mainly clean and although there are some localised areas where there is contamination or hazards to human health. For example, sediments in some harbours and estuaries remain contaminated by historical industrial discharges. Forth and Clyde estuaries are compromised by industrial effluent and treated sewage [23] , although effluent treatment has improved resulting in returning populations of residential and migratory fish.

Healthy and biologically diverse

Assessment of the range of habitat types and key species groups, their distribution and characteristics in Scotland's seas indicate:

  • Certain habitats have been impacted, largely from the effects of fishing over large areas of the seabed and more localised impacts from activities such as aquaculture.
  • Low abundance of some demersal commercial fish species on the west coast is a major concern and is being addressed through various initiatives.
  • Sharks, skates and rays are severely depleted (although sightings of basking sharks have increased), largely as result of historical unsustainable catches and their long lived, low fecundity life cycle.
  • Populations of some seabirds, harbour seals and some fish species have declined, possibly because of climate change, human activities and competition from other species.
  • There are no specific concerns regarding whales and dolphins, although there are high levels of uncertainty in assessing this.


Analysis of economic and spatial information about human activities in our seas, both for the core marine sector ( i.e. industries which predominantly rely on the sea to generate their output) and for a number of other sectors benefiting from the sea indicates:

  • The core marine sector, less the extraction of oil and gas, contributed £4.4 billion of Gross Value Added in 2011; oil and gas extraction had a GVA of approximately £19.7 billion [24] ; and approximately 44,600 people were employed in the core marine sector in 2011.
  • Fishing takes place in all sea areas, but some are more economically productive than others. Aquaculture predominates on the west coast and the islands.
  • Sixteen major ports handle about 98% of all port traffic. Significant shipping activity includes transit through Scottish waters, arrival at ports and ferry activity.
  • The potential of renewable energy generation from offshore wind, waves and tides has started to be realised. There is potential for 'carbon capture and storage' schemes under the seabed.
  • Other activities include water abstraction for power stations, disposal of treated waste water and industrial effluent, telecommunications cables, recreation and tourism including marine sports and natural/cultural heritage tourism.


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