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).

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 this 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 ( Annex 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 [27] , 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 Annex B 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 ( Annex 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 UK High Level Marine Objectives [28] ( Annex B) as strategic objectives reflects this 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 this Plan overall, these are subject to the strategic objectives set out in Annex B and the General Policies set out in Chapter 4.

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






Marine Ecosystem

Marine Ecosystem

Climate Change - Mitigation

Climate Change - Mitigation

Climate Change - Adaptation

Climate Change - Adaptation


3.10 This Plan stipulates a core set of General Policies ( Chapter 4) which apply across all existing and future development and use of the marine environment. These General Policies are intended to represent the characteristics against which the sustainability of development and use is considered. They are presented under the five guiding principles of sustainable development to represent the balance required between social, economic and environmental imperatives. The General Policies apply to all plan making and decision making in the marine environment. These policies provide a clear overarching framework for all activity and more detailed policies in the sector chapters should be read as subject to the General Policies.

3.11 Sectoral policies ( Chapters 6-16) have been developed where issues beyond those set out in the General Policies require to be addressed in order to ensure sustainability of the activity. These policies have been derived by considering issues specific to a sector which require varying degrees of management to support economically productive activity; manage interaction with other users; respect environmental limits; and to consider climate change. These policies address issues relevant to a particular sector and need only be considered when there will be a direct or indirect implication for that sector. More detail is available in Chapter 5. All decision making is subject to the General Policies as well as sector policies where these are relevant.

3.12 Users of this Plan should apply the Plan proportionately, taking account of the potential scale or impact of any proposal as well as the sensitivity of the environment and/or any potential social or economic effect under consideration.

3.13 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

3.14 An assessment of the condition of Scotland's seas is provided by Scotland's Marine Atlas: Information for the National Marine Plan [29] . The Marine Atlas includes an economic assessment and a summary of pressures and human impacts relating to activities in Scottish waters ( Annex C). 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.

3.15 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

3.16 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

3.17 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.
  • How climate change may alter our marine ecosystems and 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.

3.18 In the absence of such information it is important that plans adopt an 'adaptive management' [30] approach, responding to information collected from environmental and other monitoring.

Guide for regional planners

3.19 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.

3.20 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.

3.21 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.


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