Scotland's seas: towards understanding their state

Scotland's seas: towards understanding their state.

Chapter 7 Preparing a State of Scotland's Seas 2010


The Scottish Government has a vision for seas that are "clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse…managed to meet the long term needs of nature and people". To ensure that this vision is achieved, the status of the marine environment must be assessed and the impacts and effects arising from the various pressures must be monitored. Such assessments can be undertaken on different scales. Although this report focuses on Scottish waters, it takes account of the dynamic nature of the marine environment and the influence of larger-scale processes such as inflow from the Atlantic Ocean, and smaller-scale processes such as the general northward flow along the west coast of the UK. There is also a need to consider how the present assessment fits into the wider picture at the UK ( UKMMAS), regional ( OSPAR), European and global scales. Assessment programmes report at regular intervals at these scales; in 2010 both the UKMMAS, through Charting Progress 2, and OSPAR, through Quality Status Report ( QSR) 2010, will report and it is therefore important that Scotland should also report in 2010. Not only will a Scottish report provide a higher degree of granularity than is possible in reports such as QSR 2010, it will also provide information that can be used in these broader reports. In 2009 the first River Basin Plans required by the European Water Framework Directive must be complete. These plans, together covering the whole of the UK, must identify objectives for improvement and programmes of measures to achieve these objectives. The initial assessment under the European Marine Strategy Framework Directive must be completed by 2012, with specific attention given to the 11 qualitative descriptors for determining Good Environmental Status (see Table 1.2) and the detailed characteristics, and pressures and impacts (see Table 1.3). This report has begun considering these descriptors from a Scottish perspective including how current monitoring programmes provide relevant information. In addition, this report identifies gaps and lays the foundation for a comprehensive assessment about the State of Scotland's Seas in 2010 .

Figure 7.1 Scotland's seas

Figure 7.1 Scotland's seas

From the shores to the deep waters to the west of Scotland, there is a need to assess the pressures and impacts such that relevant action can be taken so as to maintain the quality of Scotland's marine environment and the diversity of plants and animals that are integral to it.


Co-ordinated science and industry involvement

Scotland has over 11,000 km of coastline, approximately 60% of the UK coastline, and one of the largest inshore areas (88,414 km 2; for comparison the land mass of Scotland is 78,811 km 2) in Europe. Assessing the status of the Scottish marine environment will need co-ordinated scientific research both with respect to data gathering and data assessment. In recent years there have been some significant developments within the UK to which Scotland has contributed greatly. These include:

  • the UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy ( UKMMAS), the overall aim of which is to shape the UK's capability, within National and International waters, to provide, and respond, within a changing climate, to the evidence required for sustainable development within a clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse marine ecosystem;
  • the UK Directory of Marine Observing Systems ( UKDMOS), a project designed to overcome the current lack of information on where, when and what is being monitored by the UK in the marine environment; and
  • the Marine Data and Information Partnership ( MDIP), which will soon merge with the Marine Environmental Data Action Group ( MEDAG) [A], and which will provide an overarching framework for data management in the UKvia a system of Data Archive Centres ( DACs), interoperability and standards.

In addition, as part of this report, details of the various marine monitoring programmes and data collection surveys undertaken by FRS, SEPA, SNH and the wider community are provided ( Annex 2). However, not all monitoring and research activities undertaken in Scottish waters are listed; only limited information is provided on the data gathered by the many other industries using the marine environment. Marine research being undertaken within the academic community also needs to be integrated within future plans for overall data collection, interpretation and management. These issues will be addressed during the preparation of the 2010 report.

Stakeholder involvement

The importance of stakeholder involvement is now a feature of how Scotland manages the marine environment (for example, as detailed in A Strategic Framework for Scottish Aquaculture(1) and A Strategic Framework for Inshore Fisheries in Scotland(2)). Consultation with stakeholders is also one of the keystones in the rolling out of the Water Framework Directive with national and area advisory groups committed to consulting widely at every stage. Furthermore, Marine Science Scotland is a new initiative that will coordinate the activities of marine scientists across Scotland as a way of ensuring that research activities are focused upon policy needs. It is important that the purpose of these initiatives and frameworks, and their contribution to ensuring a sustainable marine environment, is well understood to ensure that they are complementary in nature and there is minimal overlap. With appropriate coordination, these processes will provide a coherent approach to understanding and managing the Scottish marine environment. These initiatives and their objectives will be considered in more detail in the 2010 report.

Status indicators and reporting areas

In order to describe the state of Scotland's seas there is a need for a greater range of indicators to be developed that can then be used to provide appropriate assessments. Summary assessments have been provided within various case studies (see Chapters 2-5) and for some human activities (see Chapter 5). The assessments provide information on trends, status and confidence in the assessment for a given indicator within a geographical region. All three categories of status (acceptable, room for improvement and unacceptable) have been used in the assessments made within this report. At the same time, confidence in the assessment ranges from low to high. The reasons for low confidence in the assessment include the need for improved models, the requirement for improved spatial resolution, the availability of only partial data and insufficient length of data timeseries. The last of these can only be resolved through the maintenance of on-going monitoring programmes, because detecting the causes and the true magnitude of variation in the marine environment often requires data to be collected over at least 10 years. Such issues have prompted a review of sampling methodologies which would allow assessments of designated areas. This has resulted in stratified random sampling becoming an integral part of the Clean Safe seas Environmental Monitoring Programme ( CSEMP, see Figure 3.12 and Chapter 3) and led to the adoption of specific reporting areas in UK waters (Figure 1.7). Future monitoring programmes will need to be aligned to these reporting areas, and future reports, and hopefully as early as the 2010 report, should present the types of assessment illustrated in Figure 7.2.

In line with one of the recommendations made by the Advisory Group on Marine and Coastal Strategy ( AGMACS), there remains a need to focus on the development of indicators which help inform managers and provide information to the public. Scotland must continue to contribute to the development of appropriate indicators within the broader UK and international framework.

Figure 7.2 Revised representation of the Summary Assessment from Case Study 3.6 describing the impact of the offshore oil and gas industry on the sediment hydrocarbon concentration and composition

Figure 7.2 Revised representation of the Summary Assessment from Case Study 3.6 describing the impact of the offshore oil and gas industry on the sediment hydrocarbon concentration and composition

Blue shading - Coastal and transitional waters delineated for the WFD; Heavy black line - 12 nm limit; Grey line - sea areas; Red line - fisheries limits. The green shading illustrates that the status within sea areas East Shetland and Fladen is acceptable with respect to sediment hydrocarbon concentration and composition. The Roman Number within the green shaded area is the 'confidence of assessment' which in this case is 'III' corresponding to 'High' (see Table 1.9).

Integrating assessment of human impacts

Historically, the effects of different human impacts have been treated separately. However, any area of the sea is likely to be exposed to several impacts. There is a need to develop tools which can discriminate and assess these multiple impacts. For example, a recent report has, for the first time, presented a global assessment of human impacts on marine ecosystems (3). This type of integrated assessment requires detailed information and consideration of weighting factors for the different anthropogenic activities and it illustrates an approach to ecosystem-based assessment. For the 2010 report, it is intended to start producing integrated ecosystem-based assessments of multiple human impacts where possible.

Knowledge of offshore waters

As highlighted in Chapter 3, new legislation requires monitoring to take place in areas assumed to be clean. It also requires an improved knowledge of deeper, offshore waters. The initial assessment required under the European Marine Strategy Framework Directive in 2012 will require information on sea areas to the west of Scotland, including Bailey and Rockall (Figure 1.7). Both SEPA and FRS have extended data collection into these regions but it will also be necessary to use other sources of data, such as those collected regularly by the academic community, to enable assessment of the deeper waters to be made. These data need to be sourced as part of the process of producing a report on the State of Scotland's Seas in 2010.

Areas outside designated sites

There is a need to gather information from outside designated sites, which presently cover less than 0.5% of Scotland's territorial waters and have been the primary focus of most ecological monitoring to date. Filling such a gap before the 2010 report will not be possible, but the 2010 report will consider how this might be achieved.

Impacts of global climate change

There is a need to improve confidence in both understanding what is happening and in predicting the likely consequences that global climate change will have on the seas around Scotland.


The current report provides a starting point for the 2010 report but gathering the views of stakeholders is an important process that will lead to modification and improvement. Consequently, the authors welcome this feedback and encourage the completion of the short questionnaire at the back of the report. Alternatively comments can be sent to

Scotland is fully engaged in the UKMMAS and associated production of Charting Progress 2. It is important that the work undertaken to produce the Scottish report dovetails with that required of Scotland in respect of Charting Progress 2. Consequently, the structure of this report is consistent with the developing structure of Charting Progress 2.

There is a need to build on the cooperation received from many organisations in the preparation of this report. Such input to date has ensured a more holistic report than would have been possible if the information used had been limited to that available from FRS, SEPA and SNH.

In preparing Scotland's Seas: Towards Understanding their State, it is apparent that there is a considerable body of knowledge available about Scotland's diverse seas (Figure 7.3) and that this is continuing to expand, but there are also gaps and uncertainties. Confidence in some of the assessments is also low and it would be helpful if there was a focused effort to reduce this uncertainty.

As a maritime nation, Scotland makes extensive use of its seas. To be confident that Scotland continues to use its seas in a sustainable manner into the future requires a continuing cycle of monitoring, research and assessment as well as the implementation of new management approaches should problems be identified.

Figure 7.3 Scotland's diverse seas

Figure 7.3 Scotland's diverse seas

1. phytoplankton ( Karenia mikimotoi), 2. lion's mane jelly fish, 3. ballen wrasse, 4. orca and 5. gannet.


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