Scottish Biodiversity Strategy: report to Parliament 2017 to 2019

The fifth report detailing progress on the implementation of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy, covering the period 2017 to 2019, as required under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004.

8. Outcome 6: Marine and coastal

Scotland's marine and coastal environments are clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse, meeting the long term needs of people and nature.

Key steps

  • Adopt a National Marine Plan and develop regional marine plans to aid balanced decision-making in the marine environment
  • Establish a coherent network of marine protected areas, promoting sustainable use and conservation
  • Collate information on the location and sensitivity of priority marine features and make this information available to support their protection
  • Achieve good environmental status for Scottish Seas
  • Bring CFP fish stocks to levels consistent with the maximum sustainable yield wherever possible, and take account of biodiversity in managing inshore fisheries
  • Implement a rapid response framework to prevent colonisation of new invasive species in Scotland's seas and islands
  • Improve the monitoring of the marine environment to identify changes and guide progress towards the above outcomes
  • Improve understanding of how coastal ecosystems are likely to adapt to climate change and develop appropriate strategies for coastal zone management

The Marine (Scotland) Act 2010[131] provides the legislative framework for the effective delivery of this Scottish Biodiversity Strategy outcome. Its main measures include:

  • Marine planning: a new statutory marine planning system to sustainably manage the increasing, and often conflicting, demands on our seas;
  • Marine licensing: a simpler licensing system, minimising the number of licences required for development in the marine environment to cut bureaucracy and encourage economic investment;
  • Marine conservation: improved marine nature and historic conservation with new powers to protect and manage areas of importance for marine wildlife, habitats and historic monuments;
  • Seal conservation: improved protection for seals and a new comprehensive licence system to ensure appropriate management when necessary;
  • Enforcement: a range of enhanced powers for marine conservation and licensing.

The Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 also introduced a specific duty to protect and enhance the marine environment and included measures to help boost economic investment and growth in sectors such as marine renewables.

8.1 The National Marine Plan and Regional Marine Plans

Recent progress in implementing the legislation has been significant, including the 2015 publication of the National Marine Plan[132], which promotes an ecosystem approach, putting the marine environment at the heart of the planning process to promote ecosystem health, resilience to human-induced change and the capacity of the marine environment to support sustainable development and use. Draft Regional Marine Plans (RMPs) for Shetland and the Clyde are now being revised, following public consultation during 2019, and work is underway on a regional assessment to prepare for an Orkney Islands RMP.

8.2 Marine Protected Areas

Considerable progress has been made with consultation and designation of Marine Protected Areas. Approximately 22% of Scotland's marine area (including inshore & offshore waters) now has protective status for nature. This includes SSSI, Ramsar & Natura sites plus a suite of 31 Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas (NCMPAs). These sites form a network of MPAs, safeguarding much of Scotland's marine biodiversity. Additional Natura sites (Special Protection Areas) and NCMPAs are also being considered that will broaden the range of marine life protected and move towards completion of the Scottish MPA network. Work to improve protection of the most sensitive Priority Marine Features outside the MPA network is also underway.

A Scottish MPA Monitoring Strategy has been published, with principles to help prioritise future monitoring and to provide a framework for gathering evidence to support future assessment and reporting. The Strategy covers monitoring within and outwith MPAs. Two examples of projects undertaken during this reporting period to improve the evidence are: the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) Project 'Engaging the Fishing Industry in Marine Environmental Survey and Monitoring'[133]; and the development and publication of the Community-led Marine Biodiversity Monitoring Handbook[134]. Data relating to the protected features of MPAs and to Priority Marine Features are collated in an SNH database called GeMS (the Geodatabase of Marine features in Scotland). This information is then made available online through Marine Scotland's National Marine Plan interactive[135].

8.3 Assessing the state of the seas

In 2019, Defra published a revised assessment of progress for Part 1 of the UK Marine Strategy[136]. This provides an updated assessment of the state of seas across the UK, and sets objectives, targets and indicators for achieving Good Environmental Status. Work is underway in Scotland to complete a second Marine Atlas, known as the Scottish Marine Assessment 2020. This is intended to be an assessment of the state of Scotland's seas and will be used to support review of the National Marine Plan in 2021.

8.4 Sustainable fisheries

The Inshore Fisheries Strategy[137] and the 2019 Future of Fisheries Management in Scotland - national discussion paper have considered the steps for improving the governance and the knowledge base to support effective management and decision-making. This reflects the principle of setting fishing limits in line with the best available scientific advice, using the precautionary principle, and aligned with the delivery of Maximum Sustainable Yield within an ecosystem context. For example, in the inshore fisheries there is greater engagement of stakeholders in the management process through the Regional Inshore Fisheries Groups framework and research has been undertaken to develop methods and technology to provide the necessary information. This involves the implementation of electronic monitoring across the inshore fleet to provide an understanding of fishing activity that has previously been unavailable.

8.5 Marine non-native species

With an ongoing and increasing trend in introductions of non-native species into the marine environment, the challenge is to slow or halt this trend while dealing effectively with the consequences of those INNS species that present a high risk to nature and/or marine industries. To that end, the development of a Scottish Marine Non-native Species Strategy, including a framework for rapid response, is in being undertaken to underpin a strategic approach to this issue. In the meantime, ongoing actions include the development of biosecurity plans (Loch Creran, Loch Fyne) and a Biosecurity for LIFE project focused on implementing biosecurity/eradication and raising awareness of non-native mammal predators (mustelids/rodents) on seabird islands.

8.6 Coastal ecosystems

Current climate change projections predict that rising sea level, coastal erosion and coastal flooding will increasingly affect Scotland's soft coastlines and impact on coastal communities and assets. We aim to improve our understanding of how marine and coastal ecosystems are likely to respond to climate change and to develop appropriate strategies to support adaptation and safeguard in particular those habitats that can trap and store carbon.

The Dynamic Coast project[138] is establishing an evidence base of national coastal change. Current work is investigating the resilience of Scotland's natural coastal defences, estimating how future climate change may exacerbate erosion, and developing adaptation plans at sites around Scotland.

8.7 Climate change and the marine environment

There is a growing focus on the role that marine and coastal habitats can play in climate change mitigation. Research underway through the Scottish Blue Carbon Forum[139] focuses on measuring the ability of various marine and intertidal habitats to trap and store carbon, alongside understanding the effects that human activities may have on these habitats, and the Marine Climate Change Impacts: Report Card 2020[140] summarises the latest evidence from 26 topics regarding the physical, ecological, and social and economic impacts of climate change on UK coasts and seas.

8.8 Assessing progress towards this outcome

There is only one Scottish Biodiversity Indicator, S5 – breeding seabirds that has been updated during this reporting period. Commentary is provided in section 6.4. New marine indicators have been developed, for example to report on progress towards achieving Good Ecological Status (GES) under the UK Marine Strategy, under the OSPAR Convention and for Scotland's Marine Assessment 2020. These cover aspects like seal abundance and distribution, zooplankton biomass and rate of introduction of non-native species. Scotland's National Performance Indicators also include an indicator on the sustainability of fish stocks[141], reflecting the percentage of stocks for which exploitation is at or below the level which would be expected to lead to maximum sustainable yield. In future, it should be possible to adapt and use some of these other indicators for SBS monitoring purposes.

Table 8. Biodiversity indicators summaries relevant to Outcome 6







Breeding seabirds[142]



stabilisation for some species in recent years



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