Biodiversity duty report 2018 to 2020

Report detailing how the Scottish Government furthered the conservation of biodiversity when exercising its functions, during the period 2018 to 2020 inclusive.

4. Marine Scotland

Marine Scotland is a Directorate of the Scottish Government and is responsible for the integrated management of Scotland's seas. Marine Scotland's purpose is to manage Scotland's seas for prosperity and environmental sustainability, working closely with our key delivery partners and others. Marine Scotland has a vision for "clean, healthy, safe, productive, biologically diverse marine and coastal environments, managed to meet the long-term needs of people and nature."

The key responsibilities are:

  • Work towards achieving good environmental status through our marine planning, licensing and other functions, to help ensure a healthy and sustainable environment;
  • Promote sustainable economic growth from the marine renewables industry and other marine and maritime industries through integrated planning and, where appropriate, streamlined regulatory frameworks;
  • Promote sustainable, profitable and well-managed fisheries and aquaculture industries in Scotland;
  • Ensure sustainably-managed freshwater fish and fisheries resources;
  • Ensure a sound evidence base to inform the development and delivery of marine policy, planning and services;
  • Ensure effective compliance and enforcement arrangements;
  • Continue to integrate our functions and resources, and to develop our organisational skills, competencies and capacity to ensure effective and efficient marine management arrangements in Scotland.

Marine Scotland has participated in a broad range of national and international groups over the reporting period:

UN Convention on Biological Diversity Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) on the development of the Post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework – this group is negotiating the new global goals and targets which will be agreed at COP 15. Scottish Government is also leading the Edinburgh Process which is a global consultation of Subnational and Local Government as part of the OEWG process.

OSPAR Commission and Coordination Group Meetings, which agree all policy decisions with OSPAR and provide the regional coordination of the UK Marine Strategy.

OSPAR Committees on Biodiversity (BDC), Environmental Impacts of Human Activities (EIHA) and Hazardous Substances and Eutrophication (HASEC) – Marine Scotland is the incoming chair of EIHA and current vice-chair of BDC.

OSPAR group to manage preparation and publication of the Quality Status Report 2023 (ICG QSR) – Marine Scotland is providing input to the development of this key output with will also contribute to the next Part 1 of the UK Marine Stratgy .

OSPAR Protection & Conservation of Species and Habitats group (ICG POSH) – Marine Scotland is currently a co-convenor of this group which seeks to ensure that appropriate action is taken to improve the status of habitats and species on the threatened and/or declining list.

OSPAR Marine Protected Areas group (ICG MPA) – Marine Scotland participates in this group which aims to support delivery of a well-managed MPA network in the North-East Atlantic.

OSPAR Coordination of Biodiversity Assessment and Monitoring group (ICG COBAM) – Marine Scotland participates in this group which delivers assessments of biodiversity status in the North-East Atlantic.

British-Irish Council (BIC) – Marine Scotland participates in Sub Groups on the Marine Environment, Marine Litter and Invasive Non-Native Species (INNS). The Sub Groups identify areas for collaboration between administrations e.g. biodiversity, Marine Protected Areas and ocean acidification are themes being addressed through the Marine Environment Sub Group.

ICES Working Group on Deepwater Ecology (WGDEC) – Marine Scotland participates and provides monitoring data on the presence of indicators Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems, which lead to an international advisory process resulting in spatial measures for fisheries.

Marine Scotland participated in 65 other ICES expert groups, contributing to a wide range of fisheries, aquaculture and marine environmental science and international advice. These included non-native species, benthic ecology, marine planning, developing EU advice for sustainable fisheries management, pollution impacts, species and habitats.

4.1 Actions To Protect Biodiversity And Connect People With Nature

Marine Scotland's Nature Conservation Strategy outlines Marine Scotland's vision, aims and objectives for protecting marine biodiversity. The strategy sets out our vision and framework for marine nature conservation based on a three pillar approach:

  • species conservation
  • site protection
  • wider seas policies and measures

During the reporting period a key achievement is the near completion of a coherent marine protected area (MPA) network. Over 230 MPAs cover 37% of Scotland's seas. Recent additions to the MPA network include:

  • the West of Scotland MPA which as the largest MPA in Western European waters provides protection for a wide range of deep sea habitats and species
  • the designation of MPAs for basking shark, minke whale, Risso's dolphin and a range of benthic habitats
  • the classification of 12 Special Protection Areas for over 30 different species of seabird, sea-duck, diver and grebe.

Management measures in the MPA network and for Priority Marine Features are being delivered in phases; the first phase being delivered in 2016. It takes time for the full biodiversity benefits of these measures to be realised. Further enhancement of biodiversity will be delivered through subsequent phases, with work on Phase 2 underway.

Implementation of the Scottish Marine Protected Area Monitoring Strategy has continued. The strategy sets out how Scotland will determine whether the conservation objectives for protected sites are being met, and will provide the information required for reporting on the protected area network. From 2017 – 2020, part of this MPA monitoring was delivered through a project to engage fishing industry in environmental survey and monitoring. This project was funded by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and was a partnership between Marine Scotland and NatureScot. Fishing vessels were used to gather drop-down video footage of the seabed, to improve our understanding of the distribution and status of benthic habitats both within and outside of MPAs. Fourteen MPAs were visited over eight surveys carried out during 2018 and 2019.

We have increased protection for seals in the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020 by amending the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010. This removes two specific grounds for which Scottish Ministers were able to grant licences to kill, injure or take seals. We have also increased the penalties associated with the offence of killing, injuring or taking a live seal (intentionally or recklessly) in line with the most serious wildlife offences as laid out in the Animals and Wildlife Act. The amendments improve the conservation of seals in Scotland by prohibiting their intentional mortality in specific circumstances and increasing the penalties associated with such offences. During the reporting period, abundance indicators for demersal marine fish species (those that live on or near the sea floor e.g. Cod, Haddock, Saithe), for the Celtic Seas and the Greater North Sea, show signs of recovery following improved fisheries management, from very low baselines and a history of overexploitation. However, the UK administrations' latest assessment of progress towards Good Environmental Status (GES) under the Marine Strategy Regulations 17 confirmed GES will not be met by 2020 for fish, commercial fish and shellfish, and benthic habitats. A new Programme of Measures is under development to further improve progress.

Wild Atlantic salmon is an iconic species for Scotland, and our world renowned fishing symbolises the close link between biodiversity, the economy and mental health and wellbeing. The decline in salmon returning to Scotland's river is of great concern, which is why considerable work has taken place through the Conservation of Salmon (Scotland) Regulations to improve their conservation status. We are currently developing a Wild Salmon Strategy to protect and enhance wild salmon stocks.

We are clear that growth of the Scottish aquaculture sector must have due regard for the environment. We are considering the Salmon Interactions Working Group (SIWG) report (published May 2020) which contains over 40 recommendations for improving the interactions between the wild and farmed salmon sectors. A regulator's Technical Working Group (working in in parallel with the SIWG) has been developing a practical framework for assessing the level of risk posed to wild salmonids. The framework takes account of the best available scientific evidence. We continue to prioritise work around the containment of farmed fish, including working with the sector to upgrade the equipment and training requirements through improvements to the Technical Standard for Scottish Finfish Aquaculture (published 2015). Marine Scotland now expects a condition requiring an Environmental Management Plan (EMP) to be delivered for any consents for marine aquaculture planning applications where there is the potential for interactions of wild/farmed fish.

Invasive Non-Native Species (INNS)

Marine Scotland leads the Marine INNS Group, a multi-agency /discipline group which develops INNS policy and also acts as a response team when action to manage an INNS threat is required. In responding to INNS either via policy or response action, the impacts on biodiversity and the natural environment of INNS are important considerations. This has been demonstrated through the development of an Action Plan on Didemnum vexillum (Carpet Sea Squirt) in collaboration with the British-Irish Council, which will seek to address pathways of spread for this and other problematic invasive non-native species. Biosecurity Plans for Loch Creran and Loch Fyne have also been developed in response to Carpet Sea Squirt, enabling actions to be taken at a local and regional scale to help address impacts and minimise threats to marine biodiversity.

We have developed the Scottish Marine Environmental Enhancement Fund. The Fund is intended to enable users benefiting from Scotland's rich natural marine resource to voluntarily re-invest in the health and biodiversity of our seas, thereby safeguarding and enhancing that natural resource to support the sustainable growth of those industries into the future, and in turn helping to build a wellbeing economy for Scotland's coastal communities.

4.2 Mainstreaming Biodiversity

Marine planning, as provided for the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010, is being implemented at a national and regional level. The National Marine Plan was published in March 2015. It is statutory document directing decision making by public authorities and it takes an ecosystem based approach, meaning the health and function of marine ecosystems is central to marine planning policy and decisions made in accordance with the plan. A range of policies which relate to issues important for ecosystem health and function, and also policies protecting biodiversity, apply to all decisions by public authorities which may affect the marine environment. Marine planning at a regional level is currently established, meaning that national policy will be adapted to apply to local ecosystems, issues and circumstances. The second review of the plan will be undertaken in 2021.

Marine Scotland is the sponsoring Directorate for Crown Estate Scotland, a new public body created on 1 April 2017 which manages land and property owned by the Monarch in right of the Crown and leases land and property including the seabed to third parties. Marine Scotland works with Crown Estate Scotland to seek to optimise the management of the assets to deliver a wide range of benefits to communities and Scotland as a whole and these assets are significant in supporting the delivery of Scottish Ministers' wider objectives including those relating to the environment. Crown Estate Scotland developed a Biodiversity Delivery Statement and the 'Six Big Steps for Nature' set out in Scotland's Route Map to 2020 informed their work. Crown Estate Scotland is also supporting 'Investment in Natural Capital' as set out in the 2020 Routemap, by developing a trial project for land based businesses in partnership with several other organisations. As the sponsoring Directorate, Marine Scotland works closely with Scottish Crown Estate on behalf of Scottish Ministers, to ensure their management of the assets and powers contributes to sustainable development and wider social, economic and environmental benefits.

4.3 Nature-Based Solutions, Climate Change And Biodiversity

How has your organisation integrated biodiversity into nature based solutions to the climate emergency and other socio-economic outcomes?

The Scottish Marine Assessment 2020 (SMA2020) is a peer-reviewed scientific assessment prepared by Marine Scotland, NatureScot, SEPA, JNCC and MASTS, spread across a number of topics including four topics articulated in Scotland's vision for the sea: Physical Characteristics; Clean and Safe; Healthy and Biologically Diverse; and Productive. It has been a significant joint scientific endeavour for Scotland, developed over the last two years, and represents a major advance on the 2011 Marine Atlas. It identifies climate change as a key pressure acting upon the marine environment to negatively impact on a wide range of biodiversity. The assessment outputs will be used to develop future marine policy in response to a range of pressures including climate change. This will include the development of the Blue Economy Action Plan, the review of Scotland's National Marine Plan (NMP) in 2021 and for regional marine planning.

In recognition of the importance of the marine environment for naturally storing carbon, we have committed over £570,000 to our Blue Carbon Research Programme.The research programme's current focus revolves around measuring the ability of various habitats to sequester carbon, understanding how it is stored for the long term, and building an evidence base on the effects that human activities may have on these process.

Marine Scotland is partnering with St Andrews University and Glenmorangie to deliver a 2 day Blue Carbon Conference during COP26, at the Royal Society of Edinburgh, on 11-12 November 2021. The meeting will:

  • bring together policy makers and researchers to share the latest research and best practice in managing blue carbon habitats in the context of a global climate emergency.
  • showcase Scotland's leadership in blue carbon research.

Climate Ready Scotland

Scotland's Climate Change Adaptation Programme 2019-2024 (SCCAP2) was published in September 2019 and has 7 high-level outcomes, including on marine and coastal specific goals.

What steps has your organisation taken to incorporate biodiversity outcomes into partnership initiatives, wider strategies or initiatives of relevance to climate change?

Marine Scotland is partnering with St Andrews University and Glenmorangie to deliver a 2 day Blue Carbon Conference during COP26. The meeting will recognise the wider benefits of blue carbon habitats, such as biodiversity and protection against coastal erosion and flooding.

Marine Scotland contributes to the Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership. We provide annual funding for the writing of report cards, and Marine Scotland Science provide the results of their research and monitoring to include in the reporting and assessments.

The Scottish Marine Assessment 2020: A new online platform which assesses the condition of Scotland's marine environment and the human activity it supports has been launched. More than 250 scientists have contributed to Scotland's Marine Assessment 2020 which brings together data from 183 studies to provide an up-to-date review of Scotland's seas. The assessments found that progress is being made to improve the health of Scotland's seas. It also found that:

  • progress is being made to reduce the levels of nutrients and contaminants in our seas;
  • the marine economy is providing significant economic and social benefits to coastal communities while the growth of industries like offshore wind, wave and tidal energy are of increasing importance to the Scottish economy;
  • Marine Protected Areas and measures to tackle marine litter need more time to be fully effective;
  • climate change is the most critical factor affecting our seas and impacts on coastal flooding, erosion and marine species.

The findings will be used to inform the forthcoming review of Scotland's National Marine Plan and the development of the Blue Economy Action Plan.

Looking ahead, what do you think will be the main climate change related challenges for biodiversity over the next three years?

Next steps include improving our understanding and ability to respond to the impacts of climate change on Scotland's seas. This is expected to involve a wide range of measures such as the need to assess cumulative pressures, improve natural capital assessments and our understanding of ecosystem services.

4.4 Public Engagement And Workforce Development

Public Engagement

Marine Scotland held an International Marine Conference in 2019 which focused on national and international actions to protect the marine environment. Through breakout sessions the conference identified emerging threats to our seas and consider what new measures were required to protect the marine environment for future generations. The conference, which was attended by 300 participants including policy makers, academics, stakeholders, and the general public, covered a wide range of topics but particularity addressed marine litter.

Marine Scotland attends the annual Scottish Biodiversity Strategy stakeholder engagement event, where a wide range of stakeholders are brought together to raise awareness of the biodiversity work taking place across Scotland.

Marine Scotland led a three-year project which was aimed at engaging the fishing industry in marine environmental survey and monitoring, which delivered monitoring required under the Scottish MPA monitoring strategy (see above). This project allowed fishing vessels the opportunity to take research surveys to collect drop-down video footage of seabed habitats, and carry out other survey work. Over the three year project, six fishing vessels were used to carry out various survey work. In addition, the fishing industry was engaged more widely through attendance at industry conferences and outreach via mailing lists and newsletters.

Workforce skills and training

Marine Scotland scientists attended a variety of training events, where participants were hosted by partner organisations to improve taxonomic (species identification) skills to improve the accuracy of monitoring work and improve ability to identify changes for example on plankton biodiversity and the arrival on non-native species.

A number of international scientific conferences are attended covering aspects of biodiversity, including "coastal futures", the ICES annual science conference, MASTS annual science meeting and Scottish biodiversity conference.

Identify any opportunities that are available to your staff to take part in practical actions

Volunteers from Marine Scotland have participated in a number of marine litter clean-ups. Notably the Marine Laboratory conduct regular clean-ups of shoreline in Torry.

4.5 Research And Monitoring

Describe any research activities that your organisation has undertaken to help develop understanding and awareness of biodiversity

A report on the status of the Marine Protected Area network was laid in Parliament in December 2018.

The UK assessment of progress towards Good Environmental Status was published in Autumn 2018.

The Scottish Marine Atlas 2020 provides the most recent assessment of progress towards our vision for Clean and Safe, Healthy and Biologically Diverse and Productive Seas.

What follow-up actions or monitoring have you undertaken to assess the impacts of the actions you have taken? How have you measured this? If you do not carry out any monitoring activities, please explain why.

The Scottish MPA monitoring strategy provides the basis for Marine Scotland's data gathering for the purpose of assessing the MPA network including evidence of impact from pressures and effectiveness of management measures.

SMA2020 provides a significant updated assessment against the Marine Atlas baseline published in 2011.

Marine Scotland makes a significant contribution to the annual State of Nature reports.

Does your monitoring show any significant trends or highlight any areas of concern?

Both SMA2020 and The UK assessment of progress towards Good Environmental Status (2018) provide comprehensive assessments for the marine environment, including key pressures. The Marine Strategy Programme of Measures is currently being revised to enable us to make further progress towards Good Environmental Status.

4.6 Biodiversity Highlights And Challenges

Describe your organisation's main achievements for biodiversity over the reporting period and what you are most proud of (this can include processes, plans, projects, partnerships, events and actions).

Highlights since 2018 include:

  • the percentage of Scotland's seas protected by MPAs has increased from 22% to 37%;
  • the MPA network is more coherent and now protects the most important areas for minke whale, basking shark, Risso's dolphin and over 30 species of seabird, sea-duck, diver and grebe;
  • our assessment of the status of the marine environment has significantly improved through the delivery of both the UK Marine Strategy Assessment in 2018 and SMA2020.

Looking ahead, what do you think will be the main challenges over the next three years?

We will continue to be a strong and influential partner on the international stage and through OSPAR, our regional seas convention, we will work to protect and conserve the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic. In 2021, we will contribute to development and adoption of the new North-East Atlantic Environment Strategy. After adoption, we will play our role in implementing the actions to achieve a clean, healthy and biologically diverse North-East Atlantic Ocean, which is productive, and used sustainably.

Many of our obligations under the OSPAR Convention and EU marine environmental obligations are implemented through the UK Marine Strategy. This provides a collaborative framework for the four UK Administrations to work together to protect what are some of the most biologically diverse and productive seas in Europe. The UK Marine Strategy provides a comprehensive framework for assessing, monitoring and taking action across our seas to achieve the UK's shared vision for clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse seas. In 2021 we will consult on a new Programme of Measures to help progress towards good environmental status, addressing biodiversity concerns.

The National Marine Plan continues to provide a framework for sustainable development in Scottish Seas. The second review of the plan will be undertaken in 2021. Regional marine planning allows for national planning policies, including those for biodiversity, to be adapted to reflect local circumstances and issues. To date, three Regional Marine Planning Partnerships have been established – Shetland, Clyde and Orkney, and these partnerships are working to develop their first regional plans. The Scottish Government will continue to support these partnerships, and progress work to establish further partnerships in other regions.

The vision set out in our National Marine Plan is very closely aligned to delivering the aims of a Blue Economy approach. The Blue Economy Action Plan will significantly contribute to economic recovery, enabling Scotland to "build back better". The four key outcomes will be: inclusive Blue Economy growth, creation of resilient places, contributing to a just transition to net zero and improving marine biodiversity and environment. The National Marine Plan, and the regional plans that will be developed, are key long-term delivery mechanisms for this, and the National Marine Plan review will consider whether changes might be necessary to best deliver the Blue Economy approach.

We believe that supporting biodiversity in our seas is vitally important, alongside taking account of the wider ecosystem when developing and delivering policies and in our decision making processes. The fishing industry has much to offer, and we want to ensure it can grow sustainably and make a positive contribution to our economy and our communities. But we also understand the importance of balancing fishing activities against ensuring that the right protections are in place for the marine environment. We will address these issues as part of our upcoming Future Fisheries Management Strategy which will set out our approach to managing Scotland's fisheries in a responsible and sustainable way.

We will complete the delivery of our commitment to create a coherent network of Marine Protected Areas including developing proposals for appropriate fisheries management measures and our approach to monitoring. The work on vulnerable PMFs will support the Scottish MPA network through providing connectivity between habitats (and is equivalent to work on ecological corridors on land).

We will take forward work on recovery and enhancement of Scotland's seas through development of the Scottish Marine Environmental Enhancement Fund. The Fund will enable users benefiting from Scotland's rich natural marine resource to voluntarily re-invest in the health and biodiversity of our seas, thereby safeguarding and enhancing that natural resource to support the sustainable growth of those industries into the future, and in turn helping to build a wellbeing economy for Scotland's coastal communities.

In 2021, we will also consult on conservation strategies for both dolphins, porpoises, minke whale and seabirds. This strategic approach will for the first time bring together actions to optimise the conservation prospects for these iconic species.

Wild Atlantic salmon is an iconic species for Scotland, and our world renowned fishing symbolises the close link between biodiversity, the economy and mental health and wellbeing. The decline in salmon returning to Scotland's river is of great concern, which is why we are developing a Wild Salmon Strategy to protect and enhance wild salmon stocks.



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