Highly Protected Marine Areas: consultation

This consultation paper sets out the background, process, and rationale for Scottish Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMA), as well as containing the consultation questions.

2. Current situation and what we are proposing

2.1. Current situation

Scotland's seas account for 61% of UK waters and are not only home to an array of marine species, but also provide for our food and energy needs as well as recreational activities and eco-tourism.

Scotland has a number of existing domestic and international commitments that the introduction of HPMAs will contribute to. These include the UK Marine Strategy, the strategic objectives set out by the OSPAR Commission for the protection of the marine environment and the aims for nature recovery under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

Scotland has an existing Marine Protected Areas (MPA) network which covers 37% of our seas and includes sites of various designations: Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), Special Protection Areas (SPAs), Sites of Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and Marine Protected Areas (including MPAs for Nature Conservation as well as Historic MPAs and Demonstration and Research MPAs).

This established network of protected areas has been developed around the concept of sustainable use, meaning activities can continue, providing they do not adversely affect specific, protected features.

Alongside the introduction of HPMAs, the Scottish Government is also working on delivering fisheries management measures for existing MPAs, where these are not already in place, as well as key coastal biodiversity locations outside of these sites, by March 2024 at the latest.

2.2. What is being proposed

The approach to designating and managing HPMAs, rather than being feature based (as described above for MPAs), will be to strictly protect and leave undisturbed, all natural processes of the marine ecosystem within HPMA site boundaries, including the seabed, water column habitats and everything that lives in the protected area.

HPMAs will aim to add to the established MPA network by:

  • facilitating ecosystem recovery and enhancement
  • enhancing the benefits that coastal communities and others derive from our seas
  • contributing to the mitigation of climate change impacts
  • supporting ecosystem adaptation and improving resilience

HPMAs may overlap either fully or partially with existing MPAs in order to maximise the conservation benefits associated with stricter management approaches in a particular geographic location. HPMAs may also be located outside the current MPA network.

More information on the proposed process and policy for selecting HPMA sites can be found in the draft Policy Framework and Site Selection Guidelines.

Currently, the Scottish Government does not have the necessary legal powers to designate and protect HPMAs. The intention is to deliver the necessary legislative and management framework for HPMAs in both Scottish inshore and offshore waters.

For the Scottish inshore region (up to 12 nautical miles from the coast), there is full legislative competence within Scotland to introduce the necessary powers to designate HPMAs through primary legislation. It is proposed that HPMAs will be delivered within the legislative framework set by the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010, with new provisions delivered, as required, through primary legislation. With this consultation, we seek views on the proposed policy for introducing powers to designate HPMAs in Scottish inshore waters.

For the Scottish offshore region (beyond 12 nautical miles out to the outer limits of the UK continental shelf), powers over the marine environment are currently reserved to the UK Government (with some exceptions). We are seeking agreement from the UK Government to provide for equivalent powers for Scottish Ministers to designate HPMAs in Scottish offshore waters. The UK Government would be responsible for any public consultation that included powers in relation to HPMAs in offshore waters. The intention, however, is that the proposed policy framework and the site selection guidance will apply in relation to HPMAs in inshore and offshore waters, subject to the necessary powers being transferred to the Scottish Government.

More information on the proposed policy can be found in the draft Policy Framework.


Email: HPMA@gov.scot

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