From 12 December 2022 to 17 April 2023, the Scottish Government consulted on Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs). The proposed approach behind HPMAs was 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 to allow for the protection and recovery of marine ecosystems. The Scottish Government consulted on what HPMAs in Scotland should look like, how they should be selected and implemented, and how they could impact our lives.
More specifically, the consultation sought views on the proposed HPMA 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), it was recognised that the introduction of HPMAs, as proposed, was subject to the necessary powers being transferred by the UK Government to the Scottish Government. The intention, however, was that the proposed policy framework and the site selection guidelines would also apply to HPMAs in offshore waters, subject to the necessary powers being transferred.
We asked for your views on the draft Policy Framework, draft Site Selection Guidelines, initial Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), initial Socio-economic Impact Assessment (SEIA), partial Island Communities Impact Assessment (ICIA) and partial Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment (BRIA).
You provided us with 4,502 individual responses. Of these, 2,458 were substantive responses with respondents providing their own views and 2,044 were campaign responses in which respondents expressed the views of a co-ordinated campaign. The substantive responses were broken down as; 289 organisations and 2,169 individuals.
Key findings of the consultation included that:
- The responses were highly polarised with the vast majority of respondents expressing views either firmly in support or opposition of the proposals. 55% of all respondents supported the introduction of HPMAs and 43% of respondents opposed the introduction of HPMAs with only 2% holding neutral or ambivalent views.
- A large majority of respondents who supported the proposals submitted their responses as part of a single campaign. When campaign responses are removed, the views of respondents were 76% opposed, and 20% supporting the proposal.
- Concerns regarding the potential impacts on local communities, particularly in rural coastal areas and islands, were shared by both those in support of and those against the proposals.
- The importance of stakeholder and community input in developing policies and selecting and managing sites was emphasised across many of those responses. Collaboration, partnership working and building on the knowledge and values of local people was emphasised by both opposed and supporting respondents.
- Those respondents also often highlighted concerns around taking a blanket approach to marine protection, and instead suggested building on the local knowledge and values of people who live by and work on the sea, and respect local sustainable fishing practices.
- Many of the respondents who opposed HPMAs questioned the decision to include a 10% target, and often worried that this could be disproportionately concentrated in the inshore area. Those who supported this target recognised the alignment with international commitments.
- Respondents who opposed also often found the 2026 timeline for delivery to be unrealistic, especially when considering the need to engage with local communities and to collect robust scientific evidence.
- While there was clear agreement in the importance protecting and conserving our marine environment, many respondents, who opposed, expressed the view that the HPMA policy as proposed was not the correct approach for achieving this outcome.
In June 2023, the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Just Transition provided an update on HPMAs in the Scottish Parliament. In the statement, the Cabinet Secretary emphasised that the analysis of consultation responses was ongoing and that a full response of the consultation and next steps will be published after the summer recess. At the same time, the Cabinet Secretary shared some initial intentions in the statement in acknowledgement of the strength of feeling and concerns that the implementation of HPMAs by 2026 could limit aspirations for genuine collaboration with communities, which is integral to Scotland’s approach to a fair and just transition. The Cabinet Secretary therefore announced her intention, that while remaining firmly committed to enhancing marine protection, the Scottish Government will no longer seek to implement HPMAs across 10% of Scotland’s seas by 2026.
In response to the findings of the consultation – in particular to the highly polarised nature of responses, significant concerns on impacts to coastal and island communities, as well as concerns over the proposed 10% target and 2026 timeline for delivery – the Scottish Government will no longer seek to implement the proposed policy as consulted on. This means HPMAs will not be introduced in 10% of Scottish seas by 2026 and the draft HPMA Policy Framework and draft Site Selection Guidelines, as consulted on, will not be finalised and published. Furthermore, the Scottish Government no longer intends to progress the establishment of new legal powers for introducing HPMAs in Scottish inshore waters through a Bill in the Scottish Parliament this parliamentary term.
Despite firm opposition to the policy proposal, the consultation findings also showed clear support for the goals of protecting and conserving our marine environment. The Scottish Government will instead continue to work to enhance marine protection in line with our draft Biodiversity Strategy ambition for Scotland to be nature-positive by 2030 and will recognise the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 targets over the same timescale.
A key learning outcome emphasised by this consultation is the importance of stakeholder and community input. Your feedback will form part of our ongoing dialogue with you on how we work together to enhance marine protection.
The Scottish Government appreciates the time and thought respondents put into suggestions for alternative approaches and ideas, (with some examples found in Annex A) which will feed into our next steps on enhanced marine protection.
It is clearer than ever that we are in the midst of a nature and climate crisis and we must be prepared to take action proportionate with the scale of that challenge, but we must do so via a fair and just transition which empowers communities.
Moving forward, we are committed to work with coastal and island communities, fishers, aquaculture, tourism, and all affected sectors to enhance marine protection in Scotland for the benefit of all.
It is vitally important that we act to ensure that our seas remain a source of economic prosperity for our nation today, and in the future.
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