Sectoral marine plan: regional locational guidance

Sets out regional spatial baseline data for the sectoral marine plan for offshore wind energy and describes the information used in the planning and assessment process.

3 West

3.1 Introduction

3.1.1 The West region incorporates the Firth of Clyde, and the Inner Hebrides, extending westwards out beyond the edge of the Outer Hebrides and North to include an area of Skye and approximately half of the Outer Hebrides (Figure 55). There is one Plan Option identified within the West region, as shown in Figure 55.

Figure 55: Map of the West region, including Plan Options
Regional map of Scottish waters

3.2 Physical Considerations

Offshore Wind Resource

3.2.1 Within the West region, encompassing one Plan Option (W1) there is considerable available wind resource, as shown in Figure 56 using the mean annual wind speed as a proxy, and shown in Table 2.

Figure 56: West region: mean annual wind speed
Regional map of Scottish waters
Table 2: West region: Potential installed capacity in the Plan Option
Area of Search Region Area (square km) Potential Installed capacity (GW)[164] Realistic Maximum Development Scenario (GW) [165]
W1 West 754 3.8 2
West Total 754 3.8 2

Grid Connection

3.2.2 The current grid provision in the West region is principally linked to 132kv sub-stations. Should offshore wind development be undertaken in the West region, it is likely that the electricity grid would need reinforcement to support transmission from the point of generation to the area of demand. From 2023 and following the decommissioning of Hunterston B (discussed below) there is potential for the current transmission grid in the West region to become under-utilised.

Bathymetry and Seabed

3.2.3 The water depth in the West region ranges from the shallower water around the mainland and Hebridean island coastlines into deeper water, reaching approximately 200 m at the western extent (Figure 57). W1 has relatively shallow water depths, with the majority of the Plan Option in water depths less than 60m.

3.2.4 Seabed sediments in the West region vary from muddy sand in the more inland coastal regions, to areas of rocky reef to the west of the Outer Hebrides and to the north and east of the Coll, Tiree and Mull. Towards the continental shelf edge, the sediments trend to becoming coarser, with sand and subsequently coarse sediment towards the continental shelf edge. Beyond the shelf edge the sediment becomes generally muddier, with fine mud and muddy sand dominating, with exceptions around the seamounts as seen in Figure 58. 

3.2.5 Within W1 the sediment is principally sand, with gravel in the southeast. 

Figure 57: West region: banded water depth
Regional map of Scottish waters
Figure 58: West region: seabed sediments
Regional map of Scottish waters

3.3 Socio Economics

Supply Chain

3.3.1 Four locations are identified in the West region[166] which could be developed to support the construction, operation and maintenance of offshore wind in the Plan Options. These are:

  • Hunterston - integrated manufacturing, 
  • Arnish - distributed manufacturing, 
  • Campbeltown / Machrihanish - further maintenance and operation / maintenance,
  • Kishorn - distributed manufacturing.

3.3.2 Hunterston, in the Firth of Clyde, is identified in the NPF3 as a priority for industrial and employment use, including servicing and support for offshore renewable energy development[167]. The Hunterston Port and Resource Centre (PARC) is being developed by its owner, Peel Ports, supported by E.ON to provide infrastructure suited to manufacturing, processing and innovation on a site with a deepwater port and road and rail connections[168].

3.3.3 Arnish is on the East coast of the Isle of Lewis, and is currently mothballed as a site, with a small retained skeleton of employees. Previously employing 1400 people at its peak the local workforce retains the skills to restart manufacturing at the site which has supported the renewables industry, including manufacturing processes supporting the Beatrice windfarm[169]. The port masterplan for Stornoway identifies that expansion of the port, including the development of a deep-water port facility, has the potential to support expansion of offshore wind farm component manufacturing at Arnish[170].

3.3.4 The former MOD site at Machrihanish has been engaged in the manufacture of towers for the Beatrice offshore wind farm, producing up to 200 towers between 2017 and 2019[171]. The final tower was built in May 2019[172]. In coordination with the harbour at Campbeltown there is potential to continue supporting the development of offshore wind in the western Plan Option.

3.3.5 Kishorn has been identified as a key site for the expansion of the renewables industry, including in manufacture of concrete bases for turbine structures. The site has planning permission in place, in line with its port master plan, to expand the quarry and facilities including offices, accommodation and engineering and fabrication sheds, alongside the applicable marine licences for deep water berthing and anchoring of floating structures in Loch Kishorn[173]. Kishorn is well placed to support floating offshore wind, having prepared its infrastructure to potentially support the Kincardine development.

3.3.6 In addition to the above, some areas have undertaken scenario mapping to assess the potential socio-economic benefits from developing supply chains to support offshore wind. For example, the Tiree Onshore Scenario Mapping Study considered the potential impact of development of supply chain support for the proposed Argyll array[174]. The report considered several scenarios for operations and maintenance support including both onshore and offshore solutions and their potential economic and social impact on Tiree.  

Energy Generation

3.3.7 There are two power stations located within the West region. Hunterston B is a nuclear power plant located within the Firth of Clyde while Loch Carnan is a diesel power station on South Uist. The nuclear plant at Hunterston B is expected to be decommissioned in 2023. It currently employs approximately 750 employees.

3.3.8 There are no current leases for offshore wind development in the West region, and no operational developments (Figure 59).

3.3.9 There is potential for tidal stream energy generation development within the West region and there are three leases issued by Crown Estate Scotland proposed for tidal stream installations (Figure 59):

  • Isle of Islay; 
  • Sound of Islay; and
  • Connel.

3.3.10 None of the three sites are currently operational, although consents have been granted for the Isle of Islay[175] and Sound of Islay[176] sites. Of the two sites the Isle of Islay site is the closer, approximately 20km to the south of W1.

3.3.11 In 2013 the Marine Scotland consulted on Draft Plan Options (DPO) for wave and tidal energy[177,178]. These draft options were subsequently recognised in Scotland’s National Marine Plan[179]. The DPOs identify areas of potential for the future development of wave and tidal energy in Scottish waters (Figure 59). The plan options for wave energy overlap with the southern half of W1.

Figure 59: West region: current, planned and potential future offshore energy generation infrastructure
Regional map of Scottish waters

Power Interconnectors

3.3.12 The majority of power interconnectors in Scottish waters (243km) are located in the West region where they have been created to connect island communities to the mainland national grid infrastructure (Figure 60). A section of the new Western Link HVDC cable is also located in the West region[180]. The closest power interconnector is approximately 25km from W1. All the power interconnectors are inshore of the Plan Option (Figure 60). 

Figure 60: West region: power interconnectors
Regional map of Scottish waters

Telecom Cables

3.3.13 There are 247km of active telecom cables in the West region to help connect the Scottish mainland and island communities. There are no telecom cables near W1. The closest cables are approximately 25km away and are all positioned inshore of the Plan Option (Figure 61). 

Figure 61: West region: active telecom cables
Regional map of Scottish waters

Carbon Capture and Storage

3.3.14 There are currently no identified potential CCS storage areas on the west coast of Scotland. All potential saline aquifers, and most of the oil and gas infrastructure, are off the East coast.

Oil and Gas

3.3.15 There are very few oil and gas related activities currently taking place within this Region with no recent licence round awards or, licenced blocks or pipelines (Figure 62). The potential for future exploration and development is low. 

Figure 62: West region: oil and gas infrastructure and licensed blocks
Regional map of Scottish waters


3.3.16 Airports in this region include the major airports Glasgow and Glasgow Prestwick. In addition, there are minor airports at Campbeltown and on Coll, Colonsay, Tiree and Islay (Figure 63).

3.3.17 The principal airport on the West coast is Glasgow International which operates an extensive range of domestic flights as well as international flights to a wide range of European destinations. It also has a few long-haul flights, including to the American Eastern seaboard and Caribbean[181]. Glasgow Prestwick airport international traffic is limited to European destinations and is Scotland’s most significant scheduled freight airport[182]. The Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd. (HIAL) Campbeltown offers a twice daily scheduled service to Glasgow airport[183].

3.3.18 There is primary surveillance radar cover around Tiree airport which covers a large majority of the region including W1. There are also areas of primary radar cover around Glasgow and Prestwick airports, but these do not affect W1 (Figure 63 below). 

3.3.19 Secondary surveillance cover is present around Tiree and Glasgow airports. These do not overlap with W1 (Figure 63 below). 

3.3.20 Both Glasgow airport and Tiree airport are safeguarded civil aerodromes. 

Figure 63: West region: aviation infrastructure, key routes and radar coverage
Regional map of Scottish waters


3.3.21 There is a high concentration of defence assets in the West region. Establishments are concentrated around the Firth of Clyde, with smaller concentrations of facilities located on the Hebridean islands, Skye and on the west coast mainland (Figure 64).

3.3.22 W1 is within the West of Scotland naval exercise area, (Figure 64). 

3.3.23 The MOD supports a large number of jobs in the West region, both directly and indirectly. Employment is largely through shipbuilding based on the Clyde, and around the military base at HMNB Clyde. No regional breakdown of employment figures is available within Scotland, but it is likely that a significant portion of both the direct and indirect employment figures discussed in Section 2.2 are located in the West region.

Figure 64: West region: defence infrastructure and exercise areas
Regional map of Scottish waters


3.3.24 Landings from UK-registered vessels from ICES rectangles in the West region had an average annual value of £176 million and an average live weight of 10,637,711 tonnes for the five-year period 2013-2017. The majority of landings were shellfish (97.5%). 

3.3.25 The majority of landings were by the over 12 m fleet (64%), with demersal trawls (28%), mechanical dredges (18%) and pots and traps (14.5%) making up the vast majority of landings.

3.3.26 Figure 65 shows over-15m Nephrops trawlers work in the Clyde, Sound of Jura, and Sea of the Hebrides, predominantly further inshore than the Plan Options. Scallop dredgers work the Sound of Jura, Firth of Lorn and across to the Northern Ireland coast, as well as west of Mull and along the east coast of Barra and North and South Uist. Of the pelagic species, herring is fished in some inshore areas, and mackerel fishing by over-15m vessels is predominantly beyond the West region, along the shelf edge (Figure 66). Over-15m vessels using static gear (Figure 67) to target Nephrops fish east of South Uist and in the Sea of Hebrides, as well as in the Firth of Clyde. Those targeting lobster and crab operate predominantly east of the Outer Hebrides, with the latter also fishing intensely in the Sea of Hebrides, particularly west of the Firth of Lorn between Tiree and Islay. 

3.3.27 Areas important for under-15m vessels are predominantly inshore of the Plan Option. Nephrops trawls operate in the Firth of Clyde, around the Small Isles and between Skye and South Uist. Scallop dredgers operate in similar areas to the over-15m scallop dredgers and particularly Laggan Bay on Islay (Figure 68). Nephrops and crab/lobster creeling vessels operate throughout the inshore region, with Nephrops creels particularly used in Inner Sound between the mainland and Skye, and crab/lobster creels particularly around Barra.

3.3.28 There were 328 fishing vessels with their Home Port registered within the West region in 2016[184]. The majority (73%) of these were in the ten metres and under length category. The ports with the most registered vessels were Oban (69), Portree (50), Mallaig (32), Castlebay (19) and South Uist (18). Home ports within the West region are shown in Figure 70. 

3.3.29 Available data show that the main fisheries interacting with the waters in W1 include scallop dredging, Nephrops trawls, and crab and Nephrops creeling. 

3.3.30 The main landing ports (in terms of value of landings in 2016) in the West region were Mallaig (£11.1 million), Oban (£4.3 million) and Troon (£3.6 million)[185]

3.3.31 There are four fixed engine sites for wild salmon and sea trout in the north of the region, and three net and coble sites (Figure 71).

3.3.32 The main rod and line fishing rivers in this region are the Stinchar (salmon), Girvan, Doon (salmon), Ayr (salmon), Irvine, Clyde, Eachaig (sea trout), Add, Fyne, Awe (salmon), Orchy (salmon) and Aline, Lochy (salmon), and Croe (salmon).[186]

Figure 65: Fishing intensity for over-15m vessels in the West region using demersal mobile gear (2009-2013)
Regional map of Scottish waters
Figure 66: Fishing intensity for over-15m vessels in the West region targeting pelagic species (2009-2013)
Regional map of Scottish waters
Figure 67: Fishing intensity for over-15m vessels in the West region using static gear (2009-2013)
Regional map of Scottish waters
Figure 68: Number of vessels for under-15m vessels in the West region, all gears and mobile demersal gears, from ScotMap 
Regional map of Scottish waters
Figure 69: Number of vessels for under-15m vessels in the West region, pots, divers and mackerel lines, from ScotMap
Regional map of Scottish waters
Figure 70: West region: distribution of home ports
Regional map of Scottish waters
Figure 71: Salmon and sea trout net fisheries reporting catches in 2011–2016 in the West region
Regional map of Scottish waters


3.3.33 Marine aquaculture sites within the West region are shown in Figure 72. There are 109 licensed finfish and 121 licensed shellfish sites. Aquaculture sites are widespread along the coastline within the west region, with concentrations in Loch Fyne, the Firth of Lorn and around the Isle of Mull.

3.3.34 There are no aquaculture facilities within the Plan Option and it is considered unlikely that development will be brought forward in these areas unless there is beneficial co-location with offshore wind development. 

3.3.35 In the West region, shellfish production is dominated by mussel and Pacific oyster, although small quantities of scallop, queen scallop and native oyster are also produced. The West region encompasses parts of the Strathclyde, Highland and Western Isles regions used in the Scottish Government’s 2017 Production Survey, therefore, production numbers will be an over estimation. The aquaculture industry farms large quantities of salmon in the West region. In 2016, approximately 111,000 tonnes were produced with a value of £520 million[187]

3.3.36 In 2017, 1,585 tonnes of mussels and 5,034 tonnes of Pacific oysters were produced[188]

Figure 72: West region: marine aquaculture sites
Regional map of Scottish waters

Ports and Harbours

3.3.37 The west of Scotland is a busy region for ports and harbours. Figure 73 shows that there are 3 major ports, 10 minor ports and numerous smaller harbours and marinas supporting commercial and recreational fishing activities, yachting and recreation throughout the region. This includes ports located on the islands across the region which are essential for supporting ferry services. 

3.3.38 Glensanda port is used for the loading and export of granite aggregate from the Yeoman Glensanda Quarry[189]

3.3.39 Greenock is the main container port for Glasgow and a major port of call for large cruise ships. 

3.3.40 Kishorn, Arnish, Hunterston and Campbeltown ports have been identified as key sites to support the construction, operation and maintenance of offshore wind, discussed in the Supply Chain section above. 

3.3.41 There is a high concentration of anchorages in the West region, particularly in the Inner Hebrides and the Firth of Clyde, reflecting the high sailing activity in the area. None of the anchorages overlap with the Plan Option. 

3.3.42 There are a few dredge disposal sites in the region. They are all close inshore and do not overlay with the Plan Option. 

Figure 73: West region: ports and harbours
Regional map of Scottish waters


3.3.43 There are key shipping routes within the West region, particularly related to the North Channel, the Firth of Clyde, and ferry services related to the Inner and Outer Hebrides. 

3.3.44 AIS density data (Figure 74) shows areas of high density related to the Firth of Clyde, in some cases up to 100 vessel transits per week, where commodity transport and ferry movements are high, including lifeline connections to Arran, and the Mull of Kintyre. 

3.3.45 Within the West region Oban forms a hub for ferry traffic (ferry services lines shown in Figure 74) serving the Inner and southern Outer Hebridean Islands, including lifeline services to Mull, Coll and Tiree, Barra, Islay, South Uist, Lismore and Colonsay. The importance of Oban as a hub is highlighted by the particularly high density of marine traffic in the Sound of Mull (Figure 74). There are also key ferry services in the Firth of Clyde, serving Bute, Great Cumbrae and Arran.

3.3.46 There are areas of high shipping density to the west of W1 in the West region. There are moderately used routes (up to 5 vessel transits per week) transiting north-south through the Plan Option. 

3.3.47 The Minches TSS is at the northern end of the West region, and the North Channel TSS is outside but just to the south of the West region and is used to ensure safe passage for the high density of traffic through the North Channel linking routes from the Clyde, Wales and England through the Irish Sea to routes in the Atlantic and North through the Minches. The recommended deep water route is also aimed at reducing the volume of traffic passaging through the Minches, therefore reducing navigational and environmental risk in the area.

3.3.48 Shipping as an industry is important economically as well as socially to the West region, with high levels of employment linked to shipping, particularly boatbuilding, in the Firth of Clyde.

Figure 74: West region: shipping densities and key routes
Regional map of Scottish waters

Coastal and Flood Protection

3.3.49 There are few areas of coastal or flood protection in the West region (Figure 75), flood defences are limited to the Firth of Clyde, whilst the only coastal protection schemes identified since 2000[190] are on the western coast of the Outer Hebrides.

3.3.50 W1 is located off the coast around the Isle of Islay. The main coastlines associated with the planned W1 Plan Option are characterised by rocks/ hard cliffs (low erosion).

Figure 75: West region: coastal and flood protection schemes
Regional map of Scottish waters

Marine and Coastal Recreation

3.3.51 Overall recreational activity in the West region is shown in Figure 76. Most recreational activity occurs in inshore areas and available data shows that there is a low-level of marine and coastal recreation activities around W1, although there is some potential interaction with sailing and cruising routes in the region. 

Figure 76: West region: density of recreational activities
Regional map of Scottish waters


3.3.52 The west coast of Scotland is one of the world’s best areas for sailing. The Clyde and Solway Firth are particularly popular destinations. There are also numerous RYA marinas, clubs and training centres along the coast. There is considered to be generally a low level of boating occurring within and in the vicinity of W1 (Figure 77).

Figure 77: West region: recreational boating facilities and recreational boating density (from 2015 AIS data)
Regional map of Scottish waters


3.3.53 Glasgow, Clyde, Solway Firth and the Argyll coast have the highest densities of anglers in the West region (Figure 78). The Firth of Clyde has relatively poor fish stocks and is not capable of supporting regular sea angling charter activity, but there are reasonable numbers of local shore anglers who rely heavily on seasonal fish stocks such as mackerel. Own boat and charter boat angling is popular at other locations on the West coast of Scotland where there are excellent sheltered lochs enabling safe and comfortable fishing. However, available data show that there is a low level of overlap between angling activities and W1 (Figure 78). 

Figure 78: West region: sea angling (by boat) activity density
Regional map of Scottish waters

Scuba Diving

3.3.54 The West region is a popular scuba diving area and there are many dive centres and charter boats operated in the area. Most scuba diving sites are located around the Inner Hebrides, Firth of Clyde and the lochs near Glasgow (Figure 79). Available data indicates that there is no overlap between scuba diving sites and W1 (Figure 79). 

Figure 79: West region: scuba diving activity density
Regional map of Scottish waters

Kayaking and Canoeing

3.3.55 Kayaking and canoeing takes place at most spots along the west coast where there are suitable launching spots such as beaches and slipways. The majority of trips are close inshore or short distances between islands and available data indicate that no activity is conducted within W1 (Figure 80). 

Figure 80: West region: canoeing or kayaking activity density
Regional map of Scottish waters

Surfing and Windsurfing 

3.3.56 The west coast of Scotland is exposed to swells generated by the Atlantic Ocean and offers a range of west to north facing beach and reef breaks along the coast (Figure 81 and Figure 82). Some of the spots are considered to be of very high quality and their remoteness means that they remain uncrowded most of the time, although the area around Tiree is a popular destination for travelling windsurfers (Figure 82) and competitions such as the Tiree Highland Open are held annually here.

3.3.57 In addition, the growth of paddleboarding in Scotland can be clearly seen in the high density of activity in the comparatively flat waters in the sea lochs and Firth of Clyde (Figure 81). 

3.3.58 Data suggests that no surfing, surf kayaking and paddleboarding activity is conducted within or around the vicinity of W1 (Figure 81). However data indicates that windsurfing and kitesurfing may occur within W1, albeit, at relatively low levels (Figure 82).

Figure 81: West region: surfing, surf kayaking and paddleboarding activity density
Regional map of Scottish waters
Figure 82: West region: windsurfing and kitesurfing activity density
Regional map of Scottish waters


3.3.59 The West region has a range of tourist destinations throughout the region. The highest levels of visitors are seen along the coast, however, little activity is recorded on coastlines facing W1 (Figure 83). 

3.3.60 The Argyll coast and islands of the West region have valuable marine and coastal resources that support tourism activity. A survey found that the main reasons that tourists visit the area were scenery, wildlife and the high quality of the marine and coastal environment. The most popular coastal activities were coastal walks, visiting beaches and wildlife watching boat trips[191].

3.3.61 The islands of Coll and Tiree in the Inner Hebrides are recognised as a basking shark hotspot which is popular with wildlife watchers, divers and underwater photographers. The Isle of Mull is a popular destination for cetacean watching with many trips organised through the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust Visitors Centre which brings tourists to the area[192]. Other popular areas to visit include; Oban, Tiree, Iona and Staffa. 

Figure 83: West region: tourism activity density
Regional map of Scottish waters

Social Considerations

3.3.62 The total population in the West region is approximately 1.7 million[193]. The population is slightly higher than the national average for ages 10-24 and 60-89, but below the national average for the 45-59 age bands. The overall average age in the West Region is 45 years old (the national average is 41). 15% of the population is under 16 years old, 58% is of working age and 27% are pension age. 

3.3.63 In 2017 the employment rate in the region was 76%[194]. The greatest number of jobs in West region are associated with public admin, education and health (33%). Other important industry sectors are distribution, hotels and restaurants (19%), and banking and finance (12%). 

3.4 Environment

Designated Sites

3.4.1 Within the West region, there are numerous designated sites and sites proposed for designation in the future, including SPA, SAC, Ramsar, NCMPA, and SSSI. These sites are designated for a range of features considered important on an international or national level. 

3.4.2 Sites within the region include 15 SPAs (including 4 pSPAs), 23 SACs, 12 NCMPAs (including one proposed NCMPA) and 27 SSSIs, shown in Figure 84, Figure 85, Figure 86 and Figure 87.

3.4.3 The SPAs and proposed SPAs (pSPA), including coastal, marine and terrestrial sites, support a wide range of bird species which may use the sea within the Plan Option for feeding or during migration. SPAs within the western region include sites on the Inner and Outer Hebrides, and coastal and terrestrial sites on the mainland. Further detail on bird species distributions is contained within the Birds section below. There is no direct overlap between SPAs and the Plan Option in the West region. The closest SPA is Gruinart Flats SPA, designated for Barnacle Goose and Greenland White-fronted Goose, approximately 5km to the east of W1 (Figure 87). 

3.4.4 The Inner Hebrides and the Minches cSAC boarders W1 (See Figure 84) and extends through all the waters inshore from the Plan Option The Inner Hebrides and the Minches cSAC is designated for Harbour porpoise. Any export cabling associated with developments in the Plan Option could cross the cSAC. There are smaller SACs around the sea lochs in the West region designated for a range of features, including seals, marine mammals, intertidal habitat, reef habitats and otters. These include the Firth of Lorn SAC (designated for marine reef features, including marine mammals) and East Mingulay (designated for inshore sublittoral rocky reef) are located wholly inshore of the Plan Option and designated for both habitat and mobile features. In the riverine environments, inland from the West region, there are a number of SAC designated for diadromous (migratory) fish (included in Figure 85).

3.4.5 A large number of SSSI are located across the West region (Figure 86) and are protected for a range of features, including geology, habitats and species. Some, although not all, SSSI sites overlap with European SPA or SAC designations. The closest SSSI lies around 5km away from the W1 Plan Option. 

3.4.6 In addition to the sites identified within the boundaries of the West region, there may be more remote designated sites which may have the potential to be affected by offshore wind developments within the Plan Option. This would be considered on a project by project basis. 

Figure 84: West region: NCMPA sites
Regional map of Scottish waters
Figure 85: West region: marine and coastal SAC sites
Regional map of Scottish waters
Figure 86: West region: marine and coastal SSSI sites
Regional map of Scottish waters
Figure 87: West region: marine and coastal SPA sites
Regional map of Scottish waters

Water Quality

3.4.7 WFD monitoring incorporates coastal and transitional waters in the marine environment. This means that there is only a small overlap between the offshore wind farm development site and classified water bodies within the West region as the water bodies are mostly inshore of W1. W1 overlaps into the Atlantic Ocean - SW Mull water body (high status), shown in Figure 88. The majority of the water bodies in the West region are classified as either good or high potential, with the exception of Irvine Bay and the Clyde Estuary (Outer) water bodies, which were both classified as of medium status[195].

3.4.8 There are 43 protected waters for shellfish production in the West region (Figure 89), all within coastal regions associated with either mainland Scotland or the Hebridean islands with no direct interaction with the Plan Option. The shellfish waters are classified against their target objectives. Of the 43 shellfish waters in the West region, 33 are classified as not at target objective, the remainder are meeting target objectives.

3.4.9 There are only 11 classified bathing waters in the West region (Figure 89), almost exclusively within the Firth of Clyde extending southwards except for Machrihanish, just north of the Mull of Kintyre facing towards Ireland and Ganavan, a few miles north of Oban. Both Machrihanish and Ganavan are classified as excellent status, while the sites within the Firth of Clyde are more varied in their water quality.

Figure 88: West region: WFD coastal and transitional waterbody classifications
Regional map of Scottish waters
Figure 89: West region: shellfish and bathing water protected areas
Regional map of Scottish waters

Benthic Habitats and Species

3.4.10 As identified in Section 3.2 above, the benthic sediment within the Plan Option is characterised by circalittoral sand with some small areas of circalittoral rock and biogenic reef  (Figure 90). 

3.4.11 In water depths of less than 30 m in the West region, much of the coastline with subtidal rocky substrate is dominated by kelp beds and seaweed. Within the Plan Option however, the greater water depths limit the potential for plant life.

3.4.12 Within the northern half of the region there are records of benthic PMFs (Figure 91) including northern sea fan and sponge communities, including cup coral (Caryophyllia smithii) and northern sea fan (Swiftia pallida) on circalittoral rock. This habitat supports a species rich community with a range of soft corals, sea firs, sea mats and sea squirts. In addition, there are records of white cluster anemone (Parazoanthus anguicomus) and Northern feather star (Leptometra celtica)[196]. There are no records of PMFs present in W1, albeit that this may be an artefact of limited survey effort. However, there are a range of PMF supported by benthic habitats landwards of the Plan Option, including on subtidal rock habitats, inshore and shelf subtidal sediments, intertidal sediments and intertidal rocky shores.

Figure 90: West region: benthic habitats
Regional map of Scottish waters
Figure 91: West region: records of benthic PMF
Regional map of Scottish waters


3.4.13 The fish community in the West region is varied, with high species diversity. Several species are commercially important and are discussed above under Fishing in Section 3.3.

3.4.14 The West region is considered to be of high importance to basking sharks, with high numbers of sightings in the region, particularly around Coll and Tiree. It should be noted that whilst the highest density of sightings is in this area, the data reproduced in Figure 92 has not been adjusted for effort, and therefore there may be further areas of high density for basking sharks that have not been identified through this review. The importance of the region for basking sharks is recognised in the proposed designation of the Sea of Hebrides pMPA, identifying the widespread distribution of the sharks varying within the Sea of Hebrides dependent on the location of fronts.

3.4.15 In addition, inshore areas within the West region have been identified as important for the common skate, classed as critically endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list and a designated feature in the Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura NCMPA.

3.4.16 Within the West region there are known migration routes for returning adult salmon (Figure 45 in Section 2.3 shows the approximate routes, although should not be used to infer “safe” zones). Migratory fish, including Atlantic salmon and sea lamprey are protected through the SAC network in the West region, and the migration routes may intersect with the Plan Option. 

3.4.17 . The West region also contains important spawning or nursery grounds for fish species including hake, horse mackerel, sandeel, anglerfish and high-intensity nursery grounds for herring and whiting. Whilst there is a lack of data available to show available spawning sites for elasmobranch species, there are many known nursery ground areas in the area, which overlap the W1 site, including common skate, with high-intensity nursery grounds for spurdog[197]

Figure 92: West region: basking shark sightings distribution
Regional map of Scottish waters

Marine Mammals

3.4.18 Marine mammals are known to frequent the seas within the West region, including harbour seals, grey seals, harbour porpoise and minke whale.

3.4.19 There are areas, discussed above, designated to protect marine mammals within the West region, highlighting the importance of the seas around the Hebrides for marine mammal species. 

3.4.20 The two species of seal present in Scottish seas are both found in the West region. Grey seal breeding colonies, shown on Figure 93, are found on both the Inner and Outer Hebrides, however the most significant breeding population is found in the Monach Isles, just north of the boundary between the West and North regions, as reflected in the at sea usage of the area by grey seals (Figure 94). In total, approximately 18,000 pups are born annually in the Inner and Outer Hebrides.

3.4.21 There is an overlap between moderate grey seal at-sea usage and W1. This is particularly known to occur around the south-eastern quadrant of W1 (from the grey seal pupping site reported on the northwest coast of the Islay). 

3.4.22 The West region is generally of higher importance to the harbour seal population in Scotland, having expanded considerably in the west of Scotland and the western isles whilst populations to the east and in the Orkney Islands have suffered considerable declines[198]. Figure 95 shows the distribution of harbour seals in the West region. This shows that the harbour seals are predominantly found in the Inner Hebrides and coastal lochs. Given that harbour seals are known to predominantly hunt within approximately 40 to 50km of their haul out sites[199], it can be inferred that harbour seals are likely to be using the region as foraging grounds, although it is generally considered that there is a depth restriction of approximately 50 m for harbour seal foraging. There is considered to be some level of overlap with W1, albeit data indicates that it is likely to be at relatively low levels. 

3.4.23 A wide variety of cetaceans are found in the West region, particularly around the Inner Hebridean islands. The Inner Hebrides and the Minches cSAC is designated for harbour porpoise, whilst the Sea of Hebrides proposed MPA is being recommended for designation based partly on the population of minke whale known to frequent the area[200]. In addition, the proposed North East Lewis MPA, discussed further in the North region, is being recommended for designation including for Risso’s dolphin, known to be found in high concentrations off the west coast of Scotland. 

3.4.24 The Western Isles and sea lochs in the West region and surrounding seas are known to be used extensively by otter, with SAC within the region designated for their protection. Most of the usage of the seas within the West region by otter will be in coastal regions, with foraging generally considered to be limited to 10 m water depths, considerably shallower than depths within the Plan Option.

Figure 93: West region: seal haulout sites and grey seal pupping sites
Regional map of Scottish waters
Figure 94: West region: grey seal at sea usage
Regional map of Scottish waters
Figure 95: West region: harbour seal at sea usage
Regional map of Scottish waters


3.4.25 The importance of the West region to birds is demonstrated in the designation of 11 SPAs and further four proposed SPAs (Figure 87) with marine elements and additional terrestrial sites, as discussed above. 

3.4.26 There are both breeding and non-breeding populations of a wide variety of seabirds in the West region. Significant seabird colonies are found either in close proximity to or directly landwards of the Plan Option. The condition of the species at the colonies are reviewed as part of the SPA management process. The overall condition of the seabird assemblages at the majority of locations is favourable, however at an individual species level several species are identified as being in unfavourable condition, and therefore management measures are in place to reduce pressure on these species. Species of particular importance on the west coast include black guillemots, Manx shearwater, storm petrel, red throated diver, kittiwakes, razorbill, murre and eider. Wakefield et al[201] identify that the West region, in particular the area of sea to the south of the Outer Hebrides is utilised by considerable numbers of shag, kittiwake and murre. 

3.4.27 Figure 96 maps the total records of birds recorded in the marine environment in the West region. Whilst the data mapped has not been corrected for survey effort, it highlights areas of high importance, particularly in inshore waters in close proximity to SPAs. The areas of highest concentration within the Plan Option are within the northern extent, concentrated around the IBA and SPA associated with Mingulay and Berneray. There are also a number of coastal areas identified as either IBA or RSPB reserves in the West region, covering large areas of the Inner Hebrides close to W1 (Figure 96).

3.4.28 In addition to seabird activity within the West region, there are a number of terrestrial bird species such as corncrake, whooper swan and waterfowl species, which transit the area as migratory species, and white tailed eagles which may transit or forage through or close to the Plan Option both during day and night time, with important populations in the West region. 

Figure 96: West region: ESAS records per 0.1 degree cell
Regional map of Scottish waters

Cultural Heritage

3.4.29 There are four Historic MPAs designated in the West region, all related to shipwrecks dating from 1600-1900 (Figure 97). Three of the wrecks (Duart Point, Dartmouth and Mingary) are in the Sound of Mull, whilst the further wreck is in the Firth of Clyde (Iona I).

3.4.30 In addition to the Historic MPAs, there are scheduled monuments (including protected wrecks) within the West region. Those in the marine environment are concentrated around the coast and include a wide range of historically significant buildings, shipwrecks and structures. There is one shipwreck designated for the protection of military remains (HMS / M Vandal). There are multiple non-protected shipwrecks in the West region, two of which are within W1.

3.4.31 Within the West region, there are few examples of marine palaeolandscapes (landscapes which have become submerged following occupation by hominids). This is due to the steeply sloping coastlines and high-water depths. Therefore, the potential for there to be submerged archaeological remains is limited to areas very close to the shoreline with only the potential to be impacted by cable landfall.  

3.4.32 Work undertaken by Project Samphire from 2013 to 2015 has recorded sites of cultural importance in the marine environment off the west coast of Scotland, principally in inshore waters and for the most part associated with vessels or aircraft[202].

Figure 97: West region: Historic MPA
Regional map of Scottish waters

Landscape / Seascape

3.4.33 A landscape / seascape assessment has been undertaken for the Firth of Clyde, defining the nature of the coastlines in the area. 

3.4.34 No further assessment has been undertaken on the remaining west-facing mainland or island coastline in the West region. There are National Scenic Areas with coastal elements in the west region, shown in Figure 98. The closest NSA considering open seascapes as a feature are South Uist Machair and Loch na Keal, Isle of Mull, approximately 30km from W1. 

3.4.35 There are a number of Special Landscape Areas (SLA) identified by the Highlands Council in the West region. None of the SLA identified within the West region are on coastlines directly adjacent to the Plan Option. In addition, Argyll and Bute Council identify areas of panoramic quality[203], including on Mull and areas of Islay approximately 5km from the Plan Option W1.

3.4.36 The low population density on the west coast of Scotland means that the majority of the coastline in the West region can be considered to be isolated, and Scott et al.[204] identifies that there is a varied coastline in the area, with intricacies that would potentially be affected if development were to occur. All coastlines facing towards the W1 are assessed by Scott et al. to be of medium to high or high sensitivity[205]

Figure 98: West Region: National Scenic Areas
Regional map of Scottish waters

3.5 Planning Issues

3.5.1 There are seven local authorities with coastal interests within the West region. Of these, four are wholly within the Firth of Clyde, and therefore will not have any interactions with the Plan Option. 

3.5.2 The further three local authorities are: 

  • Highlands,
  • Argyll and Bute, and
  • Eilean Siar.

3.5.3 The local council responsible for land facing W1 is the Argyll and Bute local authority. 

3.5.4 Eilean Siar Council has produced a local development plan (LDP)[206], which incorporates the development of onshore manufacturing bases to support future offshore wind development, with focus on the expansion and development of currently developed land. There are no specific plans included in the LDP regarding the siting of offshore wind in proximity to the islands, although a spatial strategy for wind farms has been developed which identifies likely limitations or constraints in the immediate vicinity and to the east of Mingulay[207]

3.5.5 Argyll and Bute Council has identified the potential to develop locations within its area to support offshore development, specifically identifying supporting development in Campbeltown as part of its renewables energy action plan[208]. The islands of Coll and Tiree, and Islay, the closest of the Inner Hebrides to the Plan Option are all the under the jurisdiction of Argyll and Bute Council. 

3.5.6 The Highland Council has considered the potential for offshore wind within its area, identifying moderate potential for offshore wind within the West region in their region of responsibility around Skye. 



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