UK dolphin and porpoise conservation strategy: consultation

A discussion paper on the proposed aims and actions for the UK Dolphin and Porpoise Strategy.

The UK Dolphin and Porpoise Conservation Strategy

Aims and objectives

The strategy aims to ensure effective management to achieve and/or maintain favourable conservation status for eight of the most commonly found dolphin and porpoise species in UK waters. In addition, the minke whale was included as the ninth species in the strategy. These species have been selected because they occur predictably in UK waters and have similar characteristics and conservation needs. The collective name for all species of dolphins, porpoises and whales is cetaceans.

The strategy provides a summary of existing management measures and obligations which help to manage pressures on the nine species of dolphins, porpoises and minke whales.

The strategy seeks a joined-up approach to management, with both site and wider measures working together to conserve dolphin, porpoise and minke whale populations. It proposes a series of high-level actions to deliver these outcomes.

The strategy's purpose is to deliver and/or maintain favourable conservation status by:

  • addressing existing and emerging pressures in the marine environment, with a view to conserving UK dolphin, porpoise and minke whale populations
  • acknowledging where work is already planned or underway to meet conservation targets
  • creating opportunities for sectoral collaboration

The strategy has the following objectives:

  • identify vulnerabilities and the relevant pressures on the populations of the nine species of dolphins, porpoises and minke whales in UK waters
  • identify current management measures and obligations and opportunities for improvement
  • prioritise the management of key pressures that pose the greatest risk to achieving and or maintaining favourable conservation status
  • initiate new actions, where necessary, to maintain or improve conservation status
  • improve understanding of population status and trends
  • raise public awareness and understanding of dolphin, porpoise and minke whale populations in UK waters
  • bring together organisations to implement the actions

The strategy covers all UK waters, from the coast out to the extent of UK continental shelf (see Figure 1) and encompasses existing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Actions set out in the strategy are intended to support the development of any conservation measures, required across UK waters, and the achievement of site-based conservation objectives. As part of achieving and/or maintaining favourable conservation status across UK waters, the strategy recognises local/regional variations in populations and pressures where appropriate (Table 4, Technical Report).

Figure 1: Map of the protected sites over which this strategy applies.
A map of the British Isles, highlighting the continental shelf limits adjacent to the UK and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). These are mostly found north west and north east of Scotland, west of Wales, east and south west of England, and east of Northern Ireland.

The species covered by the strategy are listed in Table 1 below.

Table 1. Species of dolphins, porpoises and minke whales covered by the strategy
Common name Scientific name
Harbour porpoise Phocoena phocoena
Common dolphin Delphinus delphis
Atlantic white-sided dolphin Lagenorhynchus acutus
Bottlenose dolphin Tursiops truncatus
White-beaked dolphin Lagenorhynchus albirostris
Risso's dolphin Grampus griseus
Killer whale Orcinus orca
Long-finned pilot whale Globicephala melas
Minke whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata

Guiding Principles

In developing the strategy, the following guiding principles were applied:

  • the strategy aims to achieve and/or maintain the favourable conservation status of populations through management informed by research and monitoring
  • the strategy will achieve and or maintain favourable conservation outcomes for species either through delivery of direct practical measures or improved understanding through research
  • the strategy will be implemented in partnership with stakeholders and will be reviewed regularly and updated to reflect changing priorities, new knowledge, and available resources - the existing valuable contribution from stakeholders is recognised and we will continue to develop opportunities for future collaborative delivery of the strategy actions
  • existing commitments for dolphins, porpoises and minke whales will continue to be pursued - evidence collected under this strategy will contribute to delivery of those commitments
  • appropriate standards and information systems will be used in data collection and management - this will include Quality Assurance (QA) measures and ensure discoverability and accessibility of data
  • spend on achieving the actions resulting from the strategy should be balanced with other relevant programmes that may improve our understanding of population status and trends, and key pressures
  • the actions proposed within the strategy should be integrated as far as possible with other activities to minimise resource requirements - we will work to achieve better co-ordination, share costs and avoid duplication where possible

The Technical Report

The Technical Report provides detail of the vulnerability and confidence assessments that have been undertaken. These provide the basis for determining whether new or improved action is required.

The assessments consider how vulnerable the species are to pressures and considers existing management measures in place. From this potential issues for each species can be identified and be taken into account when determining what actions should be taken forward.

Required actions

This section identifies the actions considered necessary to:

  • maintain or/and improve the conservation status of dolphins, porpoises and minke whales (management actions)
  • help improve our understanding of the species, the issues that affect them and awareness raising (research, monitoring and communication actions)

The results of the technical report's existing management analysis identify where further action is necessary. These have been condensed into actions covering all of the species which should enable better delivery of management, research, monitoring and communication.

Tables 3 and 4 below list these actions, summarises the rationale for inclusion, and on implementation will identify the lead organisation responsible for taking forward the action. The scores referenced in the 'Rationale' column of Table 3 are detailed in the technical report. The Action Plan document has been developed to provide a more detailed description of the problem and the proposed steps to resolve it. Each action is displayed in an Action Sheet, which is based on the model used within OSPAR.

Table 3: Description of required management actions
Management Actions Rationale Project coordinator
  • Consolidate and improve knowledge on sources, pathways and impacts of pollutants, plastics and biotoxins on cetaceans to develop and implement better management.
The scores for activities within this action indicated varying levels of research and consideration of new management measures were required for all species. Government and SNCBs
  • Continue to develop and implement a UK bycatch mitigation initiative.
There is a need for more research on bycatch and in some instances, consideration of additional measures for species assigned a medium vulnerability to this pressure. Government
  • Improve understanding of entanglements and work towards developing strategies to reduce this threat.
There is a need for more research on entanglement and in some instances, consideration of additional measures for species assigned a medium vulnerability. Government
  • Consolidate and improve our understanding of noise impacts on cetaceans to better inform management and conservation.
  • Develop an operational framework to manage the cumulative impact of acoustic disturbance in the context of environmental assessments.
  • Understand the pressures of increasing underwater anthropogenic noise and potential impact on cetacean populations.
  • Future trends in underwater noise: Consolidate and improve knowledge of increasing sources of underwater noise.
Acoustic disturbance may result from numerous activities, from piling, to vessel noise and use of pingers. This action has been developed into three sections. The scores across the species indicate that further research is required, in some instances where there is no evidence of impact, but there is overlap of the species and pressure. Government and SNCBs
  • Establish approaches to managing wildlife tourism.
Recreational and wildlife tourism has been highlighted for four species (common dolphin, coastal bottlenose dolphin, killer whale and minke whale) as requiring further research and to consider management measures. SNCBs
  • Improve knowledge of the physical condition of supporting habitats and prey availability to inform management and conservation.
Reduction in prey availability requires further research for all nine species and some consideration for management measures for medium vulnerability. SNCBs
Table 4: Description of required research, monitoring and communication actions
Action Rationale Project coordinator
  • Develop a framework to prioritise research requirements.
Given the research requirements stated above, developing a prioritisation framework will allow the division of work and dedication of resources to undertaken required projects. Additional tailored projects (e.g. to investigate mortality from ship strike) may be required. SNCBs
  • Develop and implement an effective monitoring programme to provide a more robust understanding of the conservation status of UK cetaceans.
Working in parallel to the prioritisation framework, a monitoring programme can continue to be developed that will support the management actions Government and SNCBs
  • Develop and implement communications with stakeholders to support conservation actions.
To keep stakeholders up to date, but also to enable data sharing with the working groups to assist in progressing the actions. Government

Next steps in the process

Where respondents have given permission for their response to be made public, and after we have checked that they contain no potentially defamatory material, responses will be made available to the public at If you use the consultation hub to respond, you will receive a copy of your response via email.

Following the closing date, all responses will be analysed and considered along with any other available evidence to help us. Responses will be published where we have been given permission to do so. An analysis report will also be made available.

Comments and complaints

If you have any comments about how this consultation exercise has been conducted, please send them to the contact address above or to

The Scottish Government Consultation Process

Consultation is an essential part of the policymaking process. It gives us the opportunity to consider your opinion and expertise on a proposed area of work.

You can find all our consultations online: Each consultation details the issues under consideration, as well as a way for you to give us your views, either online, by email or by post.

Responses will be analysed and used as part of the decision making process, along with a range of other available information and evidence. We will publish a report of this analysis for every consultation. Depending on the nature of the consultation exercise the responses received may:

  • indicate the need for policy development or review
  • inform the development of a particular policy
  • help decisions to be made between alternative policy proposals
  • be used to finalise legislation before it is implemented

While details of particular circumstances described in a response to a consultation exercise may usefully inform the policy process, consultation exercises cannot address individual concerns and comments, which should be directed to the relevant public body.



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