Environmentalists call for communities to be at heart of improved marine protection

03 May 2023

A coalition of environmental groups has said that local communities must be at the heart of the roll out of improved protections for our seas, ahead of a debate in parliament (Wed).

The Scottish Government has committed to introducing Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) to support ecosystem recovery and protect against climate change. The network of HPMAs will cover at least 10% of Scotland’s seas, in line with international recommendations and the EU’s own 10% target. The coalition fully supports this commitment.

During the Scottish Government consultation on the proposal, many coastal and island communities expressed concern that restrictions on fishing would damage the sustainability of areas dependent on the industry.

In a fresh intervention, leading marine conservationists have said that both community and ecological interests must be central to decision making.

Scottish Environment LINK, a network of environmental charities, is calling on the Scottish Government to ensure local communities have a core role in the designation of these new highly protected sites.

Alongside a designation process led by science with communities at the heart, Scottish Environment LINK has said that the Scottish Government should develop test scenarios in collaboration with stakeholders to explore how protected areas can work alongside sustainable fisheries.

Calum Duncan, Convener of LINK’s Marine Group and Head of Conservation Scotland at the Marine Conservation Society, said:

“Our seas are a vital resource – providing jobs and food through our fishing industry, as well as wider environmental benefits, including acting as a major carbon sink.

“We face catastrophic risks to our ocean from over-exploitation and climate change. We must act now to recover nature at sea and help tackle the climate and nature crises.

“Protecting parts of our sea from damaging or extractive activity is a proven and effective way to help nature recover. We know that this can in turn benefit neighbouring fishers and other sea users. Scotland’s only existing no take zone was driven by the community itself – which is why it is crucial to have communities at the decision-making table. 

“A process supported by science, and with the community engaged at the heart, can deliver proportionate and effective marine protection while benefiting from local and industry knowledge”

The community-led no take zone in north Lamlash Bay is Scotland’s only strictly protected area, broadly equivalent to a HPMA, and demonstrates the potential for success on a small scale. As well as ecological improvement over the last decade, the no take zone has had wider community and economic benefits.

Since 2010, the protected area in Lamlash Bay, Isle of Arran has shown a dramatic ecological improvement. Measured biodiversity has increased by 50%, while the populations of commercially important species are two to three times higher within the no take zone. The experience in Lamlash Bay clearly demonstrates the potential spillover benefits to Scottish fishers from even small areas of strict protection. 

Howard Wood OBE, Co-Founder of Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST) said:

“While COAST support HPMAs as they will reverse the decline in our marine environment, as COAST have shown on Arran over the past two decades, communities must be involved in both carefully choosing the areas and then in the ongoing monitoring of these areas.

“HPMAs must be brought in alongside other spatial measures that allow low impact fishing activities to both continue and thrive.”


End Notes

Cross-stakeholder letter to the Cabinet Secretary on HPMAs (sent 31 March): https://www.scotlink.org/publication/cross-stakeholder-letter-to-the-cabinet-secretary-on-hpmas/ 

LINK’s Frequently Asked Questions on HPMAs: https://www.scotlink.org/highly-protected-marine-areas-faqs/ 

LINK briefing on the evidence base for HPMAs: https://www.scotlink.org/evidence-base-briefing-on-hpmas/


Image credit: Lisa Kamphausen for NatureScot

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