Scottish Parliament votes to support iconic mobile species

31 Jan 2018

Save Scottish Seas Campaign members welcomed today’s Scottish Parliament announcement to provide additional resources for the development of four nature conservation Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) including for some of Scotland’s most iconic mobile species. Following a call from the Scottish Green Party, the Scottish Government has committed additional funding to support the designation of these important sites in a revised budget proposal that was put to a vote in Scottish Parliament.

If designated the MPAs would be the world’s first sites designated for the protection of basking shark, Risso’s dolphin and minke whale, and would see the introduction of area based measures that should provide greater protection than surrounding areas of sea.

The four MPAs – Sea of the Hebrides MPA, Shiant East Bank MPA, North-East Lewis MPA and Southern Trench MPA –were first proposed in 2012, but were not taken forward at the time as more evidence was needed. Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Government’s conservation advisory body, provided this additional information and formally recommended the designation of all four sites in 2014 towards completion of the MPA network.


Basking sharks are currently listed as officially endangered in the North East Atlantic on the IUCN Red List of species, and are a species of conservation importance in Scottish and wider UK waters. Whilst the EU Conservation Status of UK minke whale is ‘favourable’, Risso’s dolphin is ‘unknown’.


Calum Duncan, Marine Conservation Society, Convenor LINK Marine Group: We commend the Scottish Government’s commitment to speed up progress on Scotland’s MPA network, which along with welcome existing commitments, will help ensure healthy seas now and tomorrow. These four MPAs are urgently needed to fill gaps in the network, particularly for the endangered basking shark and other iconic species, but also for sandeels, seafan and sponge habitats and landscape-scale features important for the wider health of Scotland’s seas, provided they become well-managed.


Sarah Dolman, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, vice-convenor LINK Marine Group: We are delighted with this news! We were proud to provide Scottish Government with more than 36,000 postcards supporting whale and dolphin MPAs, alongside our own scientific evidence back in 2012. These MPAs will be world-firsts – including for Risso’s dolphins, where WDC have been studying their little-known calving and feeding behaviour off Lewis since 2010. Once designation and management are in place, these MPAs will ensure the protection of Scotland’s much loved marine wildlife, including minke whales and Risso’s dolphins.


Dr Sam Collin, Marine Planning Officer, Scottish Wildlife Trust said: “There is wealth of research pointing to the significance of these areas for species including basking sharks and minke whale so we’re very pleased that the Scottish Government has now committed to moving these new Marine Protected Areas forward. The designation of these sites would reinforce the Scottish Government’s commitment through the UN Sustainable Development Goals to conserve and sustainably use Scotland’s seas.”


Dr Lauren Hartny-Mills, Science and Policy Officer, Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust: “We are absolutely thrilled to hear that the Scottish Government plans to progress these important MPAs which will help protect Scotland’s iconic mobile species. Our research on cetaceans and basking sharks on the west coast of Scotland has helped provide the scientific evidence needed to support these sites. These MPAs will protect important feeding and breeding grounds for charismatic species such as minke whales in the Sea of Hebrides, where some individuals have been returning every year for over a decade! With our marine environments under increasing pressure from human activity and the effects of climate change, we need to act now to provide the protection they need.”


MPAs are recognised as an effective conservation tool globally, and with the right management measures in place can provide much needed spatial protection to highly mobile species as well as seabed habitats. Although cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) are strictly protected under European Law, MPAs can help protect areas that contain significant numbers of animals, or are essential to key life cycle stages – such as calving, feeding or breeding.


Most minke whales are seasonal visitors, leaving in the winter months and returning to feed in Scotland’s rich coastal waters, like those in the Sea of the Hebrides and the Southern Trench, through to the autumn. People come from all over the world to watch minke whales off Scotland’s coastline, with more than 51,000 people taking part in whale watching boat tours on the west coast of Scotland in 2015.


Risso’s dolphins can be found in Scottish waters year round and many young calves have been spotted off the Isle of Lewis. They are typically an offshore species, favouring the seas around remote islands for feeding.


Recent research by the University of Exeter, in collaboration with the Marine Conservation Society, demonstrated the global significance of the Sea of the Hebrides MPA for basking sharks in 2016. Wherever they roam in our waters, basking sharks have protection from disturbance under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004, but these gentle giants would benefit from MPA protection in hotspots where they are known to congregate.




Contact details

Emilie Devenport, Marine Policy and Engagement Officer,, M: 07726 362727

Calum Duncan, Convenor of LINK Marine Group,, M: 07841985595

Editors’ Notes


Scottish Environment LINK is the forum for Scotland’s voluntary environment community, with over 35 member bodies representing a broad spectrum of environmental interests with the common goal of contributing to a more environmentally sustainable society.


LINK is a Scottish Charity (SC000296) and a Scottish Company Limited by guarantee (SC250899). LINK is core funded by Membership Subscriptions and by grants from Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Government and Charitable Trusts.








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