Consultation on Marine Protected Areas – A combative or collaborative process?

Dr Sally Campbell

The Marine (Scotland) Act (2010) requires Scottish Ministers to take the necessary action to protect and, where appropriate, enhance the health of Scotland’s seas, to develop a national marine plan that includes marine ecosystem objectives and establish a network of well-managed Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

Before the process commenced in Scotland there were discussions with the JNCC (Joint Nature Conservation Council, adviser to the United Kingdom Government on nature conservation issues), SNH (Scottish Natural Heritage) and Marine Scotland as to priority features to initially protect. For South Arran MPA this is designated for its diversity of animals and plants including maerl beds, kelp and seaweed communities and possibly the largest seagrass bed in the Clyde; in essence this MPA is intended to protect some of Scotland’s most important and productive seabed habitats.


The key question remains, what are the conservation objectives? Certainly the aim is to allow the maerl beds to regenerate and to conserve other valuable features of the South Arran MPA. And in this latter case what are the valuable features to be protected? The answer is burrowed mud; kelp and seaweed communities on sublittoral sediments; maerl beds; maerl or coarse shell gravel with burrowing sea cucumbers; ocean quahog aggregations; seagrass beds; shallow tide-swept coarse sands with burrowing bivalves.

These are real objectives but it also needs to be recognised that although simplistic in definition these protected feature titles allow for political decisions to be taken without getting into a detailed and often confusing habitat biodiversity debate. The proposal to establish a South Arran MPA was not drafted by the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST) alone. Without the investment in fresh survey work by Marine Scotland and SNH it has to be doubted that the proposal would have made it through the selection guidelines for all the features noted above.

In the wider Scottish sphere there was also significant work to get other stakeholders from NGOs, static fishermen, and the mobile fishermen, to accept the MPAs around Scotland and encouragingly there has been a massive shift from their initial combative positions. In addition through this consultative process a new representative organisation has emerged to represent the creelers- the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation (SCFF). This has assisted in balancing the traditional powerbase of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF), which mostly supports the mobile sector and has been highly effective historically in influencing government policy.

Practically workable management measures will also be required for the MPAs. So there is a great deal of change in the air, from implementation timelines, to quotas for fish landings, closed areas, conflict resolution, gear conflict and the thorny issue of compliance. The tendency is to see the process in terms of who loses and who wins. Socio-economics remains a difficult area and livelihoods and community viability are used as defensive issues. So getting this far on protected features and MPA spatial boundaries is a first step, rather than finality in marine conservation around Scotland. It is a beginning of a coherent network. But it is a positive start slowly bringing more individuals and agencies on board.

Of course there are many voicing critical comments about what is so far proposed by the Scottish Government. However, in the specific context of South Arran MPA we need to applaud the fact that by carefully monitoring enrichment and productivity in the existing Lamlash Bay no take zone and the further surveys of biodiversity in the south of Arran by University of York, Marine Conservation Society with Seasearch, SNH, Marine Scotland, University of Glasgow and COAST over several years it has been possible to demonstrate a positive outcome! More discussions on burrowed mud continue as this sea-bed feature is felt to be vital for the Nephrops bottom trawling fishery so conflict here. Management measures, effort control and compliance will hopefully follow in 2016.

At the Coastal Futures Conference in London in January 2015, David Mallon, Head of Marine Environment at Marine Scotland talked of the partnership of Marine Scotland, SNH, JNCC, Historic Scotland, SEPA (Scottish Environment Protection Agency) plus the public including NGOs and fisheries, which has made progress possible to date. The Scottish Inshore and Offshore Zones cover 61% of UK waters. Science led research aimed at delivering national and international guidelines, based on the OSPAR convention is generating useful outcomes.

Stakeholder engagement focused around defined valuable features and their spatial relationships, areas of sea-bed within Scottish territorial waters, was achieved by way of five national workshops designed to debate and endorse where possible Marine Scotland proposals. In addition from November 2014, 56 locations were visited for consultation meetings all around Scotland. This has been an impressive exercise bringing parties together and defusing conflict.

It was clear from the outset that the MPAs in Scotland would need to be based on scientific evidence if historical conflicts over resources were to be resolved. By the end of 2016 the intention is to have in place a developed management plan for each site to include a review of fishing in inshore MPAs and SACs (Special Areas of Conservation).

How to get there is illustrated below. The consultation stage is complete. The implementation follows and it is at this stage that effort control, gear control and seasonal controls will be discussed. Whilst that seems straightforward it is now clear that these areas are generating some would say inevitable “them and us” scenarios between mobile fisheries, NGO and statics too. It is only though understanding and a willingness to debate other groups’ points of view and fears then finding a means of working together constructively that Scotland will succeed in re-establishing real sustainable ecosystems and fisheries. Seeing through the fog of who has the most power and influence to get what “they” want is still an issue, and the Scottish government will need in the end to exert its constitutional power to move things forward before the good work described above is lost and groups return to their entrenched positions.



David Mallon talked about the process in developing the MPAs and the lessons learned which come down to this:

  • Know your audience
  • Being clear about what you want
  • People value early engagement
  • Being clear how people can engage
  • Being flexible and transparent
  • Maintaining communication
  • Engagement to support formal engagement

What is quite evident is that success will come through positive engagement with individuals, representative groups and policy makers. Communication processes are imperative!

Clyde2020- a new vision for the Firth of Clyde ecosystem was also discussed by David Mallon. This is a separate initiative from the MPAs. It aims towards bringing together divided opinions and the Clyde2020 summit looked at an ultimate vision, the gaps in knowledge and what research and practical actions need to be taken. Selected high level marine objectives were singled out as vital:

  • Achieving a sustainable marine economy
  • Ensuring a strong, healthy and just society
  • Living within environmental limits
  • Promoting good governance
  • Using sound science responsibly

Isabel Glasgow, Chair of Clyde Forum talked at the Summit of the Steering Group to be formed and stressed that data is the key to a successful outcome. She finished by saying “We need to get beyond hopelessness and indeed the obituary of the Clyde” and indeed we do !

This Steering Group is now up and running and a Clyde2020 Research Advisory team has been formed. The Clyde is often seen as a contained and compact area, but the complexity of its ecosystems, effects of climate change, social and economic forces make it a fascinating and multidimensional area. Watch this space !

[SSACN Note – in the interests of openness and transparency the Clyde Fisherman’s Association were offered the opportunity to contribute a paper, unfortunately none was forthcoming.]

Dr Sally Campbell is particularly interested in the sustainability of complex ecosystems and discusses why a healthy seabed is vital for the long term productivity of the marine environment.


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