Marine planning

The Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 introduced a statutory marine planning system for Scotland – a first for the country.

Scotland has had a planning system on land for more than 60 years. But, until recently, there’s been no equivalent to plan for use of the marine environment.

Different marine sectors have developed in isolation from one another and there’s been no way to plan ahead and coordinate activities in our busy seas.

NatureScot welcomed the introduction of a marine planning system as one of the most crucial elements of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010.

How we hope marine planning will work

We’re keen that marine planning will:

  • guide the location of all marine uses and activities, ensuring that they occur in the most suitable and least environmentally sensitive areas
  • minimise conflicts of interest and promote compatible uses
  • follow clear sustainable development objectives and respect environmental limits to ensure healthy and productive seas in future
  • safeguard important natural and cultural heritage features, like priority marine features, and complement the role of Marine Protected Areas
  • support measures to actively improve the environmental quality of our coasts and seas, particularly where this enhances ecosystem services that provide benefits for people

A three-tier marine planning system

The Marine Act introduced a three-tier marine planning system, which covers the use of Scottish waters at the international, national and regional level.


The UK Marine Act provisions link, via a UK Marine Policy Statement, to wider initiatives such as the:


Scotland’s National Marine Plan (NMP) provides a framework for managing all developments, activities and interests in or affecting Scotland’s marine area (territorial and offshore waters). Adopted in March 2015, the NMP sets out high-level objectives, general policies and sectoral policies.


Regional Marine Plans will be prepared for 11 Scottish Marine Regions covering Scottish territorial waters. Statutory regional Marine Planning Partnerships (MPPs) will develop the Regional Marine Plans in line with the NMP.

Once Regional Marine Plans are in place, decisions made by public bodies – such as granting licences or planning permission, or managing other activities – must reflect plan policies.

Shetland and Clyde were the first regions to set up MPPs and be granted authority to create Regional Marine Plans in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Orkney followed these, with authority being granted in 2020.  NatureScot sits on the Advisory group of the Shetland Islands Marine Planning Partnership and is a member of the Clyde Marine Planning Partnership.

Find out about the:

Our role in marine planning

NatureScot will have an important role in plan preparation, implementation and monitoring at both the national and regional scales.

In particular, we will:

  • advise on the Strategic Environmental Assessment and Habitats Regulations Appraisal of marine plans
  • provide information on the importance, distribution and sensitivity of marine habitats and species
  • help to determine marine natural heritage priorities – e.g. biodiversity, geology, landscape and recreation
  • advise on the management of Marine Protected Areas and other sensitive sites within the plan area
  • support coordination between the land and marine planning systems

To guide the application of an ecosystem approach, we have prepared the below report for marine planners and others engaged in the process.

We work closely with communities through local coastal partnerships and Scottish Regional Inshore Fisheries Groups. Our engagement with these groups will be closely linked to our input to marine plans.

Find out more

Planning and development: coastal change guidance

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