Enhancing protection of Scotland's seas

Ensuring marine ecosystems recover and build resilience in the face of climate change.

Conservation of Scotland’s marine environment has evolved over the years, and is now delivered through a combination of marine protected areas, species conservation and wider seas policies and measures.  Scottish Ministers have committed to enhanced protection of our seas.

A rocky reef with dead men's fingers and a shoal of juvenile gadoids
A rocky reef with dead men's fingers and a shoal of juvenile gadoids

Why do we need enhanced protection?

Scotland’s seas are full of life and rich in colour. They provide us with food, energy, jobs and defence against climate change. However, human pressures on our seas are increasing and taking their toll on nature, as highlighted in Scotland’s Marine Assessment (2020). The demands we put on our seas need to be managed for the benefit and enjoyment of generations to come. Enhanced protection will help Scotland to fulfil its national and international commitments to tackle the twin crises of nature loss and climate change in our seas.

We have an opportunity to help our seas be healthier and more productive, which has never been more vital to our efforts to tackle the nature-climate emergency and support communities to thrive. We need to approach this opportunity in partnership with all interests, so that we all benefit from our rich seas now and into the future.

What is being considered?

The Scottish Government is determined to make a step change in marine protection to ensure the government’s vision for clean, healthy, safe, productive and diverse seas, managed to meet the long term needs of nature and people is met. They are specifically committed to restoring marine habitats in Scotland’s inshore waters, recognising that those waters contain valuable blue carbon hotspots, nursery grounds for fish stocks and an array of rich marine wildlife and biodiversity. In 2022/23, Scottish Government ran a public consultation seeking views on a draft policy and approach to selecting Highly Protected Marine Areas. More than 4400 responses were received from a broad spectrum of stakeholders. 

Following initial analysis of consultation responses, the Cabinet Secretary, Mairi McAllan, confirmed that plans to deliver increased protection will be revised.  And more time will be taken to work with industry, communities and conservation organisations to enhance marine protection, while supporting any groups that wish to pursue community-led marine protection in their local area.

The Scottish Government's full response to the consultation and the analysis of consultation responses have now been published.

A black goby in an oyster shell amongst seagrass
A black goby in an oyster shell amongst seagrass

What is our role?

Our role is to advise Scottish Government on the need for, and the benefits and impacts to nature, of enhanced marine protection. This may include providing advice on the different ways in which enhanced marine protection could be achieved, and providing supporting evidence.  Our role is also to engage with stakeholders and the public. 

Next steps

Following a full review of the public consultation responses, and further discussions with all those who may be affected by these changes, and collaboration with industry, community and conservation organisations, a new pathway and timetable will be developed for delivering enhanced marine protection.




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