Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas

Scottish Executive Question Time — Rural Affairs and the Environment – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 1st July 2010.

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Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour 2:15 pm, 1st July 2010

To ask the Scottish Executive what steps it has taken, or are planned, to progress the designation of nature conservation marine protected areas. (S3O-11190)

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

A statement setting out the principles to be followed in designating MPAs in offshore waters adjacent to Scotland was laid in the Scottish Parliament on 12 March 2010. We recently consulted on a draft marine nature conservation strategy as well as draft guidelines on the selection of marine protected areas.

A programme of work to inform site designation is under way in partnership with Scottish Natural Heritage and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

As the cabinet secretary is aware, there is a commitment to establishing a coherent network of MPAs by 2012, covering all our marine species in their full range across Scotland's waters. It seems strange that seabirds are currently omitted from the draft list of priority marine features, which will be used to steer the designation. The Natura network on its own will not be able to cover the full species diversity and range of seabirds.

Does the cabinet secretary consider that Scotland's network of marine protected areas can be ecologically coherent if it misses out on the most important places for nationally important seabird populations? What steps will he take to ensure that the criteria are amended to address that issue?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

The member raises the important issue of protecting the unique bird species that we have in Scottish waters and in Scotland as a whole. As the member knows, we have consulted on the priority marine features that would be considered when designating marine protected areas. We are considering the responses to that consultation. I will certainly take on board the member's concerns in that regard. However, I point out that many of our seabirds are already protected under the birds and habitats directives, so protection is largely already in place. We are considering the responses to the consultation on what we take into account in designating the marine protected areas.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

The cabinet secretary is aware that not only seabirds but all Natura species appear to have been left out. Given the requirement under section 68(2)(a) of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010, what is the scientific basis for excluding Natura species from the draft list of priority marine features, particularly with reference to cetaceans?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I can only refer Robin Harper to my previous answer. When we are looking at priority marine features, not everything can be a priority. Therefore, we have to take into account to a certain extent what is already protected by legislation elsewhere and may not therefore require the designation of a marine protected area. However, that is why we held the consultations: to listen to the views from the various stakeholders and members of the Parliament about what should be in the final list of priority marine features.