Coastal Communities

– in the Scottish Parliament on 3rd February 2022.

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Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-02692, in the name of Ariane Burgess, on revitalising coastal communities. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises what it sees as the importance of restoring Scotland’s coastal environment to tackle the climate and nature emergencies; considers that nature restoration presents economic opportunities for coastal communities; believes that communities must be at the heart of nature restoration and the stewardship of their environment; commends the work of the Coastal Communities Network, which consists of 19 community groups across Scotland, and which, it understands, works to preserve and protect the marine environment and to promote sustainable economic activity, based on this natural asset; celebrates, in particular, the community-led seagrass and oyster bed restoration at Loch Craignish, and recognises the potential for further community-led nature restoration across Scotland’s coastlines.

Photo of Ariane Burgess Ariane Burgess Green

When did members last enjoy a native oyster? Oysters are seen as a luxury, but native oysters were once called “the poor man’s food”. During the industrial revolution, millions of them were harvested to feed urban populations and Scotland’s coast boasted large oyster fisheries. Oyster scalps in the Firth of Forth covered an area larger than Edinburgh. However, overexploitation led to declining stocks and the complete destruction of many oyster beds. Now, no living oysters remain in the Firth of Forth and communities along our coastline have lost a once-plentiful food supply.

Those communities have also lost the natural flood defences that oyster beds once provided by protecting shorelines from erosion, tides and storm surges.

That is not the only problem that coastal communities face, of course. For decades, they have struggled as a result of a lack of investment and people leaving to find work. One industry that provides jobs is finfish aquaculture, but it is not without controversy. The sector is dominated by a small number of companies, many of which are based outside Scotland, and which often give jobs to those whom they already employ, rather than creating new jobs for local people. Further, the figures for aquaculture jobs include those that involve dealing with the industry’s harmful effects, such as working at the pit in North Uist where huge numbers of dead, diseased salmon are dumped.

Would it not be better if young people in coastal communities had a wider range of jobs available to them, including jobs that promote wellbeing and nature, if they could work for community-based businesses that shared profits for community benefit and for Scotland’s coastal waters to be recognised for their contribution to our environment and biodiversity. We can make that a reality. We can support coastal businesses and activities that promote wellbeing, such as wild swimming, recreational diving and responsible tourism. Domestic tourism to coastal locations generates £391 million for the Scottish economy every year, and nature-based tourism provides 39,000 jobs, but destinations become less attractive if there are large fish farms, if water quality is poor, or marine life less diverse.

It is crucial to invest in nature restoration and research in the inshore environment. Many respected organisations are already doing that, but there is also a rising wave of community-led projects that are producing tangible, positive outcomes. The Seawilding project at Loch Craignish aims to restore 1 million native oysters over the next five years; it has created six jobs and is working with six local primary schools, five universities and around 60 volunteers. There is now high demand for its training, creating the potential to expand the model across coastal and island communities. The South Skye Seas Initiative set up a community seagrass monitoring project to feed data to NatureScot in order to improve local protection measures for priority marine features.

Photo of Finlay Carson Finlay Carson Conservative

Will the member join me in congratulating the community in Stranraer, which has successfully held two oyster festivals? In 2019, the festival was visited by 17,000 people. Stranraer, at Loch Ryan, has the very last remaining natural native oyster beds. I declare an interest as the champion for oyster beds and I look forward to the community’s festival in 2022.

Photo of Ariane Burgess Ariane Burgess Green

I absolutely join the member in celebrating the community; it is great to hear about its work.

The Community Association of Lochs and Sounds native oyster project in Lochaline generated strong interest from the community, so CAOLAS worked with the community council to put the marine environment at the heart of Morvern’s community action plan.

The Coastal Communities Network consists of 19 wonderful groups, such as those that I have mentioned, that are all striving to improve the health of their coastal environments and open up possibilities for more community-controlled sustainable fishing. I am committed to championing them. Their projects benefit communities by strengthening relationships, providing skills and jobs and protecting homes and infrastructure. In addition, they benefit nature and help to address climate change by protecting blue carbon that is locked up in our coastal environments. They also benefit the economy—a US study found that each dollar that was invested in a coastal restoration project resulted in a return of more than $15.

I am proud that Greens are helping to deliver the £55 million nature restoration fund, yet more is needed to build those projects. The small team at Seawilding spends most of its time on fundraising for small pots of money that do not cover the lifetime of its projects. Community groups, community councils and local councillors are sometimes excluded from marine planning groups such as the Clyde Marine Planning Partnership, which can lead to tensions and a disconnect between communities and planners.

Coastal community groups want swifter action from Marine Scotland in designing new marine protected areas where the evidence calls for it, and stronger protection for fisheries management measures for existing MPAs. I look forward to the Government consulting on capping fishing activities in inshore waters. Fishers should be involved in the evidence-gathering process by using remote electronic monitoring on vessels, and we must deliver a just transition by supporting them to move from dredging or trawling to forms of lower-impact fishing. We could start by establishing a knowledge-sharing programme to enable Scottish fishers to learn from their Norwegian counterparts, who have successfully adapted to a new framework for managing coastal waters on an ecosystem basis. That has resulted in vibrant recovered fisheries that provide more jobs than dredging could.

The New Economics Foundation found that allowing United Kingdom fish stocks to return to healthy levels would create an additional £268 million in gross economic benefit and almost 5,000 new jobs. Coastal communities need good jobs but it does not have to be a trade-off: communities, fishers and nature are interdependent.

Local communities are already working in support of nature by restoring and regenerating our coasts and seas, but they need support, so let us invest in, enable and revitalise our coastal communities. If we do so, the positive effects will ripple out.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

I congratulate Ariane Burgess on securing debating time on this important topic.

Nineteen community groups across Scotland form the Coastal Communities Network Scotland. Two are located in my constituency. The most recently established one, Fairlie Coastal Trust, has already made valuable contributions to community-based initiatives, including to the Wild Oysters Project, under which 1,300 native oysters were returned to the waters of the Firth of Clyde. Native oysters, the populations of which have declined by 95 per cent due to human activity, help to restore healthy, resilient coastal waters in the Clyde and across Scotland by filtering pollutants from the sea and acting as an important habitat for marine wildlife, as we already heard from Ariane Burgess.

In December 2020, I led my own debate in the chamber inspired by the second coastal community group in my constituency, the Community of Arran Seabed TrustCOAST—and the fantastic work that it did in campaigning for, and supporting the establishment of, Scotland’s first no-take zone in Lamlash Bay back in 2008.

The no-take zone has already clearly demonstrated that marine protection has not only ecological but great socioeconomic benefits. The area is now a nursery for juvenile fish, particularly cod, while lobsters and scallops in the zone produce six times more eggs than those outside it, thus allowing stocks of fish and shellfish in the waters around the zone to replenish. That has helped to win support from local fishers, many of whom were initially worried about losing a fishing ground and opposed the setting up of the no-take zone. Arran residents and businesses also deem the research undertaken in Lamlash Bay to be important to the local economy, as it creates and sustains employment in not only fisheries but the ecotourism sector.

The success of the project, following 13 years of campaigning, is well documented. Sea bed habitats have, in half the time anticipated, sprung up again in an area that was previously described as virtually a marine desert. Crucially, carbon-absorbing seaweeds have also returned to the sea bed. That is something on which we must focus in our fight against global warming. Much of the media coverage about the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—concentrated on green carbon stores such as the Amazon or the Congo basin forest when, in fact, oceans act as the greatest buffer for the climate system, storing 93 per cent of Earth’s carbon dioxide.

Scotland is a nation almost surrounded by sea and its marine environment stores more carbon than the terrestrial environment. We must now act to protect blue carbon habitats and stores to ensure that they do not become sources of carbon emissions, as Scotland’s damaged peatlands have in recent decades. Restoration work to help return peatlands to a healthy condition and prevent carbon from escaping has been undertaken by the Scottish Government and continues. More must also be done to protect and enhance Scotland’s blue carbon stores.

It is welcome that, in last year’s shared policy programme, the Scottish Government specifically committed to restoring marine habitats in Scotland’s inshore waters in recognition of the fact that those waters contain valuable blue carbon hot spots. In particular, I am delighted that the Scottish Government will add to the existing marine protection area network by designating a suite of highly protected marine areas covering at least 10 per cent of our seas by 2026. My understanding is that the highly protected marine areas will go beyond no-take zones by providing for the strict control or exclusion of all human activities, not just fishing.

The economic opportunities that are associated with restoring coastal environments are particularly vital, considering that Scotland’s coastal communities tend to lag behind inland areas and have some of the worst levels of economic and social deprivation in the country. The three towns area in my constituency is no exception to that phenomenon. I am hopeful that the Scottish Government’s plans to restore coastal environments will present sustainable economic opportunities to communities in Scotland’s seaside towns and dovetail well with marine regeneration work that is to take place in Ardrossan through direct Scottish Government investment and the Ayrshire growth deal.

I again highlight the important work done by the Coastal Communities Network, including Fairlie Coastal Trust and the Community of Arran Seabed Trust. The important role played by Scotland’s living coastal and marine habitats and the geological sediments that cover Scotland’s sea floor has for too long been underestimated, but I am optimistic that the actions that the Scottish Government is now taking to restore marine habitats in our inshore waters will greatly benefit our climate, as well as the socioeconomic opportunities of coastal communities.

Photo of Jamie Halcro Johnston Jamie Halcro Johnston Conservative

I congratulate Ariane Burgess on bringing the debate to the chamber. As a fellow Highlands and Islands MSP, she will know that our region’s relationship with our seas is long, often complex and sometimes difficult. Standing as they do in the way of communication, travel and interaction, our seas have at times been an obstacle to be overcome. However, as Ariane Burgess suggested and highlighted, our coasts have also been a vital source of food, trade, employment and leisure since the earliest times.

Around a fifth of Scotland’s population, including me, live within 1km of the coast, which shapes the communities around it. It is because of the significance of our coastline to Scotland as a whole that work to preserve and revitalise coastal communities—with an emphasis on the preservation of our environmental heritage—is so pressing.

The challenge for those coastal communities is to find a balance between the coast as an essential working resource and as a habitat that merits preservation. Our impact must be sustainable because, when we look at climate change and ecological damage, our coasts are on the front line. Even subtle changes in the environment can have a considerable impact on plant and animal life. Coastal erosion can act as a wrecking ball and have an enormous impact on the communities nearby, most notably by increasing flooding and other risks.

Although inaction has its costs, poor-quality management can create enduring problems, too. Local communities are often best placed to find and balance the solutions and priorities that are most necessary to them. Public bodies, whether they are local authorities or national-level groups like NatureScot, are at their best when they work closely with the communities that they serve. Those communities also need to be sustainable. It is by recognising the human element—those who have, for generations, worked the sea—that we find a need to ensure that it can continue to be a valued resource.

Travelling home to Orkney, I pass the now deserted island of Stroma in the Pentland Firth. A hundred years ago, it had nearly 300 inhabitants, but it is now just an island of sheep and abandoned houses—a community lost.

Looking forward, inshore fisheries will remain an important part of our coastal economy, and working with that sector will be a key part of driving change forward.

Decades of oil and gas extraction have brought benefits to a number of coastal communities in my region—particularly Orkney and Shetland—so a credible, fair transition away from oil and gas will be essential. That is well understood by those communities, but it will need the support of Government at all levels.

Above all, our coasts can work for us, and they must play a key role in any sustainable economic transition. Their potential contribution to renewable energy—from offshore wind and marine energy to projects to harness hydrogen power and so much more—will be essential if we are to manage that process of change effectively. Give those communities the tools and they will thrive. All the while, if managed appropriately, the sea will remain the world’s biggest carbon capture and storage facility.

I appreciate that there has been a renewed interest in our coasts. The motion commends the work of the Coastal Communities Network, an organisation that is composed of community groups that are heavily concentrated in our region. The individual and collective work of those bodies has been impressive.

I am sure that the minister will have something to say about the Scottish Government’s efforts through mechanisms such as the nature restoration fund. I was also pleased to hear Scotland Office minister, Iain Stewart, speak yesterday about the role of coastal communities in the UK Government’s levelling-up agenda, including support for sustaining and repurposing ports and harbours, and additional backing to improve the long-term prospects of our fishing industry.

Working sustainably with our seas is deeply embedded in the traditions of my region. Today, we recognise communities that are taking up that mantle.

Our coast is a great asset for us and, on a note of optimism, much of it is in good condition and materially better off than a generation ago. However, more can be achieved and new challenges are on the horizon. Change must happen, and Government and communities must play an active and collaborative role in that process.

Photo of Carol Mochan Carol Mochan Labour

I thank Ariane Burgess for bringing the debate to the chamber.

Across the UK, we are deeply fortunate to live on a spectacular and unique island furnished with an incredible coastline that, for centuries, has provided us with food, employment and leisure. The environmental wealth that is present across Scotland’s coast is abundant and, without it, our entire culture would be altogether different. I am immensely thankful for that and, from speaking to my constituents, I know that it is perhaps the thing that they love most about the South Scotland region.

However, in order to maintain that environmental wealth, we have to begin to see the coast as a delicate ecosystem with varied needs and challenges, from erosion to the loss of seagrass. We need a thriving coastline to preserve not just the local environment, but the environment of our whole country. That is a weighty responsibility, and I am sure that all of us in the chamber take it very seriously.

Whether it is the work that is mentioned in the motion or the efforts to reintroduce oysters to the Firth of Clyde in my region, every step requires diligent planning and the encouraging of new generations to understand that the coast is a natural resource that we must protect. Part of doing that requires making our coastal communities economically prosperous. That will serve as a strong foundation from which further environmental work can be done. The decline in fishing in so many of Scotland’s coastal communities has broken our economic link with the shore and, with that, poverty has followed.

South Scotland is home to some of our country’s most beautiful and vibrant coastal communities—communities that for many decades were holiday resorts and getaways for families from across Scotland. The way that people travel and take holidays might have changed over time, but for many of those brilliant towns and villages, income from tourism is vital to their continued prosperity. That tourism must be encouraged and incentivised in a sustainable way, and I hope that one of the few advantages of Covid has been that the public has been shown just how wonderful a time they can have at home, on the cliffs and beaches of my region and many others across Scotland.

With that tourism, however, comes increased pollution and, in particular, littering. The South Ayrshire clean-up campaign picked up one million pieces of litter last year alone, with a great deal of it being found in coastal towns, including Ayr, Prestwick and Troon. Much of that litter ends up on beaches and, inevitably, in the sea, where it continues the cycle and is often deposited elsewhere. That is on top of the sewage that is pumped into the sea, creating further ecological problems for wildlife that is often already struggling. Birds and marine life in particular are adversely affected by such build-up and, over time, it leads to loss of habitat, food sources and, inevitably, life.

As Ariane Burgess’s motion details, a key facet of solving the problem is to provide volunteers and organisations with the means to set up community-led nature restoration projects that are both economically viable and environmentally sustainable. Only when that happens will we be able to much more directly tackle pollution and environmental decline. That cannot be entirely top-down, but the private companies that create so much pollution must be held financially responsible. Without that financial support, it is left to well-meaning groups that are reliant on very limited fundraising and the good will of volunteers. The Government and big business must do more.

Our coastline is one of Scotland’s greatest natural assets. It is home to all manner of flora and fauna, and for many people it is also the place that they are from and where they have raised their families. During this parliamentary session, I would like to see a much greater emphasis placed on the key role that such areas play in our nation and, as such, I reiterate my gratitude to Ariane Burgess for bringing this important debate to the chamber.

Photo of Jenni Minto Jenni Minto Scottish National Party

I, too, congratulate Ariane Burgess on securing a debate on the importance of Scotland’s coastal environment. The diversity of the contributions today emphasises that importance.

The local authority area of Argyll and Bute has a coastline longer than that of France, and almost 80 per cent of its population live within 1km of the coast. The natural asset that is the sea is integral to how communities the length and breadth of Argyll and Bute live, work and play.

In his 1703 journal, “A description of the western islands of Scotland”, Martin Martin told of the Leòdhasach water spirit Seonaidh. Each year, one of the community would wade into the sea carrying a cup full of ale and would cry:

“Seonaidh, I give thee this cup of ale, hoping that thou wilt be so good as to send us plenty of seaware for enriching our ground during the coming year”.

“Seaware” was seaweed, an organic and sustainable fertiliser.

Now, 320 years later, we face the challenge of sustainably supporting our coastal communities and ensuring that we are

“meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”, as the United Nations definition of sustainability states.

As I researched for this speech and spoke to people in Argyll and Bute, one consistent piece of advice kept coming up—“Look to Norway.” Our two countries have many similarities, but the one that struck me as relevant to this debate is that both Scotland and Norway have extensive ocean areas—in both cases, six times greater than our land mass.

The Norwegian Ministry of Climate and Environment says:

“The seabed and water are biological treasure troves that we will both protect and harvest in a sustainable manner”.

Norway effectively manages its marine areas while also ensuring that the environment is looked after. That is based on knowledge. Researchers across different disciplines are involved in preparing a scientific basis for the management plans. We are doing that in Scotland, but we should be mainstreaming it.

Here are a couple of examples of how Argyll and Bute is contributing to that work. The Scottish Association for Marine Science has been working for healthy oceans since 1884. It studies the processes that drive the marine system, to understand how our coastal environment responds to ever-increasing man-made pressures. When I visited SAMS in November last year, it was about to launch a robotic device to measure the ocean’s temperature from Scotland to Iceland. Knowledge like that can help to develop a sustainable blue economy for the benefit of people without degrading the sea’s health and productivity.

SAMS also works with community groups such as South West Mull and Iona Development and, together, they have created a 6-hectare sugar kelp farm at Aird Fada. Seaweed farming is a growing global industry and seaweed is in high demand for a multitude of uses from culinary to agricultural and bio-plastics to cosmetics.

As mentioned in the motion, Seawilding on Loch Craignish is working with all stakeholders to improve the health of the loch, to increase biodiversity and generate green jobs, and to aid community welfare and wellbeing. People who have lived and worked by the sea for generations need to be listened to. Communities must be at the heart of nature restoration and the stewardship of their environment.

At this point, I want to mention the Clyde cod box. On the one hand, I represent the fishers whose livelihoods were being negatively impacted; on the other hand, I recognise that we have a duty to ensure that our seas are sustainable. It is a complex issue that needs balance and needs fishers, environmentalists and scientists to work together.

I am pleased that the Scottish Government has listened and acted on the concerns that were raised, and that a revised Scottish statutory instrument has been laid before Parliament. I, of course, made representations on behalf of my constituents and their interests. A proportionate way forward has been found. I recognise that not everyone is 100 per cent happy with the decision, but I am pleased that the Scottish Government has agreed to continue to work closely with local stakeholders to ensure that the policy meets its intent.

We should be looking to the strengths of coastal communities to help to solve the problems, rather than trying to solve them centrally. As Seawilding says, the sea belongs to all of us.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

I thank Ariane Burgess for lodging her motion and providing this welcome opportunity to discuss the challenges and the opportunities that there are for our coastal communities.

I have the privilege of representing the south of Scotland and its many stunning coastal towns and villages including Loch Ryan. As we have heard, Loch Ryan is home to Scotland’s only remaining natural oyster beds. I make no apology for giving yet another plug to the annual Stranraer oyster festival. Sadly, it has been missing for the past three years, but I hope that it will return in 2022.

Many of our coastal communities are under threat from the climate and nature emergencies that we face. The recent storms hit many of those communities hard and exposed their fragility. The research from the Government’s dynamic coast project was stark. Rising sea levels and coastal erosion will put £1.2 billion-worth of Scotland’s infrastructure at risk by 2050. At least £20 billion-worth of assets—road, rail and residential properties—lie within 50m of our coast. Crucially, nature protects some £14.5 billion-worth of those assets, with the research highlighting that natural defences such as sand dunes protect three times the value of roads, railways and buildings that sea walls protect. Investment in that nature-based solution is therefore essential.

We should not fall into the trap of not recognising that supporting and investing in other forms of coastal defences is hugely important to those communities. I have seen the work of organisations such as the Carsethorn Community Development Group on the Solway coast, which carried out a remarkable rescue job to give residents peace of mind by building new rock sea defences after years of storm damage had eroded the coastline and put homes at risk.

As the motion highlights, it is often the communities themselves that are at the heart of the work to protect coastal towns and villages, whether through natural defences or otherwise. I add my thanks for the work of the Coastal Communities Network and its 19 community groups across Scotland, including the Berwickshire Marine Reserve in the South Scotland region. That community-led voluntary organisation has taken part in collaborative research projects with the Blue Marine Foundation and has developed a virtual visitor centre to encourage sustainability, engagement and inclusivity.

The Berwickshire Marine Reserve sits in a protected area, which means that fishers cannot use towed gear, trawls, dredgers or nets to catch fish, ensuring that there is minimum damage to other marine life. The group works closely with local fishers to promote sustainability and responsible fishing. It is an example of how community-led conservation can help to protect local biodiversity, while working alongside the promotion of a commercial, sustainable fishing industry that has played such an important role in shaping the community over the decades.

We need to do an awful lot more to promote sustainable fishing. It is an area on which the recent SNP-Green coalition agreement does not go far enough. The agreement does not say anything about ending overfishing or incentivising sustainable fishing. It says nothing about the wasteful practice of discarding. Overfishing and discarding have both resulted in declining fish populations and fishing jobs, and they are at odds with the rising demand for sustainable sea food. There is also no mention of reforming quota so that marine and fish resources are no longer in the hands of a few individuals and companies but are instead reformed and given to those who can best deliver the environmental, economic and social outcomes that we want to see.

The Scottish Government did not take up the opportunity to deliver a Scottish fisheries act, which would have allowed Scotland more control over the framework for negotiations, and has instead opted to rely on the UK Fisheries Act 2020. Even so, the decisions on fisheries management in Scotland still rest with the Scottish ministers. It is the Scottish Government’s responsibility to provide the foundations that are needed for the fishing industry to operate sustainably and in a way that meets its fullest potential. Achieving that is a crucial part of protecting and preserving our precious marine environment and promoting the sustainable economic future that we all want for our coastal communities.

Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party

I thank Ariane Burgess for bringing this important debate to the chamber.

As others have said, here in Scotland we are fortunate to enjoy a wealth of diverse coastlines that are rich in both natural resources and natural environment. Our coastal communities from Stranraer to Stornoway and beyond face an array of unique challenges, including the protection of the land and sea around them.

The beaches of the Hebrides are renowned for their crystal-clear waters and clean white sand but, as we have heard, unfortunately, we still face significant challenges when it comes to protecting those marine environments from litter and pollution. Issues such as lack of affordable housing, insufficient transport links and depopulation continue to threaten the resilience of our island communities against the backdrop of the climate and nature emergencies.

I was recently contacted by a constituent on the Isle of Lewis who is deeply concerned about the erosion of an embankment that previously safeguarded the foreshore adjacent to his village. Over the past 10 years, the embankment has gradually been eroded, leading to a situation that is described by a council engineer as “critical”. If no action is taken to protect what remains of the embankment, the inland area forming part of the machair—a type of low-lying fertile land that is unique to the west coast of Scotland—risks becoming permanently under water.

Coastal erosion is just one thing that will endanger our coastal communities in the future—and it is clearly having a detrimental impact already. It is just one of the many difficulties that we need to urgently address to preserve and protect our coastlines and the communities who live by them. The Coastal Communities Network provides an important platform for communication and support between the residents of coastal locations across Scotland. I share its belief that coastal communities themselves are best placed to harness the most effective long-term solutions for the sustainable management of the seas around them. The management of our seas must include input from all local stakeholders, not least those who make their living from marine resources. Our marine environment must be protected while continuing to play its part in the diverse local economies of our coastal areas.

Representing the Coastal Communities Network in my constituency is the organisation Clean Coast Outer Hebrides, which has been working tirelessly since its formation in 2018 to tackle the plastic waste that, sadly, washes up on our many beautiful beaches. Collaborating with the local authority, schools, community organisations and individuals, it organises beach cleans that engage local communities in its work and raise awareness of the importance of marine conservation, with a focus on educating and involving younger people in particular.

That spirit of collaboration is essential in local communities and across the network of coastal communities, as well as at local and national Government levels, in order to best protect and conserve our marine environment for the generations to come. As I have said, it is important that the economic resilience of our coastal communities is fully considered in any and all policy. The voices of people in the fishing industry must be listened to as fishers continue to adapt their practices to become more sustainable.

The restoration and sustainable development of our coastal areas should be community focused and community led, building on the on-going work of organisations such as those in the Coastal Communities Network, in order for us to play our part in tackling the climate and nature emergencies.

Photo of Màiri McAllan Màiri McAllan Scottish National Party

I thank Ariane Burgess for her important motion and all members who have contributed to the debate.

The Scottish Government’s vision for the marine environment is that it should be clean, healthy, safe, productive and diverse, and that it should be managed to meet the long-term needs of nature and people. That includes managing our seas sustainably to protect their rich biological diversity and to ensure that our marine ecosystems continue to provide economic, social and wider benefits for people, industry and society.

There is agreement across the chamber on that point. Ariane Burgess pointed out the multiple co-benefits of a healthy, thriving ecosystem, be that in the provision of protein, flood defences, ecotourism or good local jobs. Finlay Carson drew that point out with regard to the Stranraer festival.

Colin Smyth and Alasdair Allan were right to mention the importance of natural defences. Carol Mochan reminded us of the wonderful holiday opportunities that we are so lucky to have in our maritime nation. As we contemplate and consider what we need to do at home, Jenni Minto provided characteristically sage advice to lift our eyes and consider how friends around the world deal with these matters.

The consensus that has been on show in the debate is very welcome, because it is more essential than ever that we look after Scotland’s coasts and waters so that they can continue to help us for generations to come.

Scotland’s marine assessment was published in December 2020. It showed that Scotland still has a long way to go to achieve good environmental status. We own up to that and we have made clear that, as a Government, we see biodiversity loss as a challenge to be tackled on a par with the climate crisis. In the face of the dual crises, we are redoubling our efforts to protect species and restore nature across Scotland, working closely with community organisations. We are working across the board to achieve that.

As part of our 2021-22 programme for government, we committed to developing a blue economy vision for managing Scotland’s marine environment and supporting coastal communities. It will provide a clear framework for decisions about the use of Scotland’s marine environment and support wider ambitions on net zero and biodiversity, recognising—crucially—the interconnectedness of social, economic and environmental outcomes.

As an example of that interconnectedness, the future fisheries management strategy forms one of the cornerstones of our blue economy approach. It sets out a vision for Scotland to be a world-class fishing nation, delivering responsible and sustainable fisheries management that provides access to high-protein, low-carbon food. I point Colin Smyth to the management strategy in regard to his comments on sustainability.

We know that, if we are to meet the challenge of nature restoration and make the most of the opportunities that it presents, we will require to make ambitious moves at local level and to work with those who are best placed to understand needs and to deliver on such actions. That is why we are pioneering actions led by coastal communities. In November, I had the pleasure of meeting the Coastal Communities Network, which is key to this approach by providing an invaluable connection to coastal communities and their unique knowledge and expertise.

I am glad that Ms Burgess’s motion highlights the restoration projects at Loch Craignish, as they are an important example of how communities can make a difference to their local area. As well as being an essential part of our marine biodiversity, blue carbon habitats have a key role to play globally in climate change adaptation and mitigation, and they provide a range of goods and services that underpin the natural resources of our seas.

With funding from the Scottish Government’s biodiversity challenge fund, which one of my colleagues mentioned, and in partnership with Project Seagrass and the Scottish Association for Marine Science, the community charity Seawilding, which has also been highlighted in the debate, is delivering Scotland’s first community-led seagrass restoration project. Seawilding provides a unique model for restoration projects by bringing together the local community, providing opportunities to learn about marine science, conservation and climate change and, crucially, sharing expertise to enable other restoration projects to flourish.

I also want to mention our marine protected areas. Many habitats that are protected in the MPA network capture and store blue carbon. In response to Ariane Burgess, I want to make it clear that we are committed to putting in place remaining management measures by 2024 to protect marine features in MPAs, which will allow the recovery or the natural restoration of these habitats by removing the major pressures that affect them.

In addition, we have just launched a public consultation on the permanent designation of the Red Rocks and Longay MPA. That new site was initially identified following the gathering of evidence by citizen scientists and will protect a nationally important nursery area for the critically endangered flapper skate. I am proud of the Scottish Government’s nimble and speedy approach to protecting that vital habitat.

We will go further still. As my colleague Kenneth Gibson has mentioned, we have committed to designating at least 10 per cent of Scotland’s seas—both inshore and offshore waters—as highly protected marine areas by 2026. HPMAs will greatly enhance the existing MPA network by providing an additional level of marine protection—and I just want to confirm that they will exclude all extractive, destructive or depositional activities and allow other activities to be carried out only at non-damaging levels. It represents a major advance in conserving our marine biodiversity and will place Scotland at the very forefront of international efforts. We will, of course, pursue it in close consultation and collaboration with coastal communities and other sea users, including fishers.

As well as developing world-leading protected areas, the Scottish Government is supporting grass-roots action through the nature restoration fund. The fund, which will work across Scotland creating new green jobs, reinvigorating local communities and reinforcing Scotland’s green recovery, is part of a £500 million investment in our natural environment.

I am conscious of the time, Presiding Officer, so in conclusion the Government continues to be committed to tackling the twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change while supporting our coastal communities and the important socioeconomic developments that we wish to see there.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

That concludes the debate. I suspend the meeting until 2.15 this afternoon.

13:28 Meeting suspended.

14:15 On resuming—