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.