Coastal Communities

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 3rd February 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

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.