Parliamentary Assistant, Allan Whyte, gives us an update on the campaign to protect seabirds and other marine life in Scotland.

We’re all  on the sea's side

I wanted to take the opportunity to thank you for your continued support for the Scottish  Marine Protected Areas campaign. Together, we can ensure that Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Scotland protect our marine wildlife. We have been overwhelmed by the number of people who have taken this issue to their heart and contacted their MSPs and the Scottish Government.

In mid December 2012, the Scottish Government made an announcement about where the proposed sites for MPAs will be located and what species will be protected. The announcement was disappointing as seabirds have been largely ignored in the process – only the black guillemot will receive any protection.

The reason the Scottish Government has cited for not including other seabird species in the MPA network is that there is existing European protection for Scotland’s seabirds. Unfortunately, this European legislation remains unused for the protection of Scottish seabirds feeding at sea - we remain in a situation where not a single important seabird foraging hotspot is protected.

Protection of foraging areas for seabirds is vital, as the decline in some seabird populations has been devastating. A recent Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) report highlighted that Scotland’s seabird population has decreased by around 50% over the past twenty years – further evidence that action must be taken now.

One of the main reasons for the decline in seabird populations is the poor availability of food, which has been largely caused by climate change warming our seas. Whilst we recognise that setting up MPAs for seabird feeding areas cannot counter all the effects of climate change, it will ensure that other factors that can lead to shortage of food, such as badly placed developments at sea, or fishing for sandeels, will not exacerbate the problem.

Although we find ourselves in a less than perfect situation, there is still hope that we can change things for the better and ensure that Scotland’s seabirds get the protection they desperately need.

This summer the Scottish Government will hold a consultation to get your views on the proposals for the network of Marine Protected Areas. This is a great opportunity to let the Government know that Scottish seabirds need better protection. It’s is entirely within the Scottish Government’s gift to designate sites for seabirds. When the consultation is launched we’ll be back in touch with some key points that you can include in your response.

Scotland is one of the most important places in the world for seabirds, and as such, we carry a great responsibility for their protection. We can’t do anything without your support. We look forward to campaigning with you this year to make MPAs work for Scotland’s seabirds.

If you have any questions on MPAs or the process to set these up, please do not hesitate to contact us.